Fair Winds & Following Seas

Recently I’ve felt like, collectively, we’ve all been emerging out of a long and dark dirt tunnel with globs of mud under our fingernails that have gathered as we’ve clawed through it. This is a graphic, yet I would argue an accurate depiction of what it has felt like to begin the journey into a post-COVID world after a program year like our industry (and the planet for that matter) has endured. As I’m sure it is with many of you, I look back on this year with such a mix of emotions. On the one hand, it’s been so heart-wrenching to watch the economic and personal toll this pandemic has taken on so many of our industry friends and colleagues, and yet, I feel pride. Pride in this industry. Pride in how associations have responded to support their members, in countless professions and industries during what I believe can easily be regarded as the gravest health and economic crises of this century, and arguably among the worst on record. Not only did we demonstrate the ability to adapt, but leadership, innovation, and a commitment to serving others have been a staple of our industry approach amid this adversity, and I believe we have bettered lives because of our work.

CalSAE was a unifying force for our industry during this time, and it stepped up early and often, especially in those early days of COVID when we were in the most need of support. Our higher-than-expected membership retention reinforces what many of us always suspected – that association professionals consider membership in CalSAE critical.

By providing early on in the pandemic those virtual opportunities for human connection named “Couch Chats” (that have become popular among our members), our association offered not only a forum for exchange of important information, but also therapy sessions of sorts. For me, just knowing that I wasn’t alone in weathering this storm was an invaluable coping mechanism. I will forever be grateful for that.

In addition to the pandemic, over the course of the last year, attention also veered towards calls for systemic changes in justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. As my term as Chair of the Board approached early last summer, I solicited feedback from other Board members on what areas outside surviving the pandemic we should focus our efforts on. Each conversation confirmed my own instinctual thoughts – diversity and inclusion needed to become to priority. As I can imagine it has been with other organizations, setting goals and objectives to a focus on diversity on inclusion is not an easy feat – and it is not the most comfortable subject to address, truth be told. Personally, I don’t think it’s meant to be comfortable. Lasting change can only come if an organization is willing and able to be honest and vulnerable in its self-assessment on this issue. As our Board has learned throughout this process, there is no one path to committing to greater diversity and inclusion – but it has to begin with a commitment to change.

Our Board chartered our first-ever Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force earlier this year. I was profoundly moved when 25 members of varying backgrounds and experience levels volunteered to serve on it. That first meeting of the task force was replete with personal stories that had fueled the desire to serve on the task force and there was more than one instance in which folks became emotional. Listening to every one of those stories reinforced that we had begun a journey whose time was arguably overdue, and though knowing the road ahead is long, I felt strongly that the possibility for lasting change had just begun.

Our Co-Chairs, Ona Alston Dosunmu, JD, who serves as CEO & Executive Director of the California Lawyers Association, and Nabil El-Ghoroury, PhD, CAE, who serves as Executive Director of the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists, have the full confidence and trust of our Board to help shepherd this task force. And they also have our gratitude for taking this challenge on – we know it is no small feat. And, of course, to those members of the task force – our Board looks to you to help us move the needle on this transformational issue. You too have our gratitude and our support. I am so happy that my CalSAE governance partner, Vice Chair Stephanie Stephens, CAE, has committed to keeping this topic a priority in her time as Chair.

I’d like to propose a proverbial standing ovation for the staff of CalSAE. Jim, Lindsay, Sina, Heidi, and Jocelyn, you have worked tirelessly to help keep this association and industry afloat. We cannot thank you enough for your hard work and dedication to your membership.

Nearly 20 years ago, when I began my association career as a membership specialist for the California Special Districts Association (CSDA), working under one of the most respected names in our industry, Catherine Smith (CSDA’s then Executive Director), the thought of serving as a Chair of a group like CalSAE was something that seemed out of reach. But because of mentors like Catherine, Bob Rivinius, Mike Stretch, Jim Anderson, and many others along the way, I was able to progress forward. And along that journey was another invaluable partner, CalSAE. I became a better membership professional, and ultimately a better association executive because of CalSAE.

Thank you, CalSAE. It has been a tremendous honor to serve as your Chair.

As we say in the US Navy, “Fair Winds and Following Seas.”

Read “The Executive” from CalSAE here: https://www.theexecutive-digital.com/cses/0221_summer_2021/MobilePagedArticle.action?articleId=1693945#articleId1693945

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