Labor Day Week: Saving AEA in 1998 by Donna Mertens

I am Donna Mertens, recipient of the Robert Ingle Service Award in 2004 and the Lazarsfeld Theory Award in 2009.  I was president of AEA in 1998 when the AEA conference theme was Transforming Society Through Evaluation. Shortly before that, AEA had contracted with a company that managed professional associations to plan conferences, process membership records, keep journal mailing lists up-to-date, and manage association finances.  A few months into the contract, Board members became concerned because of the management company’s lack of action on the annual meeting and members’ complaints that they did not receive their journals.

What follows depicts the labor of love that AEA leaders performed to save our organization: I visited the management company offices and asked to see AEA’s bank records. The director showed me an AEA account with less than $3000 in it. I asked: where is the rest of our money? She told me not to worry, that it was another account but it was earmarked as belonging to AEA. I gave her two options: walk to bank with me at that very moment, transfer all of the funds to a new account that she would not have access to, OR I would call the state’s attorney general because there was clearly something very wrong. She chose option one. I prayed that I made it home safely to share these developments with the AEA Board. (As an aside, this management company did file for bankruptcy and other organizations it managed lost their funds.)

The Board scrambled to find folks to manage AEA’s business for 1998 as we searched for a more permanent solution. I spent many sleepless nights and many hours on the phone with AEA’s lawyers. Susan Kistler, who had voluntarily chaired AEA’s annual meeting for many years, was hired to manage the 1998 conference. As an indicator of her effectiveness, this meeting had over 1,000 attendees, a record for AEA at that time. Michael Scriven was President-Elect; we paid his secretary to manage membership lists and journals. AEA members should be very grateful to Susan and Michael for stepping up in these dire moments in AEA’s history.

Shortly thereafter, AEA hired Susan Kistler as its Executive Director – a role she performed admirably for 16 years. I thank our lucky stars that we had Susan to pull us through this difficult period and literally save AEA as an organization.

Rad Resources:

Donna Mertens (2nd from the right) celebrating AEA’s thriving status in 2018 with C Deborah Laughton (Guilford Press editor), Tessie Catsambas (AEA President 2019), and Robin Miller (former AJE editor)
Donna Mertens (2nd from the right) celebrating AEA’s thriving status in 2018 with C Deborah Laughton (Guilford Press editor), Tessie Catsambas (AEA President 2019), and Robin Miller (former AJE editor)

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Labor Day Week in Evaluation: Honoring and appreciating those who have labored on behalf of the evaluation profession. The contributions this week are tributes to evaluators who have labored conscientiously and with distinction on behalf of the evaluation profession. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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