At its annual Spring meeting April 26-27, which was held virtually, the ASHG Board of Directors discussed continued progress on the Society’s strategic goals on year-round programming; leadership on diversity, equity, and inclusion in genetics and genomics research; membership engagement; and advancing public awareness and advocacy initiatives, as well as continued attention to governance and administration. The following overview highlights key discussions and decisions.
Fostering Inclusive Environments for Science
During the meeting, the Board discussed and approved updated short- and long-term roadmaps on diversity, equity, and inclusion, presented by Incoming Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force (DEITF) Chair Neil Hanchard, current Chair Dana Crawford, and Chazeman Jackson, ASHG’s Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (see article here). The updates reflected the Board’s fall 2020 requests for expanded or new areas of emphasis; a review of ASHG’s strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities; and a centering principle of equity. Major approved activities are:
- Creation of an expert panel to engage the community and other experts to acknowledge and document the history of the field in FY22, with continued commitment through FY24. The Board acknowledged that to achieve its vision that people everywhere realize the benefits of genetics and genomics research, the Society must have the willingness and ability to acknowledge harms in the field’s history and positively integrate the Society’s Core Value of inclusion for the future.
- A program to engage and partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to help develop the undergraduate pipeline, and authorized development of a training program on implicit bias and diversity specifically for the genetics and genomics research workforce.
- Increased funding for international travel awards to the 2022 International Congress for Human Genetics, creating a total of $75,000 to offset attendance for high-potential, diverse early-career individuals. The action affirmed the Society’s view that the Congress is a unique and outstanding networking opportunity for the next generation of human genetics researchers worldwide.
“Staying the Course”: Delivering Value for Members
The Society continues to deliver programs and services that provide value to members in these challenging times. The Board reviewed progress on a number of member initiatives that are guided by many committees and a special role of the Member Engagement Committee (MEC). Programs from various committees include online year-round programming through webinars, podcasts, a virtual career fair, and other virtual content, and all contribute to member value and engagement. The Board applauded the MEC’s upcoming launch of a new online member-only platform—ASHG Connect—and its potential to help members communicate year-round with fellow researchers, and the simultaneous piloting of several Shared Interest Groups. At this time there is no cost to use the platform or participate in SIGs, but participants must be ASHG members to participate.
The Board reviewed and discussed early actions to focus on recruiting and retaining early career members and an anticipated Member Survey in Fall 2021. The last Member Survey was conducted in 2018, and an update will enable the Board to get member input on progress and experiences, as well as potential new areas for program priorities in coming years. The Board also discussed membership and engagement of members working in industry, highlighting changes in the nature of the genetics and genomics workforce and the importance of valuing and including industry career scientists. It approved a proposed Action Plan from an appointed Industry Engagement Task Force and sunset the Task Force, with appreciation for all the members’ valued work (see article here.)
Finally, the Board discussed several policy and societal issues. It reviewed Government and Public Advocacy Committee activities, including an update on the legislative outlook for NIH funding and other policy priorities; ongoing advocacy activity, including ASHG’s first ever Capitol Hill Day; and an updated impact report that documents the economic and functional impacts of human genetics and genomics research (see article here). It also approved a strong outline from the Professional Practice and Societal Implications Committee on engaging diverse populations in research.
Financial and Organizational Strength
Overall, ASHG’s financial footing remains strong, and it was noted that despite all the pandemic challenges, volunteers and staff have done a remarkable job maintaining fiscal health while still expanding programming. The Board’s consistent theme has been that ASHG should remain “steady in the storm,” investing in consistent or heightened priorities; helping members through one-time dues reductions and program value; and sustaining the staff and infrastructure necessary to return to full strength in the years ahead. Taking a step back from large annual swings due to pandemic factors, the Board has planned for ASHG to emerge from this two-year period approximately even on its operating budget, while still investing $1 million in core strategic priorities. The result would be as little as a 3-4% reduction in its overall financial health through this time, even assuming some reduction in market returns of the reserve fund.
- FY21 Forecast: Concluding June 30, FY21 is expected to benefit from assertive expense management in operating and strategic budgets, as well as attention to optimizing all potential operating revenue resources. Expenses maintained staff capacity to execute programs, as well as all ongoing program and administrative costs. The revenue forecast reflected decreased member dues because of the Board’s approved 50% member dues discount for continuous membership and meeting attendance through the two-year period; the Board’s careful deliberation regarding the 2020 meeting cancellation and resulting event cancellation insurance payment of $1.2 million; and loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), totaling $1.1 million, one of which was forgiven in FY21 (expectations are the same for a second PPP in FY22). Net operating performance will be approximately $1.3 million; ($250,000) in strategic funds results in a bottom line of about $1 million.
- FY22: The Board approved an FY22 budget that anticipates an offsetting net operating loss of $1 million due to residual pandemic pressures while maintaining core programming. On revenue, the budget anticipates the recognition of the second PPP loan forgiveness; meeting and membership holding steady with 2020; and registration/member rates that see modest 3% increases to keep pace with inflation. The exception will be that there will be no dues increase for members residing in Tier 1 developing country members (determined by World Bank Categories) and meeting registration also will be free for these members. The Board also approved up to $750,000 in strategic funds to support a number of important programs in advocacy, diversity, communications, business planning and organizational infrastructure.
Lastly, the Board had opportunities to reflect on its own health and future work. It reviewed the findings of a board self-assessment to identify areas of governance strength and areas for focus in the future. While always identifying areas for new attention, the Board was pleased that the ASHG Board exceeded benchmarks for comparable organizations. The Board also held a robust, generative dialogue on the future of the association world; potential changes in programs such as growth of remote and hybrid learning and continued movement toward Open Access publishing; and strengths and opportunities that are unique to ASHG and genetics/genomics moving forward. This formative input will build a foundation for an August 2021 special Board session on strategic business planning. Along with member survey input and other ongoing member engagement, these discussions will help the Board forge potential future directions for ASHG’s continued member service and growth post-pandemic.
Due to the virtual meeting format, the Board’s regular fall meeting has been scheduled for November 4-5, 2021.