Reflection and Challenge

Dear AIGA Portland,

My two-year tenure as Chapter President and four years of volunteering for the Chapter is coming to an end. This plan has been in the works for some time now and this message is to the Portland Board of Directors, the Portland design community at-large, and all those in the AIGA community. The goal is to provide a personal reflection on my involvement with the Chapter: What went well? What went wrong? What might we do next or continue to do? It might not be in that order and it might not be that organized.

2018: Building a more empathetic and human-centered Portland Board of Directors

In my Letter to the community in July of 2018, I shared my strategic vision of building a more empathetic board of directors: a group of individuals who are eager to hear from you, learn from you, and shape their tactics of events and content based on the voice of the community. The intent of the empathy initiative was to inspire the creation of events and content that engendered community interaction, and have the voice of the community inform and steer the 2019-2020 direction of the AIGA Portland Chapter. The 2018 empathy initiative led to some of my favorite events. The first was a 2018 Board Retreat facilitated by Joanna Dudley. The second was a collaboration with Ben Gallagher of B+A Associates in carrying out two research sessions with members and non-members exclusively. The third was a collaboration with Kat Sutton, Stacey Rutland, and Matt Adamo of Particle Design, to parse the local data from the 2017 AIGA Design Census and a facilitation with the AIGA Portland Board of Directors to glean insights and generate ideas.

While gathering the information went well, the more important steps of reviewing, reflecting, and gleaning actionable insights did not go well. We made many discoveries, had our assumptions challenged, generated questions about our community, and a few ideas to ignite change and engagement.

Personally I wanted these events to inspire the creation of a dedicated Insight Team to run co-creative and participatory research sessions every quarter. Even better, embed research practices into our events and programming. I wanted to work with key members of the community to interpret our strategy, and continue listening to the community-at-large to gain actionable insights for incremental changes. I wanted to define a simple set of metrics that tied directly to our definition of success and our mission. I wanted to set up the chapter for continually re-defining success. But I never had enough time to put my proposal forward. By early 2019 my wife gave birth to our beautiful daughter and I had become unemployed. Defeated, deflated and abound with anxiety of my ability to support my family, I opted to discontinue the empathy initiative.

2019: A skipping record on two data points

Midway through 2019 I had to take on the responsibilities of Treasurer and began delivering the monthly Financial Report at every board meeting. The Financial Report and the Membership Report are two consistent metrics communicated at every board meeting. It didn’t take long for me to forge a point of view of the Portland Chapter through four lenses: (1) awareness of the qualitative feedback from the 2018 empathy initiative, (2) our membership affiliations, (3) our financial performance, and (4) our Social Media, Web, and Newsletter analytics (generated during my time as Content Director between 2016-2018). I have been exposed to every data point for the Portland Chapter. I could see where and how we were performing poorly, I could point at things that are not working, and I could connect, correlate and make projections of our chapter’s future. Trying to shape and communicate this perspective alone is a one-way-ticket to burn-out, and that’s exactly what happened. Without any other insights into our performance I had no other signifiers of our impact within the community. I resorted to simply presenting the Financial Report and left the Board to make their own connections and decisions about what to do next. Had I known there were bigger forces at play I wouldn’t have felt so alone. This anxiety begs for a level of transparency and mentorship with the National Organization and even among chapters.

Let’s take a closer look at our 2019 chapter financials and membership.

2019 Financials

First, I’d like to thank our generous sponsors of 2019. A special thanks goes out to Wacom Technologies, Cannon Beach Distillery, Clear Creek Distillery, and Nike for their support of our 2019 special events. This also includes in-kind donations from Ace Hotel, Jupiter Next, and our long-time in-kind donors: Nemo Design (thank you, Carey Garland!) and Centrl Office. In 2019, AIGA Portland financial donations and sponsorship totaled $12,400. We ended 2019 with $28,000 in the bank. Upon sharing this information with advisors from national I was told, “you have nothing to worry about with that amount of money in the bank.” By the end of 2019 AIGA Portland experienced an 18% decrease in revenue and the trend remains negative. I was and remain worried. This was money inherited from the effort of past leadership.

