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Annual Report: Looking Back at FY2015

By all measures, our most recent fiscal year was a great one. If you came to a forum between July '14 and June '15, you know that already. Even if you only heard one forum on the radio or watched the YouTube while hanging out on Facebook, you were a part of it. 

And by now, you may have seen our Annual Report, and if you haven't you may be about to receive a copy in the mail. As we did last year, we kept it slim and digestible, and are using our space here on the blog to elaborate and contextualize another City Club by the numbers annual report. 

I often tell people that we did 140 programs last year, and they're incredulous. That's partly because most people still think of us in terms of our Friday forums. It's also because apart from staff, almost nobody comes to every program (except you, Michael Patterson!). Those 140 programs were a team effort, made possible by our board, our program committee, our programming subcommittees, our partners, and a few key staff people. The other way we've done more is by a policy of saying yes to partnerships as often as we can. Among those 140 programs last year, were a handful of Fred Talk events presented with the Cleveland Foundation, along with a few Powered by Pechakucha events, one of which was organized by a City Club member committee devoted to imagining possible futures for our city. Some longstanding partnered programs have continued, like the Happy Dog Takes on the World, presented with IPM, Northeast Ohio Consortium on MIddle East Studies, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, and the Happy Dog, and our presentation of the Cleveland International Film Festival's Film Forums. It's only through those partnerships that we can come close to reaching nearly 24,000 audience members in a year. And it's only through our partnership with ideastream that we can get so many forums on the air and all the forums on the web, where we reach hundreds of thousands of others.

While we're talking audiences, big thanks are in order for the funders of our student program. You've seen the students at our forums, or you've heard them asking what are often the best questions that get asked. Their involvement wouldn't be possible without the generous support of many donors and local foundations, including AT&T, the Laub Foundation, the Pipeline Foundation, the Charles Spahr Charitable Trust and the David Jeffrey Epstein Memorial Fund.

Many of you know us for the forums you encounter on the radio, television, and YouTube, and you may not realize that our catering department serves the community by doing nearly twice as many private events. We've got great clients, like the Cleveland CFA Society who host weekly meetings and the First Friday Club of Cleveland who actually meet on Thursdays (it's a long, very Cleveland, story). Our catering crew does everything, from a private lunch for your board's executive committee to wedding receptions for 200 guests. We don't say this all the time, but anyone who checks out our 990s would quickly see that our catering business is not only profitable, but it also helps us control the cost of our events. That's a savings that gets passed along to our everyone who comes to our forums, after all, how else can you manage to present a world class speaker with a decent downtown lunch for just $20?.

Going back to our founding, our audiences have always engaged speakers in a robust question and answer period. It's one of the things we're known for. In fact, that book we launched last year that tells the story of our first century of service to the community--it starts with one of our members asking a particularly tough question of President George W. Bush. So we got to wondering how many questions might have been asked over the course of a year. So, we averaged the numbers from a handful of forums (6.6 per forum) and then multiplied them by 140. That's a lot of questions!

Lastly, increasing speaker diversity continues to be a big goal for us here at the City Club. When speakers along the lines of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Rev. Otis Moss and Rev. Joan Brown Campbell call on the community to recognize white privilege and structures that bend to the credibility of whiteness, as an institution, we're called to bring more speakers who mirror the diversity of our community. We're proud that the proportion of speakers who are women and minorities continues to grow, and by no means do we feel the work is done. 

 

It's been a good year for spreading the word. Our social team went through some turnover, and thanks to the hard work and leadership on the team, we've done quite well. Some people wonder about the efficacy of social media and the wisdom of spending time on it. As many of you know, at this point, it's not optional for any organization hoping to have an impact and reach different segments of the community. In the old days, we mailed a newsletter weekly and later, monthly. It was passed around and shared and pinned to various bulletin boards. Today, we are engaging in social media outreach throughout the day, on our own behalf and on behalf of our partners. We're as likely to be tweeting about someone else's great news or events as we are about our own events, and that's intentional. We strongly believe that social media is a dialogue, a conversation and not just another broadcast vehicle for one way communication. Questions are coming in to our forums on Twitter, speaker suggestions on Facebook, and sometimes, it's social media that allows us to connect with potential speakers and their staffers, as was the case this last year with Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, and if democratic presidential candidate Larry Lessig (trust me, he's interesting) ever makes it to our stage, the journey will have begun with a tweet. Oh, and by the way, in case you've been wondering what we do with all those photos we take during Forums, you can find them on our Facebook page. 

