Gauging the Performance of Board Members

During the past week, I observed negative speech against the ATA board. I wrote a blog and then welcomed open frank conversation and that is exactly what I recieved. Accountability, public relations, and finances have been discussed. Some feel that the ATA board has not fulfilled its promises. Below is a summary of each current board member’s specific goals which appeared in the candidate statement.


2011-2014 Directors: ATA Chronicle September 2011

Dr. Lois M. Feuerle
1. Strengthen certification process
2. Collaboration with organizations outside of ATA
3. Support interpreters

Ms. Virginia Pérez-Santalla
1. Global recognition

Mr. Timothy Yuan
1. Professional Development
2. Computerized certification exam
3. Enforce code of ethics

2012-2015 Directors: ATA Chronicle September 2012

Ms. Odile J. Legeay
1. Provide interpreters with tools (translators have tools)

Ms. Corinne McKay
1. Rewrite ethics guidelines
2. Better communication with the board
3. Increase recognition of CT credential

Ms. Faiza Sultan
1. University collaboration
2. Arabic ATA certification
3. Recognize translators who perish during wars

2013-2016 Directors: ATA Chronicle September 2013

Ms. Evelyn Yang Garland
1. Increase ATA visibility through low-cost initiatives
a. Speaker Bureau
b. Social media directed to non-translators
2. Build on mentoring program

Mr. Rudy Heller
1. Easier feedback to the board
2. Improve communication between chapters
3. Strengthen public relations

Ms. Jane Maier
1. Improve computerized certification exam
2. Public relations efforts
3. High school & college programs
4. Increase mentoring
5. Workshops

President Ms. Caitilin Walsh
1. Majority of members to become voting members
2. Online certification exam
3. ATA as a key player
4. Continue conversation about machine translation

President-Elect Mr. David Rumsey
1. Improve website
2. Webinar expansion
3. Improve standards in industry

Secretary Mr. Boris M. Silversteyn
1. Open ATA certification to non-members
2. Defend freelancers

Treasurer Mr. Ted Wozniac
1. Fix finances
2. Enhance revenue while keeping quality programs

Only three people promised to focus on public relations (and social media). One member concentrated on financing. It seems that the voters ought to carefully evaluate the candidates before selecting future board members. Electing three people whose aims are finance and public relations will send a convincing message to the board regarding crucial membership issues at this time. I urge you to re-read the candidates’ statements in the ATA Chronicle of September 2014 and contemplate their actual promises. Investment advice is apropos here: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

All board members are volunteers and many of them diligently pursue the interests which drive them. Do not gripe that they didn’t deliver on what they didn’t promise. I’m interested in seeing who the voting membership chooses on November 6, 2014.

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18 thoughts on “Gauging the Performance of Board Members”

  1. What a useful compilation this is–many thanks for taking the time to put it together. And this strengthens the case for candidates to focus less on their resumes and actually spell out their goals for ATA when they draft their candidate statements.

    Bottom line: the Board didn’t take ATA over in a backroom coup. We get the Boards we elect–or rather we get the Boards that about 500 of us bother to cast votes for. That’s about 20% turnout in a pool of 2,700 members who are eligible to vote. One thing all voting members can do is participate and vote for candidates who pledge to take ATA where they think it should go. And ALL of us can urge voting members to do the same.

    Thanks again.

  2. Melinda Gonzalez-Hibner

    I have read the recent blog entries regarding the upcoming ATA elections with great interest, as I am a candidate this year. Thank you for offering a platform to discuss these issues in an open and unscripted way.

    I agree that having our finances in order is crucial. I also agree that strong public relations that make the ATA the go-to authority for all things translation is a must. But I have to say that we must also pay attention to the things that make us a credible authority on all things translation: standards, certification, professionalism, training, history and publications make the ATA an organization that CAN and SHOULD be at the forefront of our field, both for professionals in the field and in the public eye. For me, there is value in having a diverse Board, where different talents, strenghts and interests are represented. But I hear your message, finances and public relations are a must. I agree.

    And as for accountability and discontent, well, the best remedy is involvement. You have provided a great example to follow by attending board meetings and posting this blog. BTW, I don’t believe that dissatisfaction fully accounts for the loss in membership. I would lay our loss in membership at the feet of huge changes in our profession, which for many has meant a very real downward pressure on income. Combine that with the continued evolution and blossoming of T & I organizations and training, both in the US and abroad, and we have most of the answer.