AIGA Portland 2019 Sources of Funding

AIGA Portland 2019 Sources of funding

2019 Membership

Approximately half of the national organization’s funding comes directly from membership dues. For AIGA Portland, 25% of 2019 revenue came from membership affiliations. The average member affiliation for 2019 was 150. Over the course of 2019 AIGA Portland experienced a 29.5% decrease in member affiliations. Oddly, in February 2020, a new membership revenue share model was announced: 30% of all membership dues will be allocated to local chapters. The remaining 70% funds the national organization supporting chapter websites, Eye On Design, scholarships, national events, the creation of resources, and more

AIGA Portland 2019 Membership Breakdown

AIGA Portland 2019 Membership Breakdown

AIGA Membership Revenue Share

AIGA National Membership Revenue Share Model

2016 to-date: Two-point Summary

The chart below is no stranger to the Portland team. Since 2016, the chapter has experienced a 50% decrease in revenue and a 59% decrease in membership affiliation. Despite these downward trends, the chapter consistently provides unique events and delivers great content. Approximately 90% of our events for the last 4 years were free making them accessible to everyone in the community: members, non-members, allies and enthusiasts; and our content features everyone and anyone in the community regardless of their membership status. Upon review of the bigger picture, someone has to stop and ask why and what isn’t working? Does it have to do with the Portland Chapter or is there something about the national organization? Or maybe we’re doing something right and just not measuring it properly? Should we have been using membership as a gateway to our events? 

It should be made clear that AIGA Portland does not “have” members. There is no touchpoint on our website to conduct the transaction of purchasing membership. You can live anywhere in the country and be an AIGA member. Membership is first and foremost to AIGA. Running a non-profit business under a membership model is tricky, especially if you don’t know how to run a non-profit and how the affiliated membership model underpins the organization. The model pins chapters against one another. And the Chapter faces challenges from local like-minded organizations – vying for peoples calendar time and their membership dues. Any board member who does not see the competitive nature of this business will find it very difficult to serve on any board. 

30/70 Split

The 30/70 split announced this year is a mind boggling change. I don’t think the revenue share model was clearly and fully communicated to members or chapter leaders. So if we consider myself as an informed member of AIGA, then 70% of my time is spent looking to National for support and resources and 30% of my time is spent developing the local chapter — 100% of my time is donated as a volunteer. However, as an uninformed member of AIGA, 70% of my time is spent looking to the local chapter for support and resources, and 30% of my time reading Eye on Design and thinking it is the Portland Chapter writing these articles (it is not) — 100% of my time is wondering where my money went. Maybe even attending a dMob event and not even realizing it is a Portland Chapter program.

AIGA Portland: 2016-2020 Revenue and Membership

AIGA Portland: 2016-2020 Revenue and Membership

2020: What it should NOT have been…

It’s clear by now that any plans for 2020 are off the table. By the end of December 2019, just before the impact of COVID-19, the AIGA Portland Chapter had 42 events planned for 2020. 42 events is what happens when National does not provide the resources and tools to be an effective chapter. 42 events is what happens when the local community and local members are focusing on the chapter to provide an experience because national is detached and inaccessible. 42 events is what happens when a chapter is alone.

Our team of 10 volunteer Board Directors and their dedicated volunteer committees planned to deliver what was to be the most demanding year of events and content for the chapter. To what end? For whose benefit? The community? In my opinion, when National fails to include chapters in developing resources, shaping membership models; or informing chapters on how to leverage resources, chapters burn out. People burn out.  

AIGA Portland 2020 Programming Calendar

AIGA Portland: 2020 Programming Calendar

Uniting to work on solving AIGA Portland’s problems starts with acknowledging and collaborating to solve AIGA’s problems

Portland is an affiliated chapter of AIGA. Portland is one of 70+ chapters across the nation. The Portland Chapter is not alone. 

The Portland Chapter has experienced a great deal of immeasurable growth and losses that deceive our real successes. We have gained a great deal of valuable information and insights to help us re-shape and re-direct our local trajectory. We have begun, and should continue to understand the role our chapter plays in the big picture of the organization. It will be difficult to see the brighter side in the days ahead. It will be even more difficult to connect with allies that may not want to be associated with AIGA due to recent and unfortunate events and powerful statements from voices in the Portland community and the community-at-large. 

