AAVSO Strategic Plan

 

 

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 supports research, and looked at new ways to assist members in observing technology. As a result, our main focus is on three objectives: high membership satisfaction, increased organizational impact, and long-term financial stability. Keeping those in mind, our goals are:

Goal 1: Advancing science 

Goal 2: Building a diverse community supportive of the AAVSO's mission and values

Goal 3: Maintaining and enhancing our technical infrastructure

Goal 4: Increasing our operations's effectiveness

Goal 5: Focusing on financial stability

As we celebrate 110 years since the AAVSO's founding, we have started executing the strategic plan's programmatic priorities to provide a better, refreshed organization to you. We are creating avenues to connect with "anyone, anywhere," virtually through our free webinars and online 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!

 


 

Goal 1: Advance Science

The AAVSO will be leading a citizen astronomy movement by encouraging its international community to collaborate with professional astronomers, enabling novel science.

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 observing campaign alerts. 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 observers' 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; that its content is widely shared, cited, and acknowledged by researchers worldwide.

Goal 2: Build a diverse community supportive of the AAVSO's mission and values 

The AAVSO’s superpower is its active, enthusiastic, and diverse international community of stakeholders. 

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 empower individuals to grow and learn in variable star astronomy through AAVSO meetings, webinars, CHOICE courses, and  new observing section activities. 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. 

We will build strong communities around our observing sections, and encourage collaborations among our members to produce the best science we can. We will promote inclusionary practices to guarantee the fulfillment of our mission to fully involve anyone, anywhere in scientific research. 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.

Goal 3: Maintain and enhance our technological infrastructure

The AAVSO website is the hub of our international community. It is the platform that supports our programs, initiatives, databases, and celebrates our accomplishments.

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. Our work is showcased, enabled, and disseminated through our online tools and databases. 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.

Goal 4: Increase our operations' effectiveness

The AAVSO accomplishes its mission through the combined efforts of its staff, volunteers, observers, and members — 2,000 people sharing a common passion and joy of 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.

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.

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.

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.

Goal 5: Focus on 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, and have already raised over half of this goal.  Please donate!  Every dollar makes a difference!