Planning for our future
Our strategic plan sets the stage for AAVSO's future. Over the past two years, we listened to our members, studied today's astronomy community's needs, identified key ways our data supported research, and looked at new ways to assist members in observing technology. We focused on three objectives: membership satisfaction, organizational impact, and long-term financial stability. Keeping those in mind, our goals are:
As we celebrate 110 years since the AAVSO's founding, we will start executing the strategic plan's programmatic priorities and provide a better, refreshed organization to you. We will create avenues to connect with "anyone anywhere," virtually through our free webinars and how-to hours. We will foster key partnerships to widely disseminate the AAVSO's value, and we will engage more individuals in the excitement of scientific discovery. We hope you'll be inspired to continue to embrace and support our work toward these goals. YOU are the AAVSO!
The AAVSO will be a leading citizen astronomy movement by enabling its international community to participate in scientific projects that are often led by professional astronomers.
At the heart of the AAVSO's program are our databases and scientific work. We aspire to continue being an essential resource for professional astronomers, providing the necessary data enabling them to produce significant scientific results. Our observers are critical collaborators in long-term and short-term scientific projects; the AAVSO is committed to support their work and provide the resources and opportunities they need to maximize the impact of their involvement. We will continue fostering key collaborations with high-profile international groups, which will leverage our observer's expertise to enable novel science. We will provide opportunities for active engagement and communication through those projects, thus facilitating active interactions between the observer community and subject matter experts. We will facilitate and encourage professional astronomers' engagement with observers through our forums, enabling active feedback and mentorship on ongoing projects. We will engage professional astronomers in the AAVSO activities, such as in CHOICE courses and observing sections, leveraging their expertise to benefit and grow our community.
We recognize that we enable research through access to reliable data found in the AAVSO databases. Therefore, we will continue curating our databases, ensuring the high quality of their data. We will also maintain and enhance relevant tools for data submission and retrieval and provide software to facilitate research opportunities for all.
We will also enhance our observer's skills through appropriate educational material and courses, workshops, discussions on forums, and webinars.
Our community's work will be supported through our active help desk at the AAVSO Headquarters and through peer mentoring. We will encourage the engagement of subject matter experts in our observing sections, provide guidance and support for our observers, and facilitate exchanging ideas and knowledge sharing.
We will provide an easy entry point to new aspiring observers through educational material that introduces variable star astronomy and observations. We have started identifying avenues for engagement by individuals with limited observing resources through data mining projects and access to telescope time (e.g., AAVSOnet). Toward this goal, we will foster key partnerships to increase the AAVSO's impact on its international community, provide engagement opportunities, and offer training, support, and mentorship to our members.
Finally, we will ensure that the Journal of the AAVSO (JAAVSO) is a key avenue of variable star research communication. Its content is widely shared, cited, and acknowledged by researchers worldwide.
The AAVSO's superpower is its active, enthusiastic, and diverse international community. This means that we serve people with different needs, priorities, professional preparation, and diverse habits and cultural backgrounds united under the international umbrella of astronomy. We have individuals interested in using variable star data for their research projects. We work with educators who introduce astronomy to their students, and we collaborate with a very dedicated group of volunteers. Of course, we engage our observers – those who acquire data through their telescopes, visually or with various technologies, and share this information with the wider community through the AAVSO International Database.
We commit to enhance and empower our members and provide safe spaces for individuals to grow and learn through variable star astronomy. We will ensure that our virtual and in-person events provide welcoming opportunities for exchanging ideas and information to maximize engagement and build lasting connections among our members. Our choice courses and our mentor program will support and provide virtual spaces that encourage and enable members to define interests, seek out, affiliate with, and learn from others through our forums, choice courses, and mentor program.
We will build strong communities around our observing sections, empowering section activities, and encourage collaborations among our members to produce the best science we can. We will also create opportunities for new and emerging leaders to play instrumental roles in our community, working groups, conferences, and the Association as a whole. We will be intentional and thoughtful about equitable engagement, seeking and offering training to confront and address institutional practices that may serve to exclude or marginalize individuals. As such, we will partner strategically with other related organizations for opportunities to listen, learn, engage, and connect with a broader audience.
We will also increase our marketing and outreach activities to ensure that the AAVSO's work is being communicated, disseminated, acknowledged, and valued within the wider community. We will protect and proudly showcase our brand as a citizen science association, and we will increase our presence within the professional community. We will highlight the value and successes of the AAVSO community and showcase exemplary role models for the next generation of AAVSOers.
