We’ve had a successful year plus some challenges
As we approach the end of the current fiscal year, I’m happy to report that we have had some good successes. We’ve also been provided some opportunities to examine how we operate and to consider how we can do a better job of serving our members and achieving our mission.
Finances and Funding
The big story for fiscal year 2021-2022 revolves around money. The WACD Plant Materials Center exhibited exemplary performance this year with record plant sales resulting in more income than we expected. Even though expenses also go up as sales go up, we expect the final results to be very satisfactory.
On the state budget side, we were able to help create a groundswell of support for the idea that voluntary conservation had not been sufficiently funded by the State of Washington. When WACD made this comment in testimony, it resonated with legislators and partners. The Conservation Commission stepped in with a detailed proposal for more funding and the end result was $29 million for voluntary conservation work. What makes this more extraordinary is that this happened in a short session covering a supplemental budget. We generally don’t see this happen in a short session.
WACD has been taken to task in the past for not being transparent. This situation was made clear to me before I was hired as Executive Director. In 2020, we launched a weekly newsletter called the Five Things to Know. We have published regularly since then. (By the time we reach the end of this fiscal year, we will have published more than 150 issues of the Five Things!) Subscribers currently total 183 people. The number of people who open the Five Things each week runs from 38% to 66% of subscribers, so roughly one-half of the people in our subscriber list open our weekly updates.
For calendar year 2021, the WACD Board of Directors chose to meet every month. This was made easier by meeting virtually over Zoom (and I note that we saved money by holding virtual meetings). This provided the highest level of member access to board meetings I can remember in 30 years. We also found a way to give members more time on the agenda to talk about issues and opportunities in their districts.
I believe the Board of Directors is likely to change their meeting schedule over the summer months in recognition of everyone’s busy season. WACD staff will continue to report out to members and partners on what WACD is doing.
We are also changing the schedule of the Five Things newsletter during the May-through-August season from weekly publications to twice a month. This is done to help reduce staff workload while still maintaining a high degree of information sharing and transparency.
WACD provides services to member conservation districts. Representation on legislation and the state budget comes to mind as the most obvious service we provide. With the implementation of the WACD Hub (https://hub.wadistricts.org) we are better able to share information about and with conservation districts. Most recently, Google’s decision to eliminate the free Google Workspace system caused WACD to stand up a replacement email system so that conservation districts would be minimally affected.
I believe that WACD will continue to move toward a service-focused membership model. This could mean that while some services are provided to all members, other services may be available to all members. There is a subtle distinction here that merits explanation. It would be very hard for WACD to lobby for some members but not others. My belief is that to be most effective, our lobbyist must be able to say that she represents all of WACD’s member districts. We can say this today because all 45 conservation districts are members, even if not all districts are paid up on their WACD dues.
A service like the new email system implemented and managed by WACD is something that is available to every member conservation district but not every district needs or wants it. While available to every district, it is an optional service that not every district will use. Does it help conservation districts achieve their mission? Yes. Is it directly related to conservation? No. Does it fall within the bounds of WACD’s mission as a 501(c)(6) business league to provide services that help members succeed? Absolutely. I think we’ll see growth in this sector: making key services available to districts, knowing that not all districts will use those services.
Another example is the Building Better series that is helping both emerging and existing district leaders develop better skills. This work is being delivered through the Center for Technical Development with support from the Washington State Conservation Commission, Washington Association of District Employees, and Washington Association of Conservation Districts. It is available to all and helps to build capacity that bolsters conservation district success.
Looking back over the year, I would say that most of the hardest conversations have revolved around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We now know that just saying “DEI” triggers a wide range of feelings in some of our members. Some of our people have experienced discrimination and being “othered” their entire lives so they welcome the attention that DEI has been getting. Others don’t see that there is a problem to be solved in their district, causing some to say that WACD is wasting precious time on something that isn’t related to the work of conservation districts.
What we know is that every one of our 45-member conservation districts is unique. The characteristics of each district are different because so many factors that make up the district are different. This means that one approach or one solution is not going to fit every conservation district.
Some conservation districts have recognized the opportunity to make their programs and services more equitable. WACD is engaged with those districts.
Some folks are upset with WACD for issues that seem to boil down to concerns about DEI in the context of conservation district work. I remain hopeful that with time and communication, we will come to better understand their points of view.
DEI also fits within the service model discussed above. Support for diversity, equity, and inclusion work by individual districts is not something WACD can or will try to impose on all 45 conservation districts. Instead, working on DEI issues is a service available to all member districts. However, just like with email service provided by WACD, not every district will wish to engage with us on DEI. While DEI is not directly related to what we think of as the core of our conservation work, it does affect the business environment for the district and those served by the district. Working toward improving DEI can create more success for some districts. On that basis, WACD’s focus on DEI makes sense and falls within the scope of our MVPs: mission, vision, and principles.
Thoughtful topics raised
Here is an abbreviated list of reflections I penned during this fiscal year as I talked to conservation district folks and thought about what they said.
- Hearing Dissent, April 28, 2022
- Is there an intersection of opportunities for elections, DEI, and rates and charges?, April 14, 2022
- Inclusion must also mean hearing dissenting voices, February 24, 2022
- What comes first: district success or serving in leadership?, December 6, 2021
- Why did I leave the “bestest” job ever?, November 9, 2021
- Equity: where are we now?, October 18, 2021
- Trust, respect, and inclusion build belonging and community, September 15, 2021
- What is on the threat board?, August 26, 2021
- How WACD Communicates, August 19, 2021
- The Discomfort of Discussing DEI, August 9, 2021
- Transitioning to a new district manager, July 23, 2021
- The changing nature of conservation district leadership and management, July 7, 2021
- Why we need to support people, July 6, 2021
I’m sure I’ve missed some points in this quick summary but these are the topics that are top-of-mind for me. What are your thoughts? We’d like to hear them.
Always yours for conservation,
Tom Salzer, WACD Executive Director