This coming year will bring my seventeen-year anniversary with International CHRIE. In some ways, the time has flown by and, overall, it’s been quite an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
When I look back to where we were seventeen years ago, it’s clear that although it’s taken a lot of time and effort on the part of staff, the board, and other key volunteers, we are definitely not the same organization today. One of the key (and significant) differences between then and now is our financial viability. In my first four years with ICHRIE, we dramatically improved our finances, paid off all of our debts (totaling almost $250,000), and increased our assets. The only financial “problem” we have now is that we have to watch our many bank accounts to ensure they don’t exceed the $250,000 FDIC limits—a nice problem to have.
But as I’ve learned (time and again), the perceptions left by poor behavior of the past have very, very long shadows. I still hear from people who, when asked why they no longer belong to ICHRIE, state, “Oh, they’re broke.” In 2000, we were probably closer to that truth than I care to think about, but since way back then we have had many years of financial stability and growth. This is obviously one long shadow that needs some light shed on it.
I can tell you first hand that it wasn’t easy to bring ICHRIE back from the edge of financial insolvency. It took a complete overhaul of our financial operations to stop the downward spiral and to put a tourniquet on the organizational arterial bleeding of finances. It took a paradigm shift of operational norms. It required a change in operational thinking from acting like a government-subsidized charitable organization to operating like a business. It took a lot of “No” responses to commonly-asked questions posed to me and the board that had financial impact on the budget. It is a battle that we continue to fight on a daily basis and often requires me to play “budget police” more often than I would like. When some people hear those “no” responses, they attribute the response to our long shadow of financial woes.
Not everyone was happy with these new operational policies and those most unhappy appear to be people who took the most advantage of our previous “give it away for free” and “let’s play favorites” mentality. I can accept not being the most popular person on their lists, but it’s very hard to hear about those who disconnected from ICHRIE because of operational behavior that has not existed for many years. Overcoming the long shadow cast by the sins of the past always takes more years than it should to overcome.
Financial insolvency is not our main worry now—growth is. So I’m asking you to help us fulfill the goals of our current strategic plan so we can begin to cast another long shadow, one that’s all about growth.