Revitalized! Cooke Reflects on the State of AHCA
Editor’s Note: On May 16, Lee Cooke finishes his term as president of the AHCA. During his two-year term as president, Cooke has been instrumental in revitalizing the association, even as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to undermine the momentum Cooke’s leadership generated within the AHCA.
The pandemic did force AHCA to cancel the 2020 Annual Meeting, which usually features a report on the state of AHCA from the president, so below is a preview of Cooke’s two-year report on the state of the organization, which he’ll deliver in more detail at the May 16, 2021 Annual Meeting.
During the last two fiscal years, from June 2019 to May 2021, the AHCA Board of Directors and its more than 600 local members have dramatically overhauled the 41-year-old citizen-based organization. Today, AHCA works to support the Austin History Center, thereby ensuring that the diverse stories of Austin and Travis County are discovered, collected, presented, and preserved. Focused efforts have taken place to establish specific goals that support the long-term vision of AHCA leadership over the last decade.
In the past two years, AHCA has expanded membership by almost 800 percent, from 80 members in the fall of 2019 to 650 current members, becoming one of the larger membership-based nonprofits in Austin. Financial stability and sustainability have been the key focus, with successful Eberly Luncheon fundraisers, expansion of membership support, and a determination to strengthen AHCA endowments. New strategic emphasis has also been given to board recruitment and succession.
The leadership of AHCA, working with member volunteers, Austin Public Library leadership, other history-related organizations, and seasoned staff of the association have conducted an external and internal analysis and policy review. Exciting objectives are emerging for the future of AHC.
The result of this massive two-year organizational overhaul is a 43 percent expansion in financial support by membership, a 61 percent increase in Eberly fundraising and a 20-fold increase in endowments. As AHCA enters an aggressive period to complete a master plan for expansion of the AHC footprint and possible capital campaign to support that, the association is in a much stronger position to partner on the long-term citizen vision to make the AHC one of the best local history centers in the country.
Impressive operational improvements have also been achieved, highlighted by a new 54-page web site, the first upgrade in seven years. A new customer relationship management database being integrated into the website will coordinate in-house functions, provide members with upgraded portal activity, and automatically update membership information. The new software will provide improved reporting, allowing for better strategic planning and membership growth and retention.
AHCA has gained an important new reputation for strong social and membership recruitment gatherings, tagged Spotlight Events. Prior to the pandemic, Spotlights centered on live events set at iconic Austin locations. During the last year, Spotlight Events have transitioned into successful online productions, including a popular History Mysteries series. AHCA has also contributed 29 vital new oral histories to the AHC and published two new Waterloo Press books during the last two years.
As mentioned, AHCA vision includes the AHC expanding from its current 1933 library building into the adjacent John Henry Faulk Library building, creating a 144,000-square-foot Austin history campus in our fast-growing city. That expansion is set to start once the safety and code upgrades are complete on the two city-owned buildings, improvements which are being financed by 2012 and 2018 voter-approved bond elections. To help the vision become reality, the AHCA’s Campus Expansion Committee has raised more than $63,000 to apply toward a master plan for the expansion. Meanwhile, in 2020, AHCA formed a new Strategic Planning Committee to explore community interest and support for a capital campaign in the 2025 to 2029 timeframe to implement the master plan.
The seeds have been planted for development of a world-class archival, research, and exhibit campus dedicated to our collective history with the latest technologies for researchers’ interaction and public enjoyment. AHCA is positioned to be a significant and sustained supporter.
Former Austin Mayor Lee Cooke has served as AHCA President the past two years. Under his leadership, AHCA has grown in community stature, membership, and committee productivity, while sharpening its focus on its role in the expansion of the Austin History Center.