ELi’s Board of Directors has asked me to step away from my sabbatical for a moment to write to you about their plans for next steps.
The Board – President Sam Hosey, Vice President Jiquanda Johnson, Treasurer Ray Vlasin, Secretary Amalia Medina, and Director-at-Large Adan Tomas Quan – have been working tirelessly to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility of guiding this organization, and as ELi’s founder, I am enormously grateful to them for stepping up in this extraordinary way. No other ELi Board has had to do anything like this.
In case you missed it, here’s what’s happening: As Sam explained last week, Emily Joan Elliott, who is currently filling in as ELi’s Acting Executive Director, is leaving the organization on May 6 to take another job. This leaves ELi without a plan for top staff leadership starting then. (It’s not possible for me to drop all my sabbatical commitments and step back in to the jobs I had at ELi.)
The Board accepted my recommendation that ELi take a two-week publishing pause to work on assessing community needs, wants, opportunities, and tolerances – to figure out, before moving to the next stage, what people here think is necessary and doable.
The Board also wants to hear from ELi’s staff about what’s working and not working, what they think could be done better, how their jobs are functioning, and so on. Our staff is so connected to the community, the Board is sure they have a lot of wisdom to share.
The plan is to have a Board meeting tonight with the staff, and then, starting tomorrow, to redirect the work of the paid reporting staff to assessment during this two-week publication pause. (The East Lansing Insider podcast will continue so as not to create a hole in Impact Radio’s Sunday morning schedule.) Donors and readers will be asked about what they value in ELi, whether they want ELi to continue and in what forms, and so forth, with assessments happening via a to-be-announced online survey as well as through one-on-one conversations.
Staff working on this will be paid the same as the average of their pay for the last three months’ work at ELi (paid for those two weeks at the equivalent of half of their average monthly income), and they will be asked to work at a level commensurate with their pay level.
The Board believes – as do I – that ELi has reached the point in its maturity where it cannot continue to assume it can obtain volunteer or significantly-below-market-pay labor from people. As you can read in the “History of ELi” that I wrote for our Guidance document, ELi began as a mostly volunteer organization. But it has professionalized, all for the better, and now it must catch up the resources to hire and retain professionals if it is to keep going strongly, as it has been, providing high-quality, timely, meaningful local news.
Since ELi joined the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) a few years ago to participate in NewsMatch, I have gotten to know dozens of publishers at organizations like ours. So, I can tell you this is a painful but extremely common development path – where the founder is exhausted, the busy volunteer staff have been steadily replaced with paid staff, the production has gotten so much better, and now the team needs properly compensated pros in charge.
The Board is committed to keeping ELi what it has always been: a nonprofit, factual, honest, nonpartisan news organization staffed by people who live here and who believe in news “of, by, and for the people.” But that makes it extra tricky to find new leadership – because the Board understands it needs staff leaders who have real experience in nonprofit management, journalism, and East Lansing. And it means figuring out how to raise enough money to hire and retain great people.
Care about all this? Please, keep an eye out for the survey, and if you want to be contacted one-on-one by a staff or Board member, let us know now.
This community made ELi what it is today, and ELi needs your input now to grow intelligently and gracefully to the next stage. Thank you for participating in this community project.