It is moments like this and voices like these when we must recognize the opportunity and the forces that are pulling and pushing us to change and innovate. 

So “Why AIGA?” as chapter leaders we are expected to have an answer. Over the last few months I have been asking myself, what does AIGA have to offer in the middle of a redefinition of the country, a global pandemic, and an election year? How do you help me shape an anti-racist design practice? Big questions. Difficult questions. And it’s not like the organization isn’t working on any initiatives that point to these questions. Change doesn’t happen overnight and certainly not over social media, slack, or zoom.  

Let’s face it. The version of AIGA and AIGA Portland that existed before May 25, 2020 was built in a reality and social structure that will never exist again. Any attempt for the chapter or the national organization to return to a status quo will be a futile effort in romanticizing a system that was not working. 

Since the cancellation of our 2020 chapter plans, I have been urging the Portland Board to take advantage of this downtime to reform, restructure, and envision a new Portland Chapter. The social uprising for systemic reform puts even more pressure and provides more opportunity to make these changes. But all this effort of reform starts to point at a bigger question: if we work so hard under our own chapter vision, mission, and metrics for success then why bother with AIGA to begin with? All three of those aspects must be shared between the local chapter and national. It cannot be compartmentalized and I believe should not be divvied up by region but by similarities between chapters and their communities.   

Change = loss

I believe the President-elect, Ashleigh Axios and Executive Director, Bennie Johnson can make the hard decisions and lead the organization into a new vision, a new structure even. I believe incoming Portland Chapter President, Monica Mo and President-elect, Duncan Lawrence and the Portland Board of Directors will do their best to weather the changes ahead, continue to empathize at the local level, and deliver great experiences and content that highlight and connect the Portland community. Loss is the byproduct of change and the future is a tense. No matter how many times you envision the future it will always change. What if AIGA was founded on trust, loyalty, and inclusivity? What if AIGA was a cultural institution for design, rather than a professional organization or even a social club? 

AIGA Portland 2018 Insight by B and A Associates

AIGA Portland 2018 Insight by B and A Associates

To the Portland design community at-large

I challenge you to reach out to the AIGA Portland Board of Directors with any comments, questions, suggestions, ideas, or feedback on our AIGA Portland 2020 & Beyond survey. 

Thank you

Thank you for the opportunity to be your leader. AIGA Portland has played an unforgettable role in my design career and my growth as a leader. You recognized me and provided an opportunity to share my thoughts and perspective on the potential impact of design within a city. There is no better way to celebrate my 20 year anniversary as a designer. 

I specifically want to thank Joanna Papaleo, Mike Biewer, Josh Barrett, Eugenie Fontana, Martha Lewis, Monica Mo, Jennifer Pantages, Duncan Lawrence, Marilee Sweeney, Simon Sotelo, Lindsay Charlet, Carrie Grant, Max Radi, and Brandon Waybright. I would also like to thank: Erin Hamilton, Paul Mendoza, Patrick Fredrickson, Dawn Zidonis, Hugh Weber, and the CAC West Crew for all of their insights, conversations, and long-winded slack threads. 

Salvador Orara


Since 2016 Salvador has served the AIGA Portland Chapter in the following roles: President & Interim Treasurer 2019-2020, President 2018-2019, Content Director & President-Elect 2017-2018, Content & Promotions Director 2016-2017, Interim Content Director 2016, Content Volunteer 2016. In relation to AIGA: Salvador was a member of AIGA Philadelphia ‘05, AIGA New York ‘08, and AIGA Los Angeles ‘12. He is the co-recipient of an AIGA 365 Poster 2008 award and an AIGA 50 Books / 50 Covers 2009 award. 

Salvador is the Director of Innovation with the Franz Center for Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation; and the Innovation Professor of Practice with the Shiley School of Engineering. He is also the Faculty Advisor for the Filipino American Student Association of UP (FASA sa UP), and the Faculty Advisor for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and a member of Presidential Advisory Committee On Inclusion (20-21). All of these positions are held at the University of Portland

By Salvador Orara
Published June 19, 2020