Thank You, from the NCEO
At the NCEO, we see our role as supporting the employee ownership community, but in this case many of you supported us. To convey how deeply I feel this appreciation, let me start by telling you how the future looked back in March.
On March 16, we canceled our in-person annual conference, which would have drawn more than 2,000 attendees. With over 40,000 person-hours of education, the conference is one of the most important things we do to help make employee ownership thrive, but it is also a core element of our business model.
The conference approaches 40% of our annual revenue, so the decision to cancel was based on projections that included some pretty grim scenarios. And in March we knew the hit to our sustainability would extend beyond the conference, because the outbreak also disrupts other aspects of what we do. We stopped shipping physical books, and we knew our summer and fall events were also at risk. Just like all of you, we could not predict when we would return to normal operations, or even know what “normal operations” might be when we do.
So, thank you to those of you who took a leap of faith on our virtual conference. You joined us from your kitchen tables and from nearly empty office buildings around the country. You drank your own coffee, you asked questions, and you offered ideas. You embodied determined problem-solving.
Thank you to the speakers. I am amazed by the diligence you invested time in creating slides while a storm raged around you. I am amazed by how thoroughly and thoughtfully you incorporated the quickly changing world into your presentations.
Thank you to the organizations who sponsored the conference. Many of you have been incredibly generous in pivoting to supporting the virtual conference.
Thank you to those who have made unsolicited donations.
Looking back further, our 2019 annual report is a glowing review of a fantastic year, filled with optimism for the amazing programs we anticipated in 2020. An overview written in March would have been grim list of risks, uncertainties, and contingency plans. As I write this now, on June 1, I struggle to find the right balance of worry and hope. We are in better shape than our worst-case and even our mid-case scenarios, but we also still have a hole in our income statement where the in-person conference would have been, and we are still projecting a weak year.
But personally I am back to optimism, partly because of the overwhelmingly positive conference evaluations, but even more from comments such as "the conference helped harness positive momentum for people when much of their lives were disrupted and put on hold” or “the presentation content was in most cases actually better than live.”
I am also optimistic because I have seen the heroic teamwork, long hours, and smart decisions made by NCEO staff, and I know about all of the plans—programs you will soon see as well—to keep being your partner in making employee ownership thrive.
Finally, I am optimistic because of one particular statistic: the best leading indicator of the health of the NCEO is membership. Although economic uncertainty generally depresses memberships (and, indeed, fewer new members have been joining since March), I was thrilled to see that our membership renewal count leapt in April, and was actually substantially higher than in April 2019. We do not take this increase lightly.
I will end where I began: thank you for standing by the NCEO. We will stand by you, and together, we will get through this.