Solar Oregon Annual Report 2019 — A Journey to Capture Imagination
By Joe Wachunas
At Solar Oregon we’ve spent 2019 exploring the balance between reviving and running an organization and seeking to capture the imagination of the community and drive action towards resolving some of the challenges of our time.
Organizational revival was our first necessity this year. In 40 years of existence, any non-profit will travel through highs and lows and Solar Oregon has spent the last few years rebuilding from a particularly challenging time. Thankfully, we had a talented board that was able to keep the organization going.
Which is where we found ourselves at the beginning of 2019. An non-profit with an impressive 40 year history and little funding, but no lack of enthusiasm, ideas and passion, ready to be called back to life and do its part to meet the crises of our time.
And revive we did.
We revived our events. Throughout the year we organized 24 events with over 1400 attendees. From our Solar Winery and Goal Zero Homes tours, to Basics of Solar educational sessions, to brew pub clean energy nights, to fairs and tabling, to our Hang Dry for Climate Change laundry event, we were out in the community educating on clean energy.
We revived our membership program. We grew from six individual members in 2018 to 290 at the time of this writing. Our members have given us new life and new energy. They came out to celebrate our first annual solstice members event in June and helped guide our organization with their input. They shared their stories and their enthusiasm for clean energy in our newsletter and at our events. And we also connected with our business community, growing from 15 business members in 2018 to over 45 today and still growing.
We revived our finances. We increased our savings by 72% in 2019. We expanded sources of income that had sat dormant for a couple years (events and membership) and cut our overhead by 36% to tighten our belts as we rebuild. And we did this all without receiving grant funding for much of the year, our primary source of income in previous years.
We revived our staff. Over the last couple of years, Solar Oregon had contracted with other organizations to do its work and didn’t have a staff of its own. We began the year in a similar situation but through hard and diligent work, we added two part-time staff over 2019. This has created a positive feedback loop, with more staff creating more capacity, which in turn creates more funding, leading to budget potential for more staff. This is exactly the cycle you want to see from an organization coming back to life.
We revived our collaboration. We sought to connect and learn from other groups and convene experts on a variety of topics as we rebuild our voice and our expertise. We partnered with over 33 separate non-profits and other organizations to participate in our events and projects this year. We thank our amazing collaborators from across the region.
We revived our message. We believe one of the best ways a small organization can increase its impact is through words and ideas. So we wrote articles on solar energy, electrifying everything and hang-drying laundry. We also compiled and published the work of others into our monthly newsletter and online magazine. And we shared our thoughts with more people. Our newsletter mailing list grew 20% (from 6662 to 8020 subscribers) and many of our stories were picked up by publications like Cleantechnica, Green Living Journal and read on Medium.
And our message began to go out into the community in a powerful way. We had 10 stories picked up by local media throughout the year, which is quite an accomplishment for an organization our size. From our Solar Winery tour to hang-drying undies on the evening news, and coverage of our incredible Goal Zero event, Solar Oregon’s message was on TV, radio and in print.
In short, we revived this organization. We are in a much healthier place at the end of 2019 than before.
Real Impact is a harder thing to measure.
But reviving and running an organization is only part of the battle. In any work, getting caught up in the day-to-day tasks, potentially forgetting the mission — missing the forest for the trees — is an ever-present risk.
We must continuously ask ourselves big questions: “How does our work have actual impact?” “How do we move the needle on climate change and ensure more frontline communities get access to the incredible benefits of clean energy?”
To help answer these questions, we are inspired by a quote from civil rights leader Andrew Young who said, “We change history through finding one thing that can capture the imagination of the world”
And this, we feel, is the other half of the coin. While it is essential to build a strong, healthy and functioning organization, we must also bring creativity and imagination to our work if we are to see it have actual long-lasting and widespread impact.
Solar Oregon 2020
This year, our board and staff created and will soon publish our strategic plan that we hope will be a combination of these two essential ingredients — hard work and imaginative thinking. Key focus areas for the upcoming year will be;
Solar Oregon will continue to further our organization’s stability by increasing our savings, diversifying our funding (with our first grant in several years beginning in December 2019), investing in our staff, deepening our membership, growing our board (Set to become 17 members in 2020) and knocking off to-do list items like an improved website and social media presence.
2020 will see us resume our partnership with Energy Trust and provide Solar Education throughout the state. We’re also branching out into other topics. We’ll be expanding our goal 0 homes tour to include other events where the average person can learn to save energy in affordable and replicable ways.
We’ll also be furthering our work in “electrify everything” in which individuals learn to be active agents in reducing CO2 emissions by electrifying their energy systems.
Finally we’ll be developing and delivering content around the theme of “Community Empowerment Through Energy Independence,” which educates about the social benefits of clean energy, and potential mechanisms for achieving access to ownership.
We will grow our community by organizing our first (un)conference in many years and continue to be a leader in home, winery and commercial tours. We’ll also be looking to expand our membership community past 500 individuals in many parts of the state and looking for solar ambassadors to share their “clean energy stories” with others.
2020 will see us create a board equity committee to develop an equity statement and deliver on an explicit strategy to promote JEDI (justice, equity, diversity and inclusion) in Solar Oregon’s work. We plan to further our partnerships with trusted community organizations and to develop and deliver programming in support of this JEDI strategy. Finally, we plan to regularly gather input from frontline-led justice organizations on Solar Oregon programming, messaging, and advocacy efforts. We plan to use the feedback and weigh input strongly in decision making processes.
Through all these important tasks, we’ll also make room for imagination. We’ll try to use the powerful tool of creativity and take cues from the groundbreaking movements of the past that radically changed and bettered our world.
And we hope you’ll join us on this journey wherever it leads.