The NRECA board of directors approved a consolidated 2019 budget of nearly $258 million to support the association's work toward implementing priorities laid out in its strategic plan and its subsidiaries and their goals.

The budget for 2019 projects expenses of nearly $257.6 million, up 0.8 percent from last year, and revenue of $257.8 million, up 0.7 percent from last year.

At the board's winter meeting in Arlington, Virginia, NRECA CEO Jim Matheson discussed priorities for 2019, including specific objectives in six areas of the strategic plan. Developed by NRECA's senior leaders with a member-first approach, "these six priority areas are of an enterprise-wide focus," Matheson told the board. The six priorities are:

  1. Engage members on an individual basis. Steps include creating individual member profiles and analytic tools to focus engagement efforts and open new channels of communications and feedback.

  2. Identify specific membership challenges and reach members with solutions. Matheson asked the board to work with NRECA to support members' needs on issues including distributed energy resources, cybersecurity, broadband and co-op governance.

  3. Make progress on and resolve major policy issues. Examples include the Affordable Clean Energy Rule; Farm Bill programs and infrastructure investments in rural America; federal support for cybersecurity and broadband; and reduction in pension insurance premiums.

  4. Forge a national political identity for electric co-ops and their consumer-members. "Political engagement with consumer-members reinforces all of our efforts to increase consumer engagement," said Matheson. He added that a national political identity will be built through enhanced efforts in NRECA's ACRE ®, grassroots and Co-ops Vote programs.

  5. Deliver strong benefit plan offerings to NRECA members. Steps include pursuing efficiencies in providing financially sound benefit programs to members and evaluating new opportunities for members, such as a cash-balance option for the RS plan.

  6. Solidify financial management of NRECA and invest in long-term financial strength. Steps include evaluating NRECA's products and services, developing five-year budget targets and identifying new revenue opportunities.

Matheson said three accomplishments in 2018 were successes for members, including the significant use of the Governance Task Force Report as a discussion guide by hundreds of co-op boards, the Lexicon Project and the launch of the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative.

Over the past year, membership demand for NRECA training on the Lexicon Project, which aims to develop a shared vocabulary for communicating with consumer-members, "has been phenomenal," said Matheson. "A common language is so important to helping us understand the best way to make sure people are hearing what we're trying to say. It sounds like such a straightforward idea, but it's easier said than done."

The "consumer-friendly language" set forth in the Lexicon Project can resonate on Capitol Hill as well, said guest speaker Charles Merin, executive vice president of the Prime Policy Group.

"The four most powerful concepts in your arsenal are member-driven, not-for-profit, heritage and community," said Merin. "I am 10,000 percent in agreement with that. It's what allows you to separate yourselves from the pack. Even members of Congress from the most urban districts can understand that if you explain it to them."

The Electric Cooperative Governance Task Force Report was a frequent topic at a recent meeting of Rural Electric Statewide Managers (RESMA), said guest speaker Bruce Graham, the group's president and a member of the governance task force.

“I applaud the foresight of the NRECA and CFC Boards to establish the task force,” said Graham, the CEO of Kansas Electric Cooperatives in Topeka. “RESMA members talked about what states are doing with the report and it is being widely used by cooperative boards as a discussion tool. It really is making a difference.”

Matheson also asked the board to advocate the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative to co-ops back home. As of Dec. 5, 479 CEOs in 42 states have taken the initiative's pledge to help protect workers from accidental electrical contacts. "It's not just that you sign something. There's more to this program in terms of the materials and the resources available," Matheson said.

In other board-related activities:

  • NRECA President Phil Carson presided over his last winter meeting before his term ends at the upcoming 2019 NRECA Annual Meeting. He praised board members for their support during his nearly two years in the position.

  • Kerry Kelton, NRECA Texas director and general manager and CEO of Mid-South Synergy in Navasota, said NRECA is developing a grassroots toolkit to engage personnel and consumer-members in the political process.

  • Meera Kohler, NRECA Alaska director and president and CEO of Alaska Village Electric Cooperative in Anchorage, said NRECA is working with co-ops on "the next generation" of electrical storage devices and is in discussions with the Department of Defense on enhancing co-op electric service at military installations.

  • Kevin Doddridge, NRECA Mississippi director and CEO at Northcentral Mississippi Electric Power Association, updated the board on Education, Communications and Marketing Committee discussions, including various ways that NRECA staff supports cooperative safety and governance efforts.

  • Chris Hamon, NRECA Missouri director and CEO of White River Valley Electric Cooperative, updated the board on NRECA International activities, including assessments of electric systems in Uganda, Malawi, Colombia and Ethiopia. Findings will help those countries draft roadmaps on meeting future needs.

  • Tracey Steiner, NRECA senior vice president for education and training, and Eric Commodore, director of meeting and events, briefed the board on the 2019 Annual Meeting and TechAdvantage Expo, March 7-13 in Orlando. Meeting activities will take place at the Orange County Convention Center. Registration opened Nov. 19 and is approaching 3,000, which is "tracking well compared to the final total attendance of 9,109 when the meeting was in Orlando in 2015," said Steiner.