It was a different-looking Annual Business Meeting for the Association of the United States Navy this year thanks to COVID-19, but even a pandemic couldn’t stop the organization from convening and laying out an ambitious agenda for the future.
Dan Feliz, Chairman of the AUSN Board of Directors, said at the meeting — which was held entirely virtually on Oct. 13 for the first time ever — that “it’s evident that this pandemic has changed everyone’s life,” but AUSN would continue to push forward regardless.
“We’re borrowing a Marine Corps slogan for this meeting: improvise, adapt, and overcome,” Feliz said. “That’s what we’ve done and that’s what we’ll continue to do to serve our members.”
The pandemic has been challenging to many organizations around the world, but AUSN has found a way to ensure that operations continued despite the challenges — and the meeting laid out exactly how the organization will continue to grow in 2021.
“It’s really important for AUSN to continue to be the voice of the American sailor and support our U.S. Navy,” Feliz said. “Congress needs to hear from us, and they will. Whether it’s toxic exposure legislation or funding to help rebuild our fleet, we’ll be leading the voice on Capitol Hill.
Borrowing a phrase from presidential State of the Union addresses, Feliz noted that the “state of AUSN is strong.”
“We have a plan in place to become fiscally strong,” he said. “We have a plan in place to rebuild our chapters and attract new members. We have a plan in place to improve our outreach to current members through webinars, forums, and (video conferencing) calls like we’re on now.
“The future of AUSN is bright,” Feliz added. “This is a great organization to be a part of.”
Some of the new developments at AUSN in the past year have been the ongoing Navy Now Webinars, which provide an opportunity for members to hear directly from experts on subjects such as transitioning to a civilian career, retiree benefits, and the changing dynamic of military families. Those webinars will continue on a regular basis as a benefit to our membership.
Fiscally, AUSN has cut costs by a significant amount since the last business meeting. Personnel costs are far lower and the organization was able to save on office expenses by moving to an inexpensive nearby location earlier this year while maintaining virtually the same amount of office space. As a result, the net operating deficit for fiscal year 2020 plunged by $200,000, and the plan is to eliminate deficit spending in just two years.
Additionally, AUSN is moving ahead in its search for a full-time Director of Business Development. This new employee will drive efforts to secure new sponsorships and donations to increase organizational revenue dramatically in the coming years.
Membership remains strong, with more than 12,000 active members calling AUSN home. We hope to continue to increase our ranks by adding value to memberships and launching new efforts to find and recruit members. We expect an increase in emphasis on active enlisted individuals to further increase and diversify our membership rolls.
A lot has been going on in government affairs. The AUSN Government Affairs Committee currently meets monthly, and since the last annual meeting AUSN has either authored or signed onto 58 letters. We are currently supporting 17 bills on a diverse range of subjects, with toxic exposure being a particularly strong focus.
AUSN joined the TEAM Coalition in early 2020 and continues to participate in regular meetings as we and other organizations push forward legislation that would help Veterans exposed to toxins around the globe, from burn pits to Agent Orange. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the TEAM Act of 2020 recently thanks to the Coalition’s efforts and the House presented their own bill as well. While we do not expect passage this year, this lays the groundwork for a big push for comprehensive legislation in 2021.
In the meantime, AUSN is developing a outreach strategy for the 117th Congress following the November elections. As soon as the pandemic wanes, we hope to be back to meeting with the new members of Congress to formulate relationships and advance AUSN interests.
In the communications department, AUSN most recently published a magazine in the spring and has finalized copy for magazine layout for an issue expected to hit member mailboxes in November. Meanwhile, the weekly SITREP email continues to go out to members each Monday, and multiple articles are posted to the website each week to keep membership informed of important legislation, special events, and other critical Navy news. Expect more developments to the website in the near future, including a page for AUSN chapters.
It’s all part of many efforts to plot a bold path forward for AUSN as an organization, Feliz said.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do at headquarters … I look at it as a ‘get right’ season,” he said. “We really needed to get a handle on the financial picture. We needed to plot out a path that provides financial solvency well into 2021 and 2022. So that was kind of the big focus.
AUSN expects big things in 2021 and beyond, and the organization thanks its loyal members for their support. You can watch the full AUSN 2020 Annual Business Meeting in its entirety below: