By Dominique Fong
As AAJA faces another year of budget deficit, Rene Astudillo and incumbent Candace Heckman are running for the office of national treasurer. The national treasurer is the only elected position open to associate members, or those who are affiliated with AAJA but are not working as professional journalists.
Rene Astudillo stands by his business savvy – a 25-year career of generating revenue and leading nonprofits out of debt.
During his experience of working with nonprofits, Astudillo said he has raised more than $12 million in grants and sponsorships, skills that he says are needed at AAJA.
“I feel that I can harness my skills and expertise to help AAJA during this financial crisis,” said Astudillo. who worked for organizations that advocated health awareness for Asian Pacific Islanders.
While Astudillo was executive director of AAJA from 1999 to 2008, he helped manage budgets that made net profits for eight of those years. Each of the AAJA conventions under his watch also gained revenue, he said.
After he stepped down from AAJA leadership to look for other opportunities, he became the executive director of the Lupus Foundation of Northern California, where he steered the budget from having a deficit to a net profit of more than $100,000 in the last fiscal year.
Now, as AAJA faces another year of being in the red, Astudillo is reconnecting with the organization.
“It’s the right time to step up once again and continue to be involved,” Astudillo said.
Although he has not recently worked for a news media company, Astudillo said he can still relate to the needs of journalists.
“I think the combination of my journalism background and commitment to AAJA’s mission of diversity and equal coverage of communities makes me well prepared to take on new responsibility,” Astudillo said.
Astudillo said he is looking to target key supporters for AAJA through social media, via Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, along with traditional letters, written proposals and in-person meetings.
“It’s basically the need to reach out to your stakeholders,” Astudillo said, “not only to our members and clients but people who support our mission.”
Astudillo also addressed concerns that AAJA may have to slash programs. One way to avoid cuts and raise money would be emphasizing how AAJA has helped the careers of its members to potential donors, he said.
“Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions and see where we can cut down one expense without necessarily having to cut down on programs,” Astudillo said. “There are ways to do that.”
Professional experience: Astudillo is the executive director of the Lupus Foundation of Northern California. He worked for teh Filipino Task Force on AIDS of Northern California and wrote for the Filipino Guardian, Filipinas Magazine and the Bay Area Reporter.
AAJA experience: Astudillo served 10 years as national executive director until he stepped down in 2008. He is a member of the San Francisco-Bay Area chapter.
Vision for AAJA’s finances: Expand sources of revenue, find more ways to engage veteran and student members, and re-evaluate how AAJA manages its monty to trim expenses.
Candace Heckman has adapted an old adage to her approach for AAJA: it takes a journalist to know one.
Heckman’s extensive journalism experience has helped her better understand the needs of AAJA, she said.
“It’s a journalist’s organization,” said Heckman. “It’s more than just a nonprofit. We have a journalism mission.”
Heckman assesses finances from a reporter’s point of view and will scrutinize the budget item-by-item. She most recently worked as a consumer reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“Through my work, I learned how to be frugal, how to help leaders be frugal and get more for their money, making sure they weren’t getting ripped off,” Heckman said.
For example, Heckman analyzed Bank of America credit card fees and discovered that AAJA could save money by switching to the Bank of San Francisco.
Heckman also worked with AAJA leadership to adopt a new fundraising policy that will allow it to accept funds from nontraditional sources, such as corporations and government organizations – a controversial topic among many members. The change is expected to bring in more revenue.
The last two years were arguably some of the most financially challenging in AAJA’s history, said Heckman, second only to the early years of its launch.
Hit by the recession, longtime media company sponsors contributed less money, while others were bought out or were forced to declare bankruptcy.
“It’s been hard, and it’s taken a lot of my time and taken a lot of patience and my willpower,” Heckman said. “I’ll serve and help my friends as much as they want it. If they don’t want my help, then that’s OK, too.”
Despite the organization’s financial troubles, Heckman said she’s staying optimistic about the future of AAJA. Her enthusiasm comes from knowing the urgency of the situation.
“We can’t just sit around and gradually change anymore,” Heckman added. “We can’t wait in order to survive.”
Heckman said she would continue to target sponsors specifically for programs such as Voices, the student news project at the annual AAJA Convention. Raising money for a particular program hasn’t been done yet in a comprehensive way, Heckman said.
“I can look back and say this organization is on better footing because of actual work, blood, sweat and tears that I put in the organization,” Heckman said.
Professional experience: Senior editor of Nyhus Communications; worked for five years as a consumer reporter with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; also wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and other small-town news outlets.
AAJA experience: Served for two years as national treasurer. She a member of the SEattle chapter and was its treasurer for five years.
Vision for AAJA’s finances: Create more resume resources for member, post more jobs and build out resume databases for recruiters.
Voting booths will remain open during the convention and close 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 6. The new treasurer will be announced Saturday, Aug. 7 and will take office Jan. 1, 2011.
Find Dominique on Twitter @dominiquefong