Notes from the Inside: The Strategic Planning Dance

Alert readers of the HSS Newsletter may have noticed the absence of “Notes from the Inside” in the April issue. Whether or not the missing column improved the Newsletter will be left up to you, but it is my intent to keep providing these updates on the Executive Office (for better or for worse).

Our main activity in the EO these past few months, aside from the usual litany of annual meetings, board meeting, prize coordination, and hundreds of other duties, has been the implementation of the strategic plan. The plan has many parts, some of them dependent on more money and/or more staff. We are making strides in reaching some of our goals, but most of the action steps for each goal are not one-off tasks. For example, Goal 1 “Create vibrant regular HSS meetings,” will require ongoing efforts, and I am encouraged by our solid start, evidenced by the roughly 600 submissions for the San Francisco program (a record). The volume of the submissions can be traced, in part, to the allure of San Francisco, but it also has something to do with an increased emphasis on roundtables and trying to make the meeting more interactive, a step beyond the usual framework of one person talking and many people listening. Of course, our traditional framework has served us well for many years and one of the trickiest parts of the strategic-planning dance is keeping the things that work as we introduce novelty. We will rely heavily on you, our members, to tell us about successes, near successes, and let’s-not-ever-do-that-again activities.

Those of you with good long-term memory, a desirable trait in the historical professions, may remember the reasoning behind the launching of the strategic plan in the first place. A few years ago, with the lesson of the 2008 economic downturn still fresh in our minds, we wanted to increase the size of the endowment to cushion future downturns. This is tricky since the more dependent we become on our endowment the higher the impact of a diminished stock market. But the time was right for a capital campaign since the Executive Office was now comfortably housed at the University of Notre Dame, which has been a fantastic supporter, and the stock market was rocketing upward, and we were seeing healthy budget surpluses. All that we lacked, we discovered after we met with a consultant, was a strategic plan. This situation was analogous to being ABD, and, as it turns out, dissertations and strategic plans require a lot of work. With the support of hundreds of volunteers, we finished the strategic plan this past November – a cause for celebration. We are implementing what we can with current resources but we now face the prospect of raising money to enact the entirety of the plan and that activity, our consultant told us, will require 50% of the Executive Director’s time. This is a sobering percentage, especially given the extra time it is taking to implement the strategic plan. Even so, good fortune still shadows us, one example being PSA’s decision this past November to focus their limited resources on supporting their secretary/treasurer rather than paying us to handle their biennial meeting, which means that we will have more time to focus on HSS activities. We will also bring in professionals to help with some of the Office’s more time-intensive activities, e.g. bookkeeping and meeting planning, so that Greg Macklem and I can focus more fully on the plan and on fundraising.

These are exciting (and terrifying) times for the HSS. I am especially grateful to the HSS Executive Committee for its unwavering support, which can be measured in wisdom, in effort, in kindness, and in industry. When I speak to fellow executive directors, I am constantly reminded of just how lucky I am.

Thank you for your membership in the HSS.

Jay Malone
Executive Director