    Translators and interpreters should have enough disposable income to be members of two or three professional organizations, and I believe ATA has a role to play in that. If in addition we offer peerless networking, conferences and resources; and we continue to stand for solid professional standards in the United States and abroad, we will thrive.

    1. I would contest the “peerless networking” statement if by that you are referring to the dubiously effective speed networking that has been scheduled at every conference in the last few years. Also, if you mean the networking that occurs at ATA conference, it’s anemic because, who goes to these conferences? Translators, interpreters, translation agency owners and software/dictionary store reps, as well as some academics.

      Nobody from other areas of the economy, actual users of translations, or people representing sister professions, attend ATA conferences.

      I would call it “adequate yet fragmented networking,” never peerless.

  3. Thanks Jeff for this very informative and thoroughly-researched post (BTW I think we need to give you an award as the person who has read *the most* candidate statements in all of ATA!). And thanks for reminding me that although I can check off two of my goals (Ethics guidelines, member communications), I need to get going on the third (increased recognition of the CT credential). As a current Board member, I really see this from both sides. Yes, definitely, Board members need to be accountable to the membership, because all of the Board’s activities are funded by members’ dues. On the other hand, I agree completely with what Lillian said: most years, we get about 15-20% voter turnout for the election, even with the advent of online proxy voting (if you’re eligible to vote, you’ve received at least two e-mails from HQ about it). And let’s remember too that the Board is a consensus-based group; seven Board members have to vote for something in order for it to happen. Hence the reason that although I’ve been pushing for a conference in Hawaii, it hasn’t happened yet. But I’m not giving up!

    Additionally, the process of running for the Board isn’t secret: calls for nominations go out in the Chronicle every year, and you can nominate yourself or someone else. If you ask to be nominated but are not nominated, you can run by petition, and we have a petitioned candidate on the slate this year. So yes, I agree that more accountability is very positive; but as Lillian said, the current Board members didn’t get on the stage in a coup; the membership voted for us (or, more likely, didn’t vote at all). But Jeff, thanks very much and please keep your work going (really!).

    1. Corinne, Thanks for the comments. It is good to know how it all works. I know you cannot get everything you want personally because the majority wins. However, I am curious what your personal opinion is on PR and and finances since that seems to be the hot topic.
      I do appreciate the fact that you have been engaging us actively.

  4. Jeff,

    thank you for your amazing list. I hope I am not alone in that the statements I made are posted prominently on the wall next my monitor to remind me what I said at the podium. To be clear as well, I couched my statement as a vision, not promising that I would be able to accomplish them in my term, but certainly able to use them as long term goals to build a foundation for.

    I hesitate to use the word “accountability” because all Board members and officers must work within the context of the board as a whole. This means that a person may have what they think is a brilliant idea, is elected, but fails to convince the board as a whole to back the idea, or discovers in the course of investigating an idea that it would have unintended negative consequences.

    So, to check in on progress/status of my candidate statement (I have different wording in my statement, so will use that):

