Summary of the Midyear Board Meeting

by Paul Edwards

The American Council of the Blind board met in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 22 in conjunction with the midyear meeting and legislative seminar. The meeting was called to order at 9 a.m. and everyone was present except Chris Gray, who was stuck in the airport in St. Louis because of weather and arrived later in the day. The agenda was adopted, and minutes of previous meetings were approved. The president began his report by introducing Tom Tobin, who has just been contracted to work part-time as ACB's director of development. Tom indicated that he is glad to be involved with ACB again, and said that he is looking forward to finding funds for ACB.
Mitch reported that he continues to be interested in receiving nominations for our advisory board. He reported that Dr. Lloyd Bowser is the second appointee to that group.  Mitch indicated that he is proud to represent ACB on the committee that was appointed under the law passed last summer to consider prescription drug labeling.  He informed his listeners that he had just returned from Sagebrush, a conference at which Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America is a primary sponsor. Mitch said that he told the vendors that it is time for us to stand up and share when we believe that public bias is happening where the needs of some groups are being underserved. Carla reported that there is currently a case where vendors are seeking to continue to operate on military bases. In Kentucky, there is currently a case where the military is challenging the right of a vendor to retain priority on military bases and wants to open the facility for bidding to commercial entities.
As a part of his staff report, Eric Bridges announced the appointment of Rebecca Bond, who is the new head of the disability rights section at the Department of Justice. Eric reported that a representative of the Department of Justice will be here for part of our legislative seminar. There appears to be a concern that complaints are not moving through the Department of Justice when they are filed as a response to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Melanie reported that she just returned from Geneva, Switzerland where she continues to work with the World Intellectual Property Organization. It is still uncertain just how much progress has been made. It is hoped that language will be ready for a higher level meeting which is scheduled to take place in Marrakech, Morocco in June. Eric reported on the work that he and Brian Charlson are doing with Google and indicated that ACB and Google recognize that they have by no means fixed all their accessibility problems. They are working closely with us and that is helping to build more cooperation among Google departments.  Allan Eustace is the Vice President for Knowledge at Google and is leading the championing of accessibility throughout Google. Last September, Google held an accessibility summit where the leaders of different divisions reported on accessibility rather than hearing from accessibility people.
Microsoft changed its platform for cell phones and introduced a phone which completely excluded the blind community. A promise was made that by November of last year we would have an accessible phone. That did not happen. ACB wrote a letter under Mitch's signature and under the signature of Brian Charlson, who is now chair of ACB's Information Access Committee, indicating our dissatisfaction with their accessibility efforts. As a result of that letter, a face-to-face meeting was held with Eric Bridges and Brian Charlson where our concerns were frankly expressed. Eric believes that some progress is being made but only time will tell just how much can be accomplished. 
Lane reported that Nancy Becker has replaced Sheila and has become the expert on Donor Perfect in Minneapolis. Lane reported that Jerry Berrier, John McCann and Ray Campbell were extremely helpful in training affiliates to use the new membership component of the Donor Perfect database. He reported that, while there are ongoing hiccups, the system is working well. Kim and Mitch both commended Lane and others for the successful implementation of the new system. It was also reported that the committee that worked on the design of the membership component and included Kim Charlson, Carla Ruschival and Lane was very helpful. Over 40 affiliates are already making use of the new database.
Carla began her report on our financial status. For the purpose of her report, she used two documents. One of them is a monthly report for January while the second is a full 2013 budget with final figures for December 2012 included.  Carla felt that, with more creativity, we could get more revenue in such places as ACB Radio and from our web site.
Carla also drew the board's attention to the budget elements that show income from investments and pointed out that, when we withdraw from our reserves, we are also lessening our opportunity to benefit from dividends earned by our stocks. The investment report went over ACB's three accounts. These accounts are restricted funds which are used for scholarships, board-designated reserves, and current cash accounts.  The cash account changes all the time, so no figures will be included there. Our scholarships account grew quite a bit last year and, for the first time, reached $1 million by the end of 2012. Our scholarships are now self-sustaining on the income produced by these accounts, and we have been able to increase the size of some of our scholarships. We hold reserves in our board-designated reserve fund that now is at a little more than $1,300,000.
Next on the agenda were reports from each of the four goal groups from the new long-range plan. Goal one concerns marketing ACB and an outline for a marketing plan has been developed. Work is continuing to update the ACB web site and to embark on social media in a much more meaningful way.
Goal two talked about three approaches that are now being taken to raising funds for ACB. First, Dan Spoone, the chair of goal two, reported that his group is working on ways of raising funds within the organization, outside the organization, and using e-appeals. Progress has been made in all these areas. Donor Perfect is now beginning to provide us with more data both about our members and about those who donate to ACB. Dan also reported that a brainstorming session is scheduled as part of this year's midyear meeting. It is hoped that new ideas for fund-raising as well as on ACB programs and services will emerge from this meeting. Specific efforts will be made to analyze what is learned and to incorporate the results of this meeting into future fund-raising plans. Another important component of fund-raising is the advisory board approved last summer. The creation of this board continues.
Goal three concerns staff and integrating them into ACB efforts. Kim Charlson, leader of this goal group, reported that meetings of the group and with staff have been held and, among other things, this group is working on helping to plan meetings so staff do not have to use their free time. There is also work to see how more volunteers can be encouraged to work directly with the staff. It was reported that a new phone system has been acquired at the national office which costs half as much as the old one and has many more features. This will impact information that can be stored there and perhaps how staff can make use of the new system.  Performance reviews have now been implemented so that there are ways of objectively evaluating the effectiveness of staff.
The group responsible for the fourth goal, which relates to ACB governance, is headed by Paul Edwards. He went over some of the components of that goal and a tentative meeting date for the group was set.
The resource development committee reported that it has already begun to work with our new development director, Tom Tobin. Trivia night has been implemented in several local affiliates. Donation boxes have been distributed in Orlando and will be tried in Tennessee. RDC is investigating "Connect to Give" and had a presentation on this subject, which is a program for donating by cell phone. RDC talked about having a national fund-raiser with a national chain. A letter is planned to encourage people to get involved with convention activities which will this year include the MMS program, the annual walk and our auction.
A plan to set up joint fundraising activities between affiliates and ACB is being developed. The board encouraged the RDC to put together a full proposal in this area and bring it back for their consideration.
At the end of the board meeting, officers reported on what their committees were doing. The meeting adjourned just after 5 p.m.