2020 Opening Conversation and Annual Meeting (123)

President’s Report to the Membership

February 2020

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Opening Conversation and Annual Meeting at the Cambridge Public Library on February 25. Our impressive speaker, YWCA Executive Director Eva Martin-Blythe, in conversation with Diana Lempel, the Society’s Doing History Curator, is a great example of what we do best—engage with our city to explore how the past influences the present in order to shape a better future. The Society would not be here without all of you.

Thanks to the Board. From January through November last year, the Society’s board met every other month and the executive committee on alternate months. In addition, board members contributed their time, energy, and collective knowledge to seven different committees, including programs, collections, communications, finance, nominations, and two new committees: development and facilities. Without the dedication and esprit de corps of our volunteers, the Society would not be the forward-looking organization that it is today. Many thanks to all of them for their support.

Thanks to the Executive Director. I’d also like to extend a big thanks to Marieke who has done an extraordinary job fulfilling the Society’s mission and strategic plan. The goal of the 2014 plan was to serve all Cambridge residents, extending the Society’s reach through programs such as the History Café series and oral histories. In 2019 the Society reached 750 people with more diversity and topics relevant to Cambridge today. Our thanks to Marieke and her excellent staff for inspiring us all with her dedication, vision, and professionalism.

Business Meeting overview. At the February 25th Business Meeting, I gave a brief summary of where the Society has been, where we are now, and where we’re going as an organization. I then talked about the financial picture, introduced the 2020 board and officers, and outlined next steps for the strategic plan and related changes to the mission statement and by-laws. 

Transparency.  As I explained at the business meeting, this report will be posted online at our website historycambridge.org and circulated to the membership. If there are any questions about this report and related data, please contact: info@historycambridge.org and we will respond as soon as we’re able. And if you’re not signed up to receive email yet, it’s easy to do: visit the website and a pop-up box will ask for your email address.

Where we have been. At this time last year, the Society was in a very difficult place. While the strategic plan that concluded in 2018 was a success in many respects—especially in terms of city-wide impact—the Society had not grown proportionately in terms of financial support. To address the issue, a task force was convened to evaluate our short-term options and streamline the budget. The task force effectively stabilized our immediate situation but our longer-term plans were at a crossroads. 

Updates in 2019. For my first year as board president, the focus has been on professionalizing our operations. Andy Leighton, the Society’s long term Treasurer, retired and we have updated our financial arrangements to include a new bookkeeper and accountant, and we digitized our processes. Thanks to Marieke, consultants from MIT Sloan reviewed our by-laws (more on this later); committee charters and action plans were created; and we created two new committees for development and facilities. We applied three important values to our efforts: transparency, continuous improvement, and community learning. (My day job is at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.) We made progress and we’re still working on it. 

Current Finances. Thanks to the task force and the considerable efforts of Marieke and her hard-working staff, 2019 came in right on budget. In terms of our balance sheet, we began 2019 with over $341,000 in assets and we ended with over $439,000. The difference is the result of a very generous, $100,000 bequest from a longtime Society member, George W. Jones, for which we are most grateful. It inspired us to create a planned giving or “legacy” group that we’re calling the Constellation Club

Investment overview. As of December 2019, the total market value of our investments was $343,948 which returned almost $8k in estimated annual income. In anticipation of a market shift, Cambridge Trust shifted from a 60/40 split between stocks and bonds to 50/50. At this writing, the move was certainly prescient. We will continue this conservative trend for the foreseeable future. 

Income trends. We have cut our expenses to the bare minimum but, major bequests aside, there has been a persistent and significant gap between the budget and income for the past five years. A short-term solution has been to draw down on investments but if that trend continues at $35k to $55k a year, the Society will have spent down its investments within five to ten years. It’s clear that we need a more sustainable plan and this will involve exploring all of our options and making some hard choices.

Strategic plan. To help guide the Society into a new future, we have engaged two expert consultants, Laura Roberts and Rainey Tisdale, to create a new strategic plan. Both come to us with expertise in small organizations of our type. We kicked off the process with a board retreat in January and a strategic task force comprised of Marieke, myself, and board members Doug Hanna (VP), Ed Rodley (VP), Amy Devin (Curator), and Mike Tushman will meet four times between January and April. Our goal is to discuss the new plan with the board at the May board meeting. In the meantime, updates will be sent to the board on a routine basis throughout the process.

Pending update to the mission statement. In 2019, the board discussed streamlining the mission statement in accordance with best nonprofit practices and our peers such as the Brooklyn Historical Society. The discussion began with the communications committee in 2018 and the board debated the recommendation in March and May meetings. The unanimous board vote was in favor of: The Cambridge Historical Society explores how the past influences the present in order to shape a better future. A full vote of the membership at the Annual Meeting was postponed pending completion of the strategic plan.

Pending update to the by-laws. Guided by the extensive MIT Sloan report, the Executive Committee, including Secretary Doug Brown, began the process of updating the by-laws so that they were more clear, consistent, current, and concise. The project is informed by the advice of legal counsel as well as voting policies from established sources. The Secretary has already made progress in addressing the least complex points with the balance to be informed by the strategic plan. 

Board service. At the Annual Meeting, Lauren Harder, Founder and President of The Harder Group, was approved as a board member. As founding chair of the Facilities Committee as well as interim Treasurer, Lauren has already made an important contribution to the Society. The Society is also grateful for the service of two departing board member, Greg Bowe, and Belinda Clerisme. Including officers, the 2020 board is comprised of 17 members:

Christina DeYoung, President
Doug Hanna, Vice President
Ed Rodley, Vice President
Doug Brown, Secretary
Lauren Harder, Interim Treasurer
Amy Devin, Curator
Marni Clippinger, Editor
Tod Beaty, President Emeritus
Bruce Irving 
Constantine Alexander
Frank Kramer
Heli Meltsner
Howard Lurie
Katherine Rafferty
Kyle Sheffield
Liz Adams
Michael Tushman

Curator’s Report. Please find attached to this document. Collections are an on-going challenge: trying to do a lot with a little has long term implications for sustainability.

Upcoming events. 2020 is going to be better than ever. We’re exploring this year’s theme “Who Are Cambridge Women?” through a variety of exciting events which you can learn more about in e-news and on historycambridge.org. I hope that you’ll join us for the first History Cafe of the season on April 22 and at the Spring Benefit which celebrates the architecture of Lois Lilley Howe on May 1 and 2. Tickets are on sale now!

Thank you for your consideration. 

Respectfully submitted,
Christina DeYoung