Our work is showcased, enabled, and disseminated through our online tools and databases. Furthermore, our web pages are our means of engaging our wide community, introducing our programs to the public, attracting attention to our activities, celebrating our accomplishments, and communicating our values and policies. More than ever, we need to ensure that we maintain a solid and secure infrastructure, curating our web page and databases as necessary, and follow best practices in software and content management. To that extent, we are building a content-development strategy for our website to disseminate information, build connections, and share achievements. We consulted with development and marketing experts to follow communication best practices and build a clean and easy-to-understand web page with easily discoverable content to the layperson and information organized for our diverse community's needs.
On the back end, at Headquarters, we will continue securing and maintaining the technology infrastructure necessary to facilitate our work, focusing on cybersecurity and frequent backups of our software and databases. With our volunteers' and contractors' help, we will strategically enhance our software tools to facilitate our observers' work and provide avenues for newcomers to start their observing programs.
AAVSO accomplishes its mission through the combined efforts of its staff, volunteers, observers, and members – 2000 people sharing a common passion and joy observing variable stars and contributing to scientific research. Over two hundred active volunteers augment the six-person staff. Combined, they train our observers on how to make accurate, scientifically valuable observations. They develop tools enable making observations and analyzing data. They manage our databases of photometric, spectroscopic, and exoplanet transit measurements, critical to researchers. And they create communities around our observing sections, discussing different types of variable stars, sharing information and collaborating with experts in various fields.
As we studied our organization during the strategic planning process, we looked for ways to improve how we organize and guide our work efforts. Organizational success requires good planning and close coordination between staff and volunteers.
Programs Committee - To Develop metrics to assess ongoing AAVSO programs for member interest, cost/benefit, and scalability and vet new program ideas based on member interest, cost, suitability and priority
Observing Section Leadership Team – Observing section leaders meet monthly with staff to share ideas and experiences and to create a consistent way to communicate with section members through our website.
IT Committee – Our IT systems, including our website and our data management and analysis tools, are fundamental to our success. The committee will develop and guide AAVSO's IT strategy and implementation plan.
Marketing Committee – AAVSO is not well known in either the amateur or professional astronomy communities. This reduces our ability to attract new members, our opportunity to work with researchers and hurts our fundraising activity. This committee will develop programs and marketing materials to increase the visibility and presence of AAVSO.
Membership Committee – We have a specific goal to increase membership. This committee will assess membership satisfaction with our current programs and recommend new initiatives. They will also work closely with the Board Diversity Committee to increase our membership with younger and more diverse communities.
We expect these new committees to improve our entire organization's effectiveness, helping us achieve all three of our fundamental objectives – high membership satisfaction, increased impact, and long-term financial stability.
AAVSO's long-term financial stability depends on balancing income and expense while not overdrawing from our endowment.
During the strategic planning process, we scrutinized all our expenses. This included a detailed analysis of the work done by our staff. This effort resulted in increased staff time spent observing sections (including our highly successful summer webinar series), observing campaigns, and collaboration with professionals. We also identified several manually intensive work activities where automating processes will free-up staff time.
Next, we analyzed our income. It comes from four major areas – our "endowment" (75%), membership dues (10%), member donations (5%), and other sources (10% - including grants, new bequests, one-time donations, and sponsorships). (Our "endowment" refers to our long-term investment portfolio and real estate holdings. Legally, only about 10% of these funds are under formal government endowment regulations ("UPMIFA") which limit annual endowment withdrawals).
We are putting the following plan in place to balance our finances while at the same time increasing support for our members and putting AAVSO in a position to grow and thrive.
- Reducing this year's annual endowment withdrawal – the budget gets us below five percent.
- Increasing non-endowment income. We are working with professionals to develop a comprehensive fundraising campaign. Focus areas include:
- increased interaction with NASA and NSF identifying grant opportunities
- identifying and contacting foundations that support science research
- developing marketing materials to increase our presence in the amateur and professional astronomy communities, increasing membership, and expanding funding opportunities
- assessing our real estate investment
- The increasing involvement of volunteers. Many members want to be involved in AAVSO initiatives. Improving how we organize will increase the work we can accomplish with minimal increased cost.
- Conducting a Major 2020 Strategic Plan Fundraising Campaign. We set a $200,000 goal for our "Strategic Plan Fundraising Campaign". With over 1300 members, this is a realistic objective. We formally announced the campaign at the annual meeting, having already raised over half of this goal. Please donate! Every dollar makes a difference!