By Gil Gullickson, AAEA President-Elect
Jason Henderson, an associate dean in the College of Agriculture and Extension director at Purdue University, has a favorite saying that he works into his agricultural economic presentations: “History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.”
I thought of that line at last August’s American Agricultural Editors’ Association (AAEA) board and general meeting. I’d phased out of AAEA activities in the past few years, stepping down as AAEA Professional Improvement Foundation (PIF) chairman in 2015. I think it’s good to step down and give others leadership opportunities, get some new blood in an organization, and recharge one’s batteries.
That’s why I simultaneously smiled and furrowed my brow when I looked at the AAEA financial sheet at the August board meeting. Hmmm…. I thought. This -$24,000 deficit doesn’t look good, but it sure looks familiar.
I served on the AAEA board from 1998-2002. It was a time of personal growth, forming lifelong bonds with other AAEA members, and well…turmoil.
We were more dire financial straits back then than we are now. Thankfully, due to several dedicated AAEA presidents and board members, we made some good decisions back then.
The most important was hiring Den Gardner as AAEA executive director. He and the board went through our finances and established sound fiscal footing.
It wasn’t easy. I remember some board meetings in which the word balloon above my head was “Get to the point!” and “What is your point?”. In the end, though, it was worth it.
Last September, President Christy Couch Lee did a great job of outlining AAEA’s financial crunch.
Income from two major sources of income, the Ag Media Summit and corporate sponsorships, are down. This left AAEA short of $30,000 of anticipated income.
The reason, of course, is the tight agricultural economy. Life was much easier when corn prices were $7 per bushel and soybean prices were $15 per bushel in the tariff-free days of 2012-2013. Now that we’ve snapped back to reality, sponsorship dollars are much tougher to find.
The good news is that we have some great folks on our sponsorship committee, led by Jessie Scott, who are working with companies for additional sponsorship dollars. The Agricultural Media Summit (AMS) InfoExpo Committee is looking for additional firms to exhibit at next July’s AAEA meeting in Minneapolis. It should help having our annual meetings in Minneapolis in 2019 and Milwaukee in 2020. Next year’s AMS also coincides with the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) meeting.
IFAJ is anticipated to bring in around 200 foreign journalists that will join us in Minneapolis. Our 2020 annual meeting in Milwaukee will be the 100th year celebration of AAEA. We’re hopeful these extra perks will encourage sponsors and companies to join us.
Membership is another lifeblood of the organization. Amy Roady and Mike Wilson, membership committee co-chairs, have been working hard on this end. Results are encouraging. AAEA has grown membership from 424 in October 2017 to 462 in October 2018.
There’s no foreign aid here to cut
Politicians often like to say “cut spending” when it comes to balancing a state or federal budget. While that sounds good, pinning them down usually keys something like “well, we’ll cut foreign aid” which in the case of the federal budget is a minuscule amount.
We don’t have that out. So, one way we’re looking to enhance the money flow in is by increasing membership dues. The last dues for AAEA members increase was in 2011.
AAEA is also examining ways to make our awards contests more economical for the association while still keeping the sterling professionalism standards intact. Revenue is growing in this area as the contest continues to grow in popularity. The total contest hosted more than 1,300 entries in 2018, generating some $26,000 in income for AAEA.
AAEA has also figured out ways to tap the talents of our members via innovative delivery methods. We’ve recently conducted webinars with members giving advice on everything from being a better writer to insights on covering specific beats. I’d encourage you to sit in on these webinars, as it’s a great way to glean ideas to do your job better.
Foresight by AAEA leaders years ago established nearly $50,000 in savings to endure tight times like these.
AAEA also may access professional programming support through the AAEA Professional Improvement Foundation. PIF has more than $300,000 in investments.
If you have any input about improving our fiscal situation while still maintaining our programs, don’t hesitate to contact me at Gil.Gullickson@meredith.com or any other board member or committee chair. We need to do a better job on transparency, and your input helps AAEA with this.
AAEA/Agricultural Communicators Network