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President’s Column

By Dan Kerr
April 2021

             The Oral History Association is committed to following through on our core values, and I would like to focus on two of them (see our Strategic Plan for the other three):

Sustainability. We steward our field and organization to ensure that our work is valued and accessible.

            Transparency. We ensure transparent and participatory management of our association, accountable to all individuals and communities we serve.

In late February 2020, the OHA Council held an in-person midwinter meeting over a period of several days In Baltimore, Maryland.  During the meeting, we heard news reports of the first known COVID-19 death at that time in the United States. We had little understanding what was in store for us. More than a year later, we will shortly be wrapping up a series of virtual bi-weekly “midwinter” meetings. While we have accomplished quite a bit, much has been lost in terms of the personal relationships, connection, and late-night conversations that have played a critical role in advancing the OHA to where we are today.

Nonetheless, we have addressed our core business, approving our annual budget and reviewing committee reports, and we have also been forward looking as we continue to engage in rethinking our organizational structure to further our recently passed strategic plan.

We decided to invest $20,000 this year in initiatives that can help us achieve the goals laid out in the plan. Following three years of surpluses, including a surplus of $44,000 from 2020, Council approved the transfer of all but one year of operating expenses from our savings accounts to our endowment accounts. As a result, OHA transferred $66,000 to our endowment, which now has over $670,000 in it. To put things in perspective, OHA ended 2012 with $220,000 in our endowment. We are in a substantially more secure position as a result of the financial stewardship that has come from our recent executive offices and elected leadership.

When thinking about our annual budget, I find it useful to think of our three major areas of income and expenses: Membership/Executive Office, Annual Meeting and Oral History Review.

A hugely important source of income that serves as the backbone for the OHA comes from our individual and partnership memberships ($61k).  These dues largely support our executive office, which includes $56k for the office and approximately $27k for other administrative expenses. Much of the work of the executive office goes to support the annual meeting. Taking that into account, the actual cost of the annual meeting is far greater than what our budgeted cost is ($50k). We expect to earn $56k from conference registration and sponsorships.

The other huge source of revenue as well as significant area of expense is the Oral History Review, which importantly is owned by the Oral History Association.  The OHR brings in approximately $67k in revenue and costs us $42k.  That surplus supports the executive office as it plans the annual meeting, which is critical to generating scholarships for the field and content for the journal’s pages.  There are other sources of revenues and other costs, but these are the big ones.

None of that income nor those expenses are terribly stable.  We know our financial contribution to the next executive office will have to increase in order to make our transition successful (possibly by $20k).  We are currently in a position where we can risk that because we can responsibly draw approximately $25k from our endowment given its size and the guidelines set out in our bylaws and standing resolutions.  That does not, however, leave us with a lot of room to invest in our core values that seek to make our field more equitable, inclusive and meaningful. In order to address our core values, we need to grow.

Basically, we need to expand our annual income by $20,000 per year if we are going to use our endowment income to promote programs rather than operations.  While all of our committees have important contributions to make towards this growth, the two that are most directly critical are the Membership Committee, chaired by Catherine Mayfield, and our newly constituted Development Taskforce, chaired by Stephen Sloan.

A growth in our membership numbers by 15%, not counting a parallel growth that would occur with conference registrations, could raise an additional $10k.  Our relatively underdeveloped approach to development is currently raising approximately $10k per year, which supports scholarships and awards.

We believe that having a more robust strategy that focuses on annual giving campaigns, life memberships, planned giving, grants and corporate donations could easily double what we are currently doing. Lastly, given the growth of our endowment over the last decade, we are in a position to have a successful campaign to reach an endowment of $1 million, which would double the amount we are able to draw from it annually to invest in our priorities.

As we embark on an effort over the next two years to put OHA in a more sustainable position, please consider investing in our field with your own contributions.  We are the ones who have dedicated our lives to the practice of oral history, and we know why our field is so critically important.