A Message from IRA President Maureen McLaughlin and IRA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post
IRA, like many other non-profit professional associations, has struggled in the current economic downturn. Our revenues have decreased, and our membership levels have declined. Moreover, we are experiencing a major demographic shift tied to start of baby-boomer retirement. Addressing these concerns has been a major focus of the IRA Board, executive director, and staff for the past several years.
As you are aware, the International Reading Association is in the midst of a major strategic effort designed to stabilize our operating revenues, realign our network of councils and affiliates, and restate our mission and goals to insure our continued operation and growth in a professional terrain that has been radically transformed by both digital technology and governmental mandates.
Given the scope of the challenge, our planning efforts were not undertaken lightly. Last year a special strategic planning team comprised of past IRA presidents, IRA board members, and selected members of the IRA staff held an intensive two-day session to conduct a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis. This team formulated a process for creating and implementing a new strategic plan that would pave our path to a sustainable future. The team also issued a mandate calling on the IRA staff to formulate the plan.
From the beginning of this effort, it was understood that the path to real success requires us to take considered steps in carefully planned sequence as new goals were established and new initiatives considered thereunder. Rather than rushing into change for change’s sake, our approach has been to appoint teams and committees that analyze the available data and carefully vet alternative approaches to arrive at the strongest possible foundations for building our future.
As conscientious stewards, we have been as open as possible about our progress. Last April at our annual conference in San Antonio, IRA’s executive director provided detailed briefings to many groups and committees, including a group of IRA past presidents, on the financial condition of the Association and the types of steps were taking to set a course correction for stabilization and future growth.
In June, a landmark council leadership academy was conducted in Minneapolis to assist state councils dealing with similar challenges. As the assembled attendees came to understand, realignment of the council network and IRA around membership options that provide increased value is an indispensable element of future success. Extensive coverage of the Minneapolis event was provided to the entire membership in the August/September issue of Reading Today.
Based on the groundwork laid at Minneapolis, planning for a new Council Transformation Initiative was undertaken this past summer with input from council leaders, staff, and legal counsel. The Initiative will climax later this month when the leaders of several councils who volunteered for a pilot program will participate in an intensive workshop that addresses critical operating issues, including incorporation, tax exempt status, bylaws, board member terms, member recruitment and retention, marketing, and social media. The goal is to make our councils stronger. We expect that one or two of the pilot councils will be presenting on this experience at the 2014 conference in New Orleans.
A special Cause, Mission, and Strategies (CMS) team was also formed in the summer consisting of the associate executive director of IRA and senior IRA staff. The CMS team was charged with drafting new internal and external messaging that would heighten the Association’s profile within the contemporary professional landscape and support a linked rebranding effort.
This team spent hundreds of hours reviewing IRA’s core strengths as its members strove to draft mission language that is contemporary and compelling, and that clearly and instantly communicates our cause to the professional literacy community, including practitioners and policymakers, and to the public at large. Expanding awareness in this way is essential if we are to attract new sources of financial support going forward. Part of this outreach also involved consideration of a name change for the Association.
Last week, at the October meeting of the IRA Board of Directors, many of these new initiatives were presented for board action. We are pleased to inform you that the board approved major new changes for IRA, including most notably the following:
- A new cause statement: Transforming Lives through Literacy
- A name change: International Literacy Association
No doubt changes like these require fuller explanation over time, as well as a “break-in” period. What we wish to note in this inaugural communication is that while reading remains at the core of our mission and purpose, the broader term “literacy” has the advantage of being less reductive. It imparts without more the reality that literacy professionals deal with a cluster of skills that also include speaking, listening, writing, and presenting.
By making this change—which many other literacy-focused associations have already done—we communicate more broadly the depth of our research base and our members’ instructional expertise.
Many other important steps were taken as well concerning such matters as governance, membership options, council support, and conference program rules. In the coming weeks and months, all of these changes will be explained at length in a series of updates that will come to you in special management reports, topical e-blasts, and Reading Today coverage.
We urge you to read these follow-up communications in detail so that you will fully understand the background of these changes, the deliberations that occurred in developing them, and the advantages we believe will be realized by adopting them. Until you have all of the facts, an informed perspective is not possible and any criticism would in fact be premature.
In this first message about what is to come, we wanted you to know that we are thrilled at the future prospects we see for the Association. We look forward to hearing from you and engaging with you as these new initiatives are rolled out over the rest of the year. Most of all, we want you to know that we are honored to have the privilege of supporting you, our members, in the great work of advancing the cause of literacy. With your support, we will honor our past as we build IRA’s future.