The Board’s work regarding this statement began in late 2009 and culminated in unanimous Board approvals at our meetings in July and October 2010 and again, with one dissent, in February 2011. The Board voted so because it believes that the Institute needs to gain financial stability and to be as relevant as possible to the Sea Services, our members, donors, employees, and to the nation itself, especially in these difficult times. We think it is possible both to be an independent forum that speaks “truth to power” and to advocate for the importance of sea power.
You will recall that economic events of 2008-2009 were difficult for the Institute. Advertising revenues declined, donations shrank, and our endowment lost almost a third of its value. The Institute, led by our senior management team, became cash break-even in 2009 due to dramatic cost controls that remain in effect today. However, the reality is that print-media business lines are not growing. The Naval Institute Foundation has enjoyed increases in major donor support and both corporate and foundation sponsorships in the last two years. But there is no guarantee that these increases will continue, nor that past operational deficits will not reappear.
Of equal (if not greater) concern is that our membership, like many other nonprofit military associations, has declined significantly in the past two decades. These demographics speak directly to the relevance challenge that the Institute is facing and must be reversed if we are to survive. Our membership decline has provided another imperative for the Board to revitalize our mission statement. We must be relevant both to our traditional supporters and to prospective new ones.
The Board’s Mission Committee, led by Vice Admiral John Morgan, and including Vice Admiral Nancy Brown, Vice Admiral Norman Ray, and Mr. Donald Brennan, undertook to ask how the Institute can be most effective at a time when our military budgets will decline due to the United States’ federal deficits, just as external threats are increasing around the world. The Board agreed with the Mission Committee that the Sea Services are critical to our national defense, to American foreign policy, and to the protection of maritime commerce and hence our economy.
We also believe that by proactively addressing the new national security environment, we will enhance our capability to attract members, donors, and supporters and, specifically, increase our relevance to Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen. Finally, and most importantly, we found we could accomplish these changes without threatening the defining concept of the Institute, our independent forum, where our members can voice their views.
Under our revised mission statement, you will see an independent forum where we seek differing views and encourage tough examination of the issues, with both sides advocated. You will continue to see articles, books, conferences, and an online experience that not only meet the traditionally high standards of USNI content, but which also will bring increased relevance to the world we confront now and the one we will confront tomorrow. In short, you will continue to see the Naval Institute as a thought leader in the national security arena.
The Preamble in the Constitution remains unchanged:
“The United States Naval Institute is a voluntary, private, nonprofit association formed in 1873 for the advancement of professional, literary, and scientific knowledge in the naval and maritime services, and the advancement of the knowledge of sea power.”
And, equally important, that Section 1 of Article XV of our Constitution (Limitations), continues verbatim:
Notwithstanding any other provision in the Constitution and By-Laws, the Institute’s objectives are limited to and shall include only charitable, scientific, literary, and educational purposes within the meaning of those terms as used in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code, and all references to the objectives of the Institute shall be construed to include such limitation. The Institute shall not, except to an insubstantial degree, engage in any activities or exercise any powers that are not in furtherance of the objectives of the Institute as so limited.
The Institute must still operate within these proven constraints. You will not see our Naval Institute as a “shill” for any service or program, a lobby to the Congress, or a house for one-track thinking, as some might worry. We know you would not wish or allow us to do so.
The Board’s intent in proposing that we revise the mission statement is to take the first important step in a strategic plan that will move the Institute to a stronger, more relevant future with increased financial stability. The nation and the Sea Services need a vibrant, relevant Naval Institute to confront 21st-century challenges; we must not go quietly into the night. The Board will work to keep us relevant, and we hope you will as well. We respectfully ask for your support, and we look forward to continuing these efforts with you.
Stephen M. Waters, Chairman of the Board
Thomas L. Wilkerson, Major General, USMC (Ret)
Chief Executive Officer
USNI Board Minority Report
Dear Members and Friends of the United States Naval Institute:
We the undersigned Directors of the Naval Institute write to ask that you vote against the revised mission statement for the Institute cited below:
“The U.S. Naval Institute is an independent forum advocating the necessity of global seapower for national security and economic prosperity.”
We emphatically disagree with their imperfectly crafted solution. The reasons are quite simple. The majority has not made the case that changing the mission statement and including the word “advocating” will somehow magically increase our relevance, grow our membership, and make us more economically viable.
In fact, we gain absolutely nothing from a word change to “advocacy” that justifies diminishing our image and heritage as the Independent Forum of America’s Sea Services. This is USNI’s brand, what makes it unique. This is USNI’s “DNA.”
Further, with this proposed change the Board has created its own version of the “perfect storm.” USNI members are expressing outrage not only at the proposed mission, but also at the Board’s cavalier approach to engaging the membership on the change.
In an effort to gather more information on the impact of the proposed change, Director Dr. J. P. London conducted an extensive survey, contacting former CNOs, former SECNAVs, 16 retired four-star naval officers, and other distinguished naval officers seeking their views. None supported the explicit “advocacy” role for USNI, saying a “lobby-look-alike” was not needed. All, however, strongly supported USNI taking on a more assertive “leadership” role in framing the coming policy and budgetary debates, post-Iraq/Afghanistan, about American sea power, maritime policy, and Sea Service matters.
We do agree with the majority that the Institute faces two large challenges in this first decade of the 21st century: how to increase the relevance and the financial stability of the Institute. But, unlike the majority, we believe the Institute is answering these challenges. In both 2009 and 2010 USNI delivered impressive financial and operational performances (see the 2010 Annual State of the Institute Letter to Members).
We see unmistakable signs of vigorous, exciting opportunities on the horizon. Strong, relevant, and timely content in our conferences is delivering growth from exhibit sales and attendance; a fully developed eBook program is adding sales to readers using Kindle, iPads, and every other conceivable electronic reader. The USNI Blog, launched less than two years ago is the world’s leading forum of its kind in the naval blogosphere. The prospects for continued growth in the midyears is very strong.
We believe continuing on course with exceptional leadership both in the USNI staff and on the Board itself is the right near-term strategy to increase relevance, grow the membership, and gain a stronger financial position.
We also believe it is high time to conduct a major strategic review process to determine where we want to be in five and ten years and then develop a well defined strategy for how to get there, not by just changing the wording of the mission statement. We will answer the question, “where do we put our focus and investment in new growth initiatives,” in other words figuring out “Where do we play?” and “How do we win?” That only comes through a cogent strategy and focused execution—and, by keeping the membership engaged in the process.
Finally, while the Chairman suggests the USNI will still remain an independent forum, perception is reality and branding matters. Adding the word “advocacy” will clearly have an adverse effect on the USNI’s brand and reputation as an independent forum. In too many ways, they are polar opposite terms.
How can USNI be an “advocate,” yet concurrently promote an “independent/intellectual forum?” It can’t. An “independent forum” is where differing views that challenge the conventional wisdom are shared and debated. It’s where dialogue brings new ideas and adds value. Advocacy, by definition, is the need to suppress or ignore dissenting views. The Independent Forum lives to seek these competing views.
The majority’s revised mission statement is ill-conceived, will not fix either the relevance nor the finance issue, and places the entire 137 years of effort by generations of this unique professional association at risk, for no perceived gain.
The Board is on the cusp of making an irretrievable error and we respectfully ask that you join us and vote disapproving the new mission statement.
Dr. J. P. London
Mark W. Johnson
B. J. Penn