    1. A fully online certification exam. The keyboarded exam is launched, which is good news. Everyone agrees that we need to be planning for a fully online version 2.0, and discussions are happening–online poses some surprise challenges. What is needed is a dedicated and capable team of volunteers need to step up and formulate a plan, and I am working to form that group. I would be happy to work on this project, but do not have the bandwidth at this point: i am thinking I might have more time in about one year.
    2. A world where translators choose which tools we use. We use the voices of our Language Technology Division and Translators and Computers Committee to keep channels open with vendors and make sure they are implementing the interoperability standards that exist (TMX, TBX) as well as working on XLIFF. We’re also using our influence to ask vendors to address issues such as security and confidentiality issues of using the cloud.
    ATA also monitors and takes a position on standards that may affect our membership. I have been working very hard this year to shift ATA’s standards work to one that is driven by Board-approved policy. (Last month’s column is about that).
    The conversation with the MT folks is ongoing, and I am very pleased to report that at last week’s AMTA conference in Vancouver BC, I saw a huge shift in that segment: a real interest in real-world applications, and attention to the human in the equation, both as a contributor to the dataset that machines are trained on, as well as to the role of the human in finessing machine output. I have written a report on this for the Board that I am happy to share with anyone interested. In addition, the International MT summit (the mother ship to all MT organizations) will be co-locating with ATA in Miami (same hotel, just prior to #ata56). This is a stellar opportunity to keep talking and finding common ground.
    3. ATA as a “vibrant association where a culture of professionalism pervades everything we do, where the majority of members govern as voting members”
    For the first two years of my term, voting was where I focused my energies (along with planning conferences). I was driven by the decline of voting members as a percentage, and did a lot of digging through old (and incomplete) data: in the 60s, close to 90% of members had voting privileges. a steady decline, driven by certification being considered the preferred (if not sole) path to voting rights meant that by 1999 only 29% were active members. The adoption of alternate routes to voting was adopted as a way to stem the tide, but the process proved to be too much effort for little perceived value. I worked with the Board to see if there was traction to opening up voting to every member: there was not. I explored many options, and in the end, the Board agreed to the compromise of changing the process to an online form (with random audits). We saw an upswing of a couple percent–enough to reverse the downward trend, and it is clear we need to promote this option more aggressively. It is my sincere hope that a future board will take up this question in the future.
    The growing culture of professionalism is apparent in the activity on the BP list, the newcomer initiatives, and programs like School Outreach (which speaks to my vision of kids dreaming of this career–first they have to know it exists). I’ll be speaking at the ACTFL conference on T&I as a career option. I’m hoping we can use teachers as foot soldiers (developing curriculum, anyone?), letting students know that not only are T&I “things” but viable careers. Professionals also keep up with the latest business and technological trends, which is why you see me pushing for things like the conference app and shifting away from print (think proceedings and Chronicle).

    You will note that I did not make promises about finances or PR. The reason is simple: Past President Dorothee Racette had a firm handle on the then-emerging situation, and formulated a good plan to put us on the path to sound finances within three years (ending this year). There was nothing to add. As for PR, the consensus of every board has been that PR would be the firs thing to be refunded when resources allowed. That has been the case, and I will be delighted if my legacy includes not only oatmeal for breakfast but a vibrant and sustainable PR program.

    In addition, my very first candidate statement–which is also on my wall–contains the following:
    transparency of process: I like to remind folks (and many are sick of hearing me say it) that transparency has three elements: 1. saying what you are going to do; 2. doing it; 3. demonstrating that you did it. Were pretty good with #1 and #2; we need to get better at tooting our own horn (#3).
    clarity of purpose We as a board always need to be clear why we are doing something: is it for the benefit of the membership or the good of the association? If not, then we need to ask if we should be spending our energy and resources there.
    The culture of professionalism figured in that first statement back in 2007. it will always figure, as it is a process, one that will never be complete.

    1. Caitilin,
      I tried to keep it simple with bullet points which is why I gave the references so that members could look up the actual statements if they wanted.
      I appreciate the statement you made similar to Corinne about the collaborative nature of the board. Thank you for also showing what you have accomplished. this is also good for us to know. However now I would like to ask you the same question that I posed to Corinne. What is you personal opinion about PR and finances? I understand that your opinion might or might not reflect that of the board.

      1. Jeff,

        Thanks for your kind comment. I have to preface my remarks by saying that what I think isn’t important. As the chair of this board, I am both the most important and least important person in the room: most, because I am the “enforcer” of the rules that help the assembly reach its decisions, and least, because i do not contribute to the discussion with an opinion. I am the servant of the assembly.

        I also echo that no one of us may speak for the Board; only the Board can do that through its decisions. That does not mean, however, that I cannot show leadership in other ways.

        My opinion on PR, as I stated in my previous post, is that I would be delighted to leave a legacy of a vibrant and sustainable PR program. There are some amazing people working on this, and I’m working to make sure they have the support they need to succeed.

        Finances? Look for a frank examination of the costs of our major programs. We’ve dug out of the deficit, and it’s our responsibility (note I said “our”? That’s every member, starting with me and the Board) to set ATA up for a healthy financial future. People may complain about costs of things, but we need to structure our pricing to sustain programs and the Association.

        And I’m with Corinne–if you sit through another Board meeting, we’re going to give you an award!