YouTube has become our primary content archive. Those hundred thousand views would be hard to get, frankly, if we were on another platform. You access our YouTube videos most often on our website, but the videos are getting stored on YouTube. Why? It's where the world is watching videos. Lest you worry that we put too many of our eggs in one basket, we maintain (with the assistance of ideastream and Cleveland State University's Cleveland Memory Project) parallel archives on web servers and offline storage. We have very recently made the move to streaming via YouTube, which has a few added benefits for the viewer (including being able to pause and restart a live stream!). When you add those numbers to the broadcast audience we reach through ideastream, we're doing pretty well. 

This group of digits is pretty self-explanatory--there was Obama and Mark Everson, a boatload of debates in September and October, Ben Beberoth of Spice Acres Farm delivered an introduction to Kristin Ohlson (while wearing the flannel shirt and clod-hoppers he'd been working in that morning), Greg Louganis helped us welcome the Gay Games and space traveler Michael Good joined NASA Glenn Director James Free to discuss the legacy of the Hubble Space telescope. 

The note about the backdrops deserves a special explanation--it's a great example of how much our board members support the work we do. Rob Falls of Falls Communications sits on our board and chaired the Advancement Committee last year. When the President was coming and it was decided that he would speak at the Global Center for Health Innovation, we quickly realized we needed a new backdrop. And, when you're working with the White House, a new backdrop isn't quite as simple as designing it and going ahead. On the Friday night before the President spoke, members of Rob's team were designing and redesigning multiple iterations of the backdrop, each of which had to be emailed to the advance team and then to Washington for review. They went above and beyond the call, and they were amazing. Similarly, our friends at Imagelab moved heaven and earth to get the backdrop printed in very short order so we were able to have it in place well before President Obama's arrival. Like we say a lot, we can't do what we do without the support of our members and our community. 

The president's visit sparked a huge interest in membership. And while we weren't able to get every one of those new members a ticket to see him, we did fete all of our members--and especially those new ones--with a really nice event at the Great Lakes Brewing Company's Tasting Room. 

We've told you about our community partner program before--it's modeled on a similar program that the Cleveland International Film Festival has used to great effect to spread the word about their films. We invite community organizations with an affinity for the topics being discussed at our forums to join us to market the event. We exchange a little visibility for the organization for assistance getting to word out. We are always welcoming new community partners, and if you're interested in hearing more about the how it works, we want to hear from you. Those other eleven organizations that helped us with programs include corporate and media partners who assist with all sorts of things, from connecting us to potential speakers to subsidizing expenses.

It was an exceptional year for media coverage. Most of our mentions were in the places you'd expect--The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com, ideastream.org, Columbus Dispatch--but there were a few moments where we broke through to a national audience. Our POTUS date brought coverage from The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Slate and Wonkette, among others. A forum on race produced by our Youth Forum Council garnered not just a Plain Dealer front page but also a broadcast by C-Span, and a forum we did in collaboration with one of Case Western Reserve University's MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) was featured in an essay on Huffington Post.

I mentioned above the role that our board members and corporate partners play. It is daily an honor and a privilege to work with them. Through membership and sponsorship, our corporate partners contribute a significant amount of revenue to our organization--over $400,000 in this last fiscal year. We couldn't do what we do without their financial and in-kind contributions. 

Keen readers (who have made it this far and have paid attention in past years) will note that our board has grown. Several years ago, we made a change to our governance procedures to allow for up to 30 directors. Our growth this past year is due mostly to a governance change that is streamlining the relationshiship between The City Club and our endowment organization, the City Club Forum Foundation. Effectively, a few members of the Forum Foundation are now members of the City Club Board. We are thrilled to have them. 

It's a lot of facts, figures and numbers, and when you add it up, as cliché as it is to say this, it's a great deal more than the sum of the parts. In the end, we're most proud of our community. You support us with your membership, with your attendance and participation at events, with your listening on Friday afternoons and Sunday mornings, watching the content on YouTube and sharing it with friends, with the questions you ask at forums, the speaker suggestions you make and then follow up on, with your strong belief that our community is stronger with a place like this one, that has, as Ralph Hayes once said, no axe to grind, no logs to roll. Thank you. 

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