CEO Update: COVID-19 Challenges and Financial Health Review

Hear from our CEO about the impacts of phased reopening on our programs, the financial challenges we've faced, and why we're optimistic about the future. We also invite you to join us for our Annual Meeting on September 15 to hear more about the highlights of the past year and our plans for the year ahead.
Tom Vogl Tom Vogl
CEO, The Mountaineers
September 01, 2020

Since our last organization-wide COVID-19 update, we’ve settled into a new normal of mask-wearing, smaller group and lower-risk activities, and virtual programs in place of larger, in-person gatherings. We’ve demonstrated resilience and creativity as a community, and although we know the year ahead will likely throw many challenges at us, more and more, we have confidence that The Mountaineers will survive. Here's an overview of some of the challenges we’ve overcome this summer and the plans we’re building for the coming year to ensure we continue to support our community and the mission of The Mountaineers. 

This summer has been difficult on so many levels. The impact of the pandemic has been far greater than we’d hoped back in spring. Our country has seen higher rates of infection and mortality than most of us could have imagined, and the impact on jobs and our economy has been unprecedented. Washington State and The Mountaineers haven’t been insulated from these challenges.

Challenges for The Mountaineers

Because of slower progress getting the spread of the virus under control, the Washington state phased reopening process has essentially been on hold since early July. Back in June, we’d hoped most of the counties we operate in would have advanced to Phase 3 or even Phase 4 by now. Instead, most of our operations are more constrained, in Phase 2 or modified Phase 1. Despite these setbacks in the reopening timeline, we’ve been able to respond to recent guidance by the state, simplifying our approach and allowing limited reopening of our program centers for small group programming. Be sure to stay abreast of our latest guidance by regularly visiting our Coronavirus Programming and COVID-19 Response webpages. 

The phased reopening changes have directly impacted most of our programs, for example:

  • Youth camps limited enrollment and moved most sessions from in-person to virtual programs
  • Most courses and field trips were cancelled
  • The entire season of the Kitsap Forest Theater was cancelled
  • All Global Adventures trips were cancelled or rescheduled
  • Our lodges and program centers have been closed to the general public

As we’ve shared in previous COVID-19 updates, the financial impact of these disruptions has been severe. 

Financial Health

We’ve responded to these financial impacts with significant cost-cutting across the entire organization, and by seeking resources like the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program, a forgivable loan made available to nonprofit organizations and small businesses as part of the CARES Act relief program. Many volunteers responded creatively and generously by developing online and hybrid courses and events to offer learning experiences, connection with others, and continued opportunities to get outdoors. Our publishing division, closed for most of April and May due to the pandemic, is rebounding well since reopening and will finish this year with good momentum on books sales. And finally, our donors have been incredibly generous, including in our most recent fundraising event, our virtual gala on July 23. The financial impact of COVID-19 has been palpable but our community has responded to help us weather the storm. 

Just a few months ago, we wondered if we’d have enough cash in the bank to get us through this summer. I’m happy to report that due to the commitment, creativity, and generosity of our community, we’ll end this fiscal year (September 30, 2020) with positive cash reserves and a plan that I believe will allow us to survive what is likely to be a difficult year ahead. While I’m thankful we’re ending this year in a better financial position than expected, I’d be remiss to not highlight the way this crisis has impacted individuals across our Mountaineers community. When courses and trips were cancelled, eager students were left with limited outlets to learn new outdoor skills and connect with others. Many young Mountaineers lost the opportunity to attend summer camp or go on field trips to places like Squamish or the North Cascades. Staff were furloughed and took pay cuts, and volunteers were asked to do more with less resources in order to preserve our cash reserves. Our fiduciary responsibilities demanded decisive and difficult actions and I think we’ve acted with an appropriate sense of urgency. Yet I think it’s important to keep in mind that these necessary actions significantly impacted many members of our community.

We are in the midst of refining our proposed budgets for our next fiscal year and we will review a final budget with the Finance Committee on September 28. The Mountaineers board of directors will be asked for final approval on October 15. The FY20/21 budget will be lean across the entire organization, and we are working hard to strike a balance between a lean operating budget while protecting our ability to restart operations as we emerge from the pandemic. This is a nuanced balancing act that your board of directors, volunteer leaders, and staff are intently focused on. 

I believe we have a plan that will ensure our finances remain viable while not cutting back so far that we negatively impact the most important services and support we provide to members, volunteers, and the outdoor community.

More

We’ll share more highlights of the past year, our plans for navigating the year ahead, and nominees for at-large members of our Board of Directors at our upcoming Annual Meeting on September 15. Please consider joining us to hear more about these topics, meet members of the Board and staff leadership, and to ask questions or share ideas. And finally, I hope you’ll continue to be safe and healthy. This is one of the most challenging times we’ve ever faced as an organization and as a country; we’ll get through it by working together. 

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