—A Year of Pivotal Change—
I believe I will look back on Fiscal 2011 as one of the most satisfying years since I joined the staff as Executive Director in 2005. It has been a year of focused vision and execution. Real and tangible changes are afoot here, improvements that affect us all.
There has never been much disagreement about what matters to us as an organization. We’ve always cared about supporting climbers and protecting our environment. We’ve always believed that climbers inspire, and that our exploits are worth recording and sharing. And we’ve always known that the strength of our community comes from passionate climbers connecting locally. In 2011 we invested in those beliefs like never before.
We spent a long time coming to agreement on the specifics of how the AAC should reorganize itself and what American climbers want our Club to be and do. Once that work was done, we committed to it fully. By October 2010 we knew the general outline of where we were headed, and the AAC Board of Directors instructed me to begin to restructure our staff to deliver on our Five-year Strategic Plan. The main thrust of that reorganization was to put just the right people in charge of five main departments: Membership, Information & Marketing, Community Programs, Conservation & Advocacy, and Development. We now have a team of five stellar directors who are responsible for delivering on some very big goals.
”Our goals are not so new. What is different about the Club today is that our goals— while ambitious—are achievable.”
Our goals are achievable for two reasons. First, there is real alignment among our volunteer leadership and staff around what we are trying to do. Second, we really thought through what it would take to climb this mountain, and we put the resources into doing it right. In February 2011—on the same weekend as our most successful Annual Benefit Dinner ever—we formally adopted our plan with a new, mid-year budget to fund it. We were up and running almost immediately and, in May, we launched new member benefits with a new marketing campaign. The work that prepared us for that launch tested our new team and structure in the following ways:
• Resource and support AAC programs at the local level
• Improve the value of an AAC membership
• Deliver conservation through grants to protect the places we climb
• Modernize our information systems
• Expand our lodging network
The change this represents makes the AAC more relevant for climbers and, of course, the measure of our success is that more climbers join. Our ability to acquire and share improved benefits or to buy and operate new lodging facilities depends on the strength and financial reach that a larger membership can supply. This new direction can only be sustained with the economy of scale that comes from more dues-paying members and a vibrant fundraising effort. The value you get as an AAC member is greater than ever. It’s time all your partners join.
”Together our member dues extend our concern for one another across distances far greater than the length of a rope.”
The clarity of what we were doing has led to results, even in the face of some adversity. Shortly after we launched our new organization, I had the misfortune of taking a rather long fall that put me out of commission for several months. When I say that 2011 was a truly satisfying year, I mean two things mainly. Organizationally, we were staffed and structured in such a way that the Club just kept on working while I recovered. Our Board and volunteers rose to the occasion, and our staff knew their jobs and simply kept doing them. Personally, what I believed about our community was proven true. I literally felt held and supported by the climbing community from the moment I hit the ground until I was back at work full time. Some of this took the form of the tangible benefits we enjoy as AAC members. Global Rescue made available physicians at Johns Hopkins for second opinions and consultation. What peace of mind that gave my family! But mostly it was the care, understanding, and support that our extended network supplied in myriad ways.
By the close of the fiscal year, the AAC had established our new Cornerstone Conservation Grants and funded eight projects across the country. Local initiative had planned and accomplished a scientific/ environmental expedition to Peru. We had our first Regional Coordinators in place to give, for the first time ever, real support to our network of great volunteers across America. Soon there will be five Regional Coordinators. We had purchased a property at the New River Gorge, rebuilt our Snowbird Hut, and opened two new clubhouses in Kathmandu, Nepal. We upgraded our library search and built an online guidebook finder to more easily access our 60,000 climbing books and DVDs. And we had wins in the advocacy space, dampening attempts at Denali and Rainier National Parks to collect arbitrarily high fees from climbers who simply want to go climbing on those iconic mountains.
Meanwhile we accomplished all of this within our budget, and we ended the year with more members than ever in the Club’s history (see graphs). Thanks for this success are certainly due to the great staff we now have at the AAC. But the real power of our organization is the team of volunteers who make it happen. We have an extraordinary Board of Directors, and each staff department is supported by a committee of caring experts who make sure that everything we do is consistent with what you, our members, want.
As the fiscal year drew to a close, our leadership faced another scare when AAC President Steve Swenson fell ill after making the first ascent of Saser Kangri II. Again, the rescue benefits we buy together for one another made his evacuation possible. The belay we supply for one another now reaches around the world.
In closing I should say that none of what we have accomplished has come without an investment. The next chapter for the Club will include a major funding campaign, which, I am happy to report, is well underway. More on that later. For now, our focus—your focus—is on growing our ranks to reach the kinds of membership numbers that can sustain the great organization we’ve built together.