ASHG Board Roundup from Fall Meeting
At its annual Fall meeting Oct. 25-26, ASHG’s Board of Directors focused on near-term outlooks and actions as it navigates the organization through the pandemic while remaining focused on serving members in a time of great need. It also reviewed several new projects and activities. Prior to the meeting, the Board, with guests, had a longer education session about the Society’s progress on diversity, equity and inclusion, actions in the broader genetics and genomics community, and potential emerging needs. The following overview highlights key discussions and decisions.
Delivering Value to Members
The Society remains focused on delivering programs and services that provide value to members in these challenging times. Recognizing members’ time and budget constraints, ASHG continues to offer additional opportunities for members to learn and engage outside of the annual meeting through online year-round programming in the form of webinars, podcasts and other virtual content. In 2021, ASHG will provide a new opportunity for member value and community engagement through the launch of Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) – creating the capacity to segment and engage members by interest area and/or career stage. Considering the broad membership and its evolving needs, the Board expressed interest in having the Membership Engagement Committee (MEC) review ASHG’s Early Career membership. Early career membership is lower this year because 3 year auto-renewals from its launch in 2016 expired. Staff will work with the MEC to assess the early career membership value proposition, explore the opportunity for auto-renewals, and continue to provide programming that reflects this group’s needs.
The Board also learned about the growing work of the Government and Public Advocacy Committee, which proposed an updated policy and advocacy agenda for the Society’s work in coming years (see article in this issue of The Messenger), including ASHG’s continued leadership highlighting the importance of genetics and genomics research and expansion of ASHG’s advocacy on several facets of diversity, equity and inclusion. The board approved the updated agenda, with a request to first assess some areas that would potentially need additional resources to be successful, including potential expansion of ASHG’s work on insurance coverage for genetic testing and also on topics related to race, ancestry and genetics. Staff will provide the board with a report on those needs in the spring to seek input on highest priorities.
Professional Practices and Social Implications Update
On the heels of a very successful first ASHG “guidance” on ancient DNA produced by the Professional Practice and Social Implications Committee, the Board anticipates these publications being of great service to the community and sought to affirm how it will approach these moving forward. First, it approved and provided feedback on the committee’s proposal to focus its next guidance on polygenic risk scores. Second, on general process, it affirmed the resources should include named authorship for a Board-approved working group and that the Board should vote to approve the content prior to publication. To help ensure coordination and keep projects moving between meetings, a Board liaison will be selected for each working group and a resolution mechanism will be established in cases of authorship disagreement or incomplete consensus among writers and reviewers.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Goals and Activities
ASHG’s Board had in-depth conversations about ASHG’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals and activities, which have grown substantially over the last several years (see article in this issue of The Messenger). With guidance from the Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, the Society continues to have Board dialogue about how ASHG can best achieve its vision within the Society’s strategic plan and available resources. The Board enumerated key areas where efforts may be focused based on a Board dialogue prior to the Board meeting. Staff will bring forward implementation proposals for Board discussion at the Spring 2021 Board Meeting, recognizing that not all activities may be able to proceed in a given year. The four areas of consensus were: expanding and strengthening the pipeline of genetics and genomics research professionals from diverse backgrounds and continued emphasis on increasing diversity in research cohorts; truth-telling and acknowledgment of past issues in the field; and development of a knowledge network and professional education opportunities for members. It was also raised that these topics must also be considered in a global context, which will need future discussion. ASHG’s Board will continue this conversation into the future to help crystallize actions that advance the Society’s established goal to be a leader in supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in genetics and genomics research.
As noted in ASHG’s Fiscal Year (FY) 19-20 Annual Report, Treasurer Bruce Gelb reported that the Society ended the period with a modest surplus due to the success of ASHG 2019 in Houston. For FY 20-21, the global pandemic is putting financial pressure on both members and the field and thus ASHG is experiencing meaningful revenue headwinds. This is due to multiple factors, including a reduction in annual meeting registration and rates, which together constitute ASHG’s major revenue source; expected lower exhibit revenue for a virtual meeting; and a proactive Board decision to authorize a 50% reduction in 2021 dues for members who participated in the 2020 meeting. Throughout this period, the Society has been carefully controlling expenses while still investing in the staff and program resources needed to deliver compelling, high-impact programs at a time that members need them most.
In light of all these factors and goals, the Board approved a revised current-year budget that anticipates as much as a $1.6M net operating loss, and also approved allocation of up to $425,000 in additional funds from the reserves to support major strategic initiatives. To help offset the operating loss, the Society applied for and secured a federal Payroll Protection Act loan of approximately $500,000 which the Society expects may be forgiven consistent with the program’s policies. Additionally, the Society’s insurance policy for the 2020 annual meeting included a pandemic “rider” that may further reduce the loss, pending resolution of a claim.
Looking ahead, the Board anticipates that returning to a “new normal” will take some time. While the outlook for subsequent years is unknown, the Board approved a conservative lookahead for FY21-22, voting to plan for a similar $1.6M loss, given the uncertainty of the pandemic’s impact on the Society’s 2021 Annual Meeting. That initial estimate will be refined by the Finance and Audit Committee based on more information over the winter and be brought forward to the Spring 2021 Board Meeting for final approval.
The Board noted progress made on non-dues revenue sources, especially new grants to support ASHG’s diversity, equity and inclusion work and for the Society’s year-round programming. Additionally, ASHG’s Board approved a proposal for staff to investigate other ways to develop a more robust approach to corporate support, within important conflict of interest guidelines, and will present a proposal for the Board at the Spring 2021 Board Meeting. Finally, the Board elected member Susan Slaugenhaupt, PhD, to serve as treasurer. In 2021, she will serve as incoming treasurer for one year and serve as treasurer for two subsequent years.
The Board’s regular spring meeting is scheduled for April 26-27, 2021.