        1. Sadly, this time I have a flight on Saturday morning. I tried to get a later flight but it would have meant doing a transfer. I’m to old for that!
          Thank you for your specific answers. I am a simple guy. I like to break things down in a simple way. All that stupid amount of research was in order to find answers.
          You have a challenging job. I think that most people realize that the board has to work together and find consensus, which is why I have been stressing the importance of voting in people that reflect the right focus.

  5. I shared this as a comment on the previous blog and am posting it here as well.
    It is a little hard to find, but the minutes from the board meeting are found on the website. I’m not sure if this link will work because you have to be signed in to see anything.
    Go to About us, who we are, Governance, How ATA works, Board Meetings. Click on all that and Bingo! you can read all you want going back years. I personally only reviewed the last three years.

  6. Jeff, of course I do not speak for the Board, but I will reiterate a few things I’ve said in Board meetings, so these are already on the record. And that is amazing that you read *three years* of Board meeting minutes (severe insomnia??). But at any rate:

    -I’d like to see our PR budget grow to include an external media consultant (someone who picks up on news stories that have a “hook” for ATA and gets us in there) and a professional copywriter (who would, for example, write client education pieces for a publication like The ATA Compass, or white papers on topics like “professional translation: a revenue-generator, not a cost center”. Downside: quality work in those areas is not cheap (just like our own quality work is not cheap).

    -In terms of the FIT loss, I think it’s important to echo Caitilin’s point that we’re recouping it on or even ahead of schedule. I personally think that going forward, in order to differentiate ourselves from what people can find online for free (ProZ, Facebook groups, etc.), we need to focus more on high-quality offerings for professional translators and interpreters who want access to programs that they cannot get elsewhere and are willing to pay real money for them. For example when I’ve attended translation conferences in Europe, I’ve paid *per day* about what the *entire* ATA conference costs.

    So I am, in general, in favor of raising prices for most of our offerings and targeting them primarily or exclusively to serious professionals. However I see the flip side of this: I started out translating a few hours a day while my baby was sleeping; other people started out translating at night or on weekends while working a full-time job. If our membership dues and our conference fees double, we’re going to exclude those people. Definitely a debate worth having.

  7. I’ve stayed out of this discussion so far to give other welcome contributors the chance to give their side of events and because, well, who likes a microphone hog? 🙂

    I’m glad various Board members and at least one candidate have jumped in to contribute to the discussion. These are all good developments.

    And I agree with Caitilin that there are other priorities for the Board, and that every elected Board has the right to pursue their own priorities. She’s right about several points, of course, and I’m glad they’re being addressed.

    Having said that, there is value in appreciating what is omitted from the comments and discussion.

    There was a world-class, vibrant and internationally admired PR and media program for a decade within ATA from which we can learn a great deal (more about that in a moment). In the last two years there has been a rising chorus of support for PR and media coming from the membership, usually in strong waves, often in multiple locations, and even at last year’s conference. It’s been dramatically clear to even the most casual observer that this is a huge priority to the membership, but that sense of urgency and priority is not reflected in any meaningful way in successful action items — the very long detailed descriptions of Board actions that Caitilin graciously provided in her comments above.

    Now it’s certainly true that there have been — sadly, in my view — several unsuccessful attempts to “re-boot” the PR program and we regularly read how the new, latest, most recent set of volunteers are “working hard” to do this. What we don’t see is successful action items. Now I’m the very first person in line to appreciate how hard it is to get things done and how long that often takes (trust me on this one — I’ve been working on promoting ATA PR and “getting it right” since at least the mid-1990s). But contrast the successes in areas that the Board prioritizes, and Caitilin listed above, with the “working hard” words that seem to have been in perpetual orbit around the PR issue for the last three years.

    There is some progress on the Speaker’s Bureau idea — problematical in my view, for a number of practical reasons — but what’s more troubling is that there continues to prevail a lack of understanding of the very basic building blocks of how to conceptualize, design, build, sustain and expand a successful world-class PR and media program. It’s as though ATA played in the World Series for a decade — and this was crucially important, of course, as it had a dramatic impact on our members’ visibility, influence and our collective ability to influence the public debate — and now our baseball club management is trying to learn how to play baseball from an illustrated pocket guide.

    So while I’m glad to learn that Caitilin would be delighted to leave behind a vibrant PR program, (as would all of us, I’m sure) I think we need to take a serious look at ways to get us there.

    It’s been almost impossible to get even the barest of foundations put down in a way that we could reasonably begin to build on in PR and media. A successful program not only requires funding, it requires the raw talent on multiple levels — and I don’t mean JUST well-meaning “volunteers,” who are chosen principally by enthusiasm, although we always appreciate every volunteer effort, believe me — I mean people with serious on-their-feet, quick-thinking, decades-long-industry-experience media expertise, so that means we have to recruit, interview, train, evaluate and re-train these people. It takes an enormous range of skill and background knowledge as well as dedication in dozens of hours a week to not only represent the association well, but beat back the competition that has taken over the public microphone from us and right now talk to our clients instead of us — the TAUS, GALA, MT and big-company messages of “all translators are equal” and “translation is a utility.”

    Theirs is the only message out there, and it’s hurting the membership. It’s hurting their bottom lines.

    The irony about PR and media is that despite all appearances to the contrary, no one person — no matter how talented or experienced or focused or dedicated — matters. The individual alone does not count. The infrastructure counts. The only way it works is to put into place an entire superstructure of support that includes funding, a range of talented people, special media and PR training, message development and refinement and a very serious dedication to immediate, drop-everything-and-run response to media inquiries. That means stop-working-on-your-translation-right-now response. And of course the media adviser, who’s responsible for helping us drive and re-direct stories before they hit the press.

    So the strategy pursued to achieve this matters. If we’re concentrating along the margins only — the Speaker’s Bureau and learning the first basic principles of earned media, along with some tentative exploration of assistance in crafting the message from an outside adviser — we’re still standing out on the street looking up at a very tall skyscraper from the ground floor. It’s a long way up to the top floor from where we stand right now.

    And if you’re not on the top floor, you’re invisible. Media plays on the top floor only. There’s a reason that 95% of the media stories on today’s ATA website date back to the era when we were playing in the major leagues, and only a handful of stories in the last two years. It’s just not been a priority like the successes Caitilin lists in her accomplishment list. Again, fair enough. I LIKE what has been accomplished in those areas. But it’s painful to watch us retreat into increasingly invisible obscurity on the media and PR front. It’s painful to watch that happen when many of our members are struggling financially and the visibility and online directory traffic could dramatically improve that.

    Let’s fix this. Let’s fix it by thinking strategically. By leveraging our legacy expertise.

    Let’s fix it above all with a frank recognition that we need to think about it in terms of playing at the top 95% tier because if we don’t do that, there’s no amount of spending, even on a media adviser, even on a content writer, that will get us higher than the local Kiwanis Clubs. And since local car dealerships are not our clientele, this will be a waste of our precious funds.

    ATA is a small organization that at one time had a tremendously outsized influence on our industry for a decade at a time when the other 17,000 associations in the Washington, DC area sort of stood by watching in amazement. This tiny 11,000-member association kept appearing all over the media and completely re-framed the debate. We put professional translators and interpreters on the front pages in media across the country.

    We were tiny but we were fierce.

    Let’s get back to being fierce. Let’s think strategically and build for top-floor success again. I think we owe that to the members.

    1. I was wondering when you would make a comment. I’m glad you are back in the discussion because you have lots of experience. I also appreciate your consideration in letting others comment as well.
      My overly simplistic two cents: It would be nice if when considering a really big decision, the board explain to the members the situation, open it up for debate, and then let us vote.

  8. Actually, we will be at Saturday’s board meeting. I noticed that after I attended the board meeting in 2013, a number of board members connected through LinkedIn. There are enough sessions for which I can wait for the conference DVD.

  9. Jeffrey and I are going to prepare a proposal for 2015 to establish the role of an ombudsman, an interlocutor who can prepare an annual scorecard on the ATA board (the whole and each board member) and give voice to the membership.

    I’m also waiting to hear about my idea to create a new ATA logo contest.

    1. I am up for the idea if I can find someone to help me prepare it. At any rate, I plan to keep publishing the candidate goals. With more time it can come with analysis.
      Maybe we can prepare another proposal for the contest. ????

  10. Pingback: Serving on the Board of Directors of The American Translators Association?  – Alfonso Interpreting

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