Thank you to the community members who joined us for the NOI Community Call. We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas with us as we move forward.
To send feedback or volunteer, please email us at email@example.com
Audio recording of the call:
Please note: We had technical difficulties recording the beginning of the call. A transcript of the beginning of the call is included below.
Transcript of Ethan’s Opening Statement
At NOI we believe we’re only as strong as our community. You’ve been our strength since our founding in 2005, you’ve been there when we needed you, and you deserve to hear from me directly when things don’t go according to plan.
Put bluntly, NOI was short on cash and it created a culture of uncertainty.
We’re a non-profit and our obligation to our funders is to spend their money to create change in the world. Finding the right balance between the financial security of the organization and aggressively running programs is a challenge all non-profits face. In this case, we were too aggressive. We spent money in the first half of 2014 that, in retrospect, we should have been saving for the fall. When we got to the fall it became clear that our revenue projections were too ambitious and we would need to cut costs. We cut everything from travel expenses to the water cooler, but layoffs were necessary in order to balance the budget. We implemented a round of layoffs, amounting to a quarter of our staff, in November of last year.
We weren’t out of the woods yet. Although we ran our most successful RootsCamp ever in December, we got bad news on other fronts. Throughout this period, the financial pressure on the organization kept building, as more than one source of anticipated revenue did not materialize.
In January, I communicated to the staff that another round of layoffs was likely and that, in a worst case scenario, we would be forced to furlough some staff without pay for a period of time. This, understandably, created anxiety and frustration among staff. Who would be laid off? How would the furloughed staff cover their expenses without a paycheck? What would this mean for our programs? There were more questions than answers, and the clock was ticking.
I did not effectively manage this anxiety. While I spent my time managing external relationships and chasing down fundraising prospects, I did not spend enough time listening to my staff. If I had, I would have heard that they were growing increasingly discontented, not only with our financial uncertainty, but with my leadership.
This growing disconnect between myself and our staff was bridged in one fateful meeting on the first Thursday of February when our senior team approached me with an ultimatum: either you leave, or we will. This was followed a few days later by a memo sent to our board of directors restating this ultimatum and backing it up with a list of eight staff who, if the board did not fire me within 48 hours, would resign.
You probably already know what happened next. The board declined to fire me and accepted the resignations of the staff named in the memo. Left without senior managers and still facing a cash shortfall, we laid off additional staff. There were departures of a different nature as well. As one observer put it at the time, “today is a no good, very bad day for the progressive movement.” I agree.
Where do things stand right now?
First, NOI isn’t going anywhere. We have a core staff including training managers, events staff, and administrative staff. We have trainings on the books that we will execute, on schedule, to our usual high standards. And we have an amazing and committed community of practitioners ready to carry forward the critically important work of the organization.
This moment has left a scar on the community; it’s a situation that created no winners. It has been a heart-wrenching experience for all of us; a moment in which many good people, as committed to the progressive movement as anyone out there, have made sacrifices.
We’re working with the Management Center to conduct an assessment of the decisions and structures that led to last week’s events, as well as to counsel and coach me on how to move forward in a way that strengthens our culture. Our board will be expanding, including adding board members who can strengthen the financial oversight of the organization. We’ve retained a fundraising advisor to assist with our efforts to strengthen the current financial position of the organization.
What happens next?
Campaigns look very different today than they did when NOI was founded ten years ago. The demand for technically-trained talent at all levels has grown exponentially, the industry is more specialized, and the need for technical skills extends well beyond only those practitioners who have the word “digital” or “data” in their title. As we look towards delivering on our promise to equip the progressive movement with a deep, diverse, and technically-savvy bench of campaigners, we must also use this moment as an opportunity to challenge all of our standing assumptions about the best way to deliver on that promise.
In order to do that, in the coming weeks we will be drawing on our greatest asset- an asset unmoved by the peculiarities of the funding space: the most powerful and skilled community of progressive campaigners on the planet. We will be inviting you to help us imagine new approaches to our trainings, events, and community. We will also be asking for your help- to work, to train, to donate.
Along the way, we’ll be sharing with you what we learn from our assessment, and details about how we’re going to change in order to be stronger moving forward.
Finally, we’ll be turning our shoulders to the wind and getting back to work. Accomplishing anything less than what it takes to win is not an option. The biggest fights, the biggest victories, are yet ahead of us.
To get a sense of the scope of the challenge ahead of us, I surveyed hiring managers from across the campaigns space. I asked them to quantify the staffing challenge we’re facing for 2016: how many technical staff positions will need to be filled in 2016, and how many trained practitioners already exist, right now, who can fill those jobs. The conclusion they drew was staggering.
They estimated that we will need to recruit and train 600 new practitioners to work in data and digital jobs alone in order to staff campaigns at every level in 2016. Those are the people who are going to be recruiting volunteers, raising money online, and building the effective, data-driven campaigns we need to win.
That’s what NOI does. We build the next generation of campaigners. We train progressive campaigners to use emerging technologies- data and digital- to enhance the relationship-based organizing that we know moves people. You can’t have one without the other. If you want to win a campaign, you can’t have technical expertise without an understanding of organizing.
The same is true for NOI. We can’t succeed without our community.
How can you help?
What you can do next is what you’ve always done: help us train, be a coach for one of our trainings, bring new organizers into our community and into our events. Share your thoughts with us about how we can change to be stronger moving forward by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us anything: a new training you want to help us run, a new model you want to help us adopt, a new constituency you want to help us engage.
One thing’s clear: with your help we can’t lose.