CEO Update: Reopening, Innovations, Staffing Changes

This past month has been marked with optimism about the gradual, phased reopening process, while at the same time, our country has been engaged in a deeply-emotional and divisive conversation about racism. Read about how we're navigating these conversations, how we're approaching reopening and finding inspiration in volunteer innovations, and about our long-term financial viability and implications for staff.
Tom Vogl Tom Vogl
CEO, The Mountaineers
June 29, 2020

This past month has been marked with optimism about the gradual, phased reopening process, while at the same time, our country has been engaged in a deeply-emotional and divisive conversation about racism. The Mountaineers community is often a microcosm of the world - with outdoor culture being a micro-community in the greater society - and everything that happens in the community at large impacts the people here. 

We believe all people should have equal opportunities and access to engage with nature. A few weeks ago we published a blog post about fighting racism in the outdoors affirming our values and providing our community with opportunities to learn more about how they can address racism and racist systems. Our Equity and Inclusion Committee has been working to support our community in the days since that blog post was published, and our conservation team worked with partners to condemn the disturbing incident that occurred on June 3 near Forks on the Olympic Peninsula. While most people expressed appreciation that we, like many other organizations, made firm statements about our vision and values of racial equity, a small number were upset by these statements and reacted angrily to other members who expressed support for addressing racial injustice. 

These conversations were, and will continue to be, emotional, tiring, and difficult as our society as a whole grapples with our history of racism. We are fortunate to have board members and a dedicated E&I Committee who have been closely involved in listening and learning through discussions for a few years, but it remains clear that we have more work to do on equity and inclusion in our organization, including equipping our volunteers and members with better tools and information for having constructive conversations and resolving conflict in venues such as Mountaineers-related social media sites. While we have a long E&I journey ahead of us, I am proud of how we’ve navigated these important and challenging conversations in recent weeks. 

If you're interested in joining these efforts, we encourage you to learn more and consider applying to join our E&I Committee.  We are committed to creating a diverse committee that includes people with varied backgrounds and experiences who are passionate about JEDI work. BIPOC, women, LGBTQIA+, veterans, persons with disabilities, those 55 and older, are especially encouraged to apply.

Reopening Process

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been deeply engaged in managing the gradual COVID-19 reopening process and taking actions to ensure our long-term viability in the face of the pandemic. This work is being led by our Reopening Task Force, which consists of both staff and volunteers who support all aspects of our programming. If you haven’t already familiarized yourself with our COVID-19 Reopening Guidance, I encourage you to review the materials posted on our website. 

This has been a truly iterative process, with our guidance being updated weekly in accordance with new guidelines from the state.Thank you to our community - and in particular our leaders - for your feedback and flexibility. Your suggestions and feedback have helped us make this guidance more effective and more flexible and has helped our community get back outdoors in a safe and responsible way. To date, the feedback about our revised operations has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’ll continue to refine our guidance as we learn more in the coming weeks and months. The recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in parts of Washington State and in various locations across the U.S. is a reminder that we need to continue working together to prevent further spread of the virus. The sacrifices we’re making are helping to prevent illness and fatalities; we are grateful our community is committed to doing our part to address the risks of the pandemic. 

To better support members of our community, we’re excited to announce that we’ll be offering curbside pickup for our Seattle Program Center bookstore beginning Thursday, July 2 from 3pm-6pm! We'll also be launching our annual Summer Book Sale, with 25% off all books, 35% off book bundles, and 40% off merchandise.We’ll have tables at the front entrance so that you can pay and take your books without entering the building.

Education Innovations

Although we still have a lot to learn, COVID-19 has already forced us to think outside the box and find new ways of offering outdoor learning opportunities. We’ve seen numerous examples of our volunteer leaders creating flexible, online, or hybrid programming that allows us to be more agile with our operations.

From online seminars about rope techniques to Zoom courses on birding during quarantine to 100+ person presentations about past climbing and backpacking adventures, we know our volunteers have only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible. Our programs are sure to continue growing and evolving in the coming year, and we’re optimistic that the changes we’ll see will have a lasting and valuable impact on our community.

Implications for Staff

In the CEO update in late-April, I reviewed the prior actions we took to reduce expenses and preserve our cash balances. These included reducing program expenses, furloughs for some staff members, two layoffs (Chad Arveson and Dilek Bulut), and suspension of 401K matching contributions. A few weeks ago, we internally announced additional actions that reduced staff headcount by another four positions: Tim Bugler and Amanda Virbitsky’s roles, as well as two open positions. Reducing our programs staff by six positions was a difficult yet necessary decision due to the reduction in programming and revenues we’re experiencing and expect to continue into next year. We’re grateful to the impacted staff members for their long-term contributions to The Mountaineers and their outstanding support during this difficult transition. Please join us in recognizing and thanking these individuals.

Many of the actions outlined will continue for the remainder of this fiscal year through September 2021. In addition to the reduction in staff headcount and the 14-month suspension of 401k matching, which begins in August, all of our staff will have a salary reduction during the same time period. The reductions scale with salary level and range from 2% to 33%.  We chose this approach to be as equitable as possible and to keep more positions in place to best support our community and mission.

Additionally, many of our remaining staff who were not able to go on temporary stand-by in the beginning phases of the pandemic will be on furlough in July. We thank you in advance for your patience as we re-balance responsibilities while we’re short-staffed due to furloughs, and for your continued support as we navigate our new normal. Please email info@mountaineers.org if you’re unsure of who to contact and our Member Services team can direct your request.

Long-term financial impacts

For months, we’ve made the important planning assumption that COVID will significantly impact our operations and financial position for a relatively long time, likely until a vaccine is widely available. To date this conservative planning assumption is proving to be correct, and the aggressive actions we’ve taken, especially on expense reduction, are helping ensure our financial viability. 

In May, the Board of Directors authorized staff to pursue an Economic Injury and Disaster Loan (EIDL) through the Small Business Administration (SBA). We also recently received a forgivable loan from the SBA - the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The combination of securing an EIDL and receiving the PPP, along with the many austerity actions we have identified and implemented, have significantly improved our near-term cash outlook. Based on our latest cash model updates and assumptions, we believe our cash reserves will be sufficient through at least next summer without considering additional liquidity options such as loans or accessing long-term reserves. 

In the coming months, staff, the Finance Committee, and Board of Directors will be finalizing our budgets for next year with the goal of ensuring our cash reserves remain sufficient. Our planning assumptions are conservative, yet not a worst case scenario, for the coming 18-24 months. We continue to believe this is the most prudent way to manage through this crisis. 

I fully expect that there will be additional challenges in the months ahead, yet I remain optimistic about our future because of the strength and adaptability of our community. Please stay safe, stay in touch, and let me know if I can answer your questions about how we’re navigating this challenging time.

Main Image: Sahale Glacier. Photo by Chenmin Liu.


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