2023 President’s Message to IOA Members

By Ronnie Thomson, IOA President

Welcome to 2023 – a new year that continues to open opportunities for IOA’s growth, with a strong membership of 1,140, and continued development both for the association and for each of us who call IOA our own. As a volunteer-driven association, we have made a significant impact this past year. Kudos to so many who give their time and talent to IOA, especially our Board of Directors and Committee Chairs/Co-Chairs – we are gifted with exceptional leadership.  As IOA’s 2023 Conference theme queries “Ombuds as Change Agent?”, I reply with a resounding “Yes!” Together, we most certainly are the change agents who shed light in the darkness, positively impacting our organizations with the unique ways we promote fairness, and what is most needed in our world today: how we promote dignity, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

We dubbed the 2022-2023 Board of Directors' year as The Great Transition with nine new Directors occupying a vast majority of the fifteen total seats. We are forming our relationships with one another and aligning our efforts with our Strategic Direction. Professionally and personally, perhaps you too have experienced a great transition this past year, or past few years. Together we support one another through the growth pains into a peaceful future where we each contribute for the good of all.

2022 represented our third year in an investment mode for the Association, including the establishment and onboarding of IOA’s first full-time executive director, Ellen Miller, and investing in strategic initiatives, such as recent advocacy efforts, and new programs and services to members such as the new Online CommUnity. Despite these investments plus the rising cost of various expenses post-pandemic, IOA ended with a positive net income of $3,000. More details will be shared during our Annual Meeting in April.

A significant part of IOA’s Great Transition includes the implementation of revised Bylaws that we updated in 2021 to include a restructured Nominating Committee resulting in an improved process for Board nominations, the addition of an Audit committee comprised of Board Members, and the addition of a President-Elect position on the Executive Committee, which provides continuity of leadership on the Board.

Where did we make an impact for IOA and the ombuds profession in 2022? For those who volunteered your time and talent on an IOA Committee or Task Force or other initiatives, IOA benefited from your investment. If you provided valuable feedback, you helped IOA leaders make better decisions. If you shared viