Published October 13, 2020
Agenda for October 2020 Meeting
The October meeting of the Board of Trustees of Farm & Wilderness and Ninevah Foundation will be held October 23-25, 2020. This is bittersweet for us: ordinarily, we are meeting in Vermont and hearing from every camp director how the summer went. As we have been monthly since April, we’ll be meeting virtually, and our agenda will be different. The silver lining is that we can devote time to issues that we usually struggle to find time for.
On Friday night, I’ll be offering new Trustees a brief workshop on how Quakers make decisions. What’s the difference between unity and consensus? What is “standing aside”? What happens if the Board cannot find unity? We will also have our check-ins to see how each of us is doing in these parlous times.
Saturday we’ll spend the morning in a workshop on our mission statement and our values. Ora Grodsky of Just Works Consulting, who’s been working with our Leadership Team since last year, will help Frances lead this session, and staff will join us. This is part of our strategic planning work, which was interrupted by COVID. We’re really excited about it and some of the exercises we will be asked to do look like fun!
This will also be Frances’ first Executive Director’s report to the Board. She’ll describe what each of several departments is doing (Development, Conservation, Admissions, the Re-Opening Task Force). We also have some brief reports from Development, Nominating, and I&E on the agenda.
The I&E report will be a follow-up to the Board’s recent workshop, one of several we’ll be conducting this year. The outcome of the first workshop was a decision that in our effort to overcome a White supremacist culture at F&W, we’ll focus this year on “equity washing”, that is, signing onto lofty values but not enacting them; hiring people of color but not supporting a culture shift to retain them. Our value is real equity.
On Sunday we’ll receive a tutorial from the Finance committee on our numbers and how to read spreadsheets and profit and loss statements. The Board’s primary responsibility is a fiduciary one: keeping the lights on and the organizations afloat. Knowing how to read the materials Finance sends us is an essential part of that responsibility.
We will end on Sunday, as we always do, with an Executive Session. Here is where the Board can, in confidence, share concerns and discuss issues that we’re not ready to make public.
We have learned to build in frequent breaks and have designed some sessions so that a Trustee can participate while walking if they choose. Please hold us in the Light as we continue to move forward with the business of summer camps and conservation.
Clerk of the Board
Notes from the October 2020 Board Meeting
The Farm & Wilderness and Ninevah Foundations held their quarterly Board meeting on Zoom, October 23-25, 2020. Truthfully, we have been meeting monthly since April, but at least this was a regularly-scheduled meeting. We were all so sad not to be back in VT yet.
On Friday night, I invited Board and staff to join me for a session on how Quaker organizations make decisions; this was specifically designed for new Trustees, but all were welcome. We talked about how a meeting – such as a Board meeting – makes decisions by seeking unity with the sense of the meeting.
We spent all of Saturday morning in a session looking at our mission statement and our values, conducted by Frances McLaughlin, our Executive Director, and Ora Grodsky of JustWorks Consulting. The most exciting thing was that 18 Trustees were joined by 12 year-round staff, including camp directors! We hadn’t seen most of these dear folks since last May, and having them join us to talk about the SPICES (our values) and our mission statement was exhilarating. A working group (Frances, myself, Polly Williams, Jarod Wunneberger, Chantal Deojay, Jay Kullman, and Sam Green) will take the next steps; we’ll be carding and spinning the raw wool the workshop gave us, then bringing it back to the Board to see what they might like to make of it. This is part of our Strategic Planning process, looking ahead to the next five years.
Frances delivered her first Executive Director’s report, for Q3 of 2020. She focused on four areas:
- The Re-Opening Task Force has been meeting since early September. We will have camp in 2021! It will look significantly different than we’re used to, of course. We will only be able to open at 75% of capacity, as the state of Vermont dictates. We’ll be using pods to keep campers and staff in their own cabin groups; each season is shorter than usual; staff will spend their days off on the property; we’ll need to provide more and different mental health support than usual. A website update for COVID is going up by the end of next week, and there are still many, many more decisions to come, so keep checking back.
- Admissions for those who rolled over from 2020 is now open, and we are very encouraged by the numbers. Admissions opens 11/1 for everyone; an email will go out to the entire community. We will market Admissions as “first come first served, limited spaces available!” but we are holding spaces open for our partnership organizations. And, of course, we’ll be offering camperships to families needing financial help.
- Financially, we’re in decent shape but not out of the woods since we brought in no tuition revenue in 2020. We will have hard decisions to make as we get into the budgeting season. If we fully enroll at our targets, we’ll be $820K below 2019’s gross revenue. We’ll have to spend additional money in 2021 on infrastructure and other means of staying safe; we also anticipate spending more on camperships. Our CFO envisions hitting it out of the park in 2022 in terms of enrollment, working on efficiencies around cost centers, and being closer to break-even than we have been for the past few years but realistically it will take us 5-6 years to be at break-even, and of course we want to do better than that. Marketing is focused on effective strategies to reach families who don’t know about us, and to let them know why we’re an awesome choice for their children.
- When it comes to conservation, we have started looking at how we might transfer lands held by F&W to our conservation arm, Farm & Wilderness Conservation, Inc. This has a lot of practical advantages for land management and for taxes, and emphasizes our conservation mission. We already have 444 acres in Plymouth (remember we have a total of nearly 5,000 acres between Plymouth and Ninevah) in the Forest Legacy program. This allows our lands to be open to the public, for which we get a tax break. The problem is that the easement (the area the public can use) and camp property overlap. We want to make the trails as accessible as possible because we want to help people experience the outdoors and natural beauty, but this must be balanced with protecting our summer camps while they’re in session. I&E is talking about our approach to land acquisition and use through an equity lens. For example, we learned during our morning session that the term “stewardship” is a colonizers’ term (it assumes that the land is ours to steward, according to our own notions of doing so). A different term we might use is “living in a regenerative relationship with the earth.”
Our Chief Finance Officer, Alan Clarance, led Trustees in a workshop on how to read financial documents: balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flow. This speaks to our fiduciary responsibilities: Trustees act as guardians of the organization’s assets and must exercise due diligence and oversight to ensure that the organization is well-managed and that its financial situation remains sound. Alan started by presenting numbers such as our average camper FTEs over the past 5 years, average gross tuition, average expenses, and average of assets, before walking us through the relevant documents, with explanations. Typical questions that the Finance Committee and the full Board ask include:
- Is our financial plan consistent with our Strategic Plan and Annual goals?
- Is our Cash Flow projected to be adequate?
• Do we have sufficient reserves?
• Is revenue on track?
- Are any specific expense areas rising faster than their sources of income?
• Are we regularly comparing our financial activity with what we have budgeted?
• Are our expenses appropriate?
• Do we have the appropriate checks and balances to prevent errors, fraud, and abuse?
- Are we meeting guidelines and requirements set by our funders?
Much appreciation to Alan for a very informative session.
The I&E committee asked Trustees to jot down thoughts about our time together – proceedings, process – using a JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity) lens and bring it to the next meeting. We were asked to apply this lens to our committee meetings, as well.
Nominating season is open and we’ll be seeking four new Trustees for two, three-year terms. We’ll be especially looking for folks with expertise in finance and HR, and we must add one Vermonter in order to be compliance with our bylaws. Might this be you?
During our mission and values session, Trustees were asked to post words they thought captured F&W. These included “generosity,” “perseverance,” “service,” “fun,” and “resiliency.” Asked about the process we were engaging in, words included “exciting,” “ambitious,” and “trust-building.” Through F&W, may the Light of these words spread to all of the US.
Clerk of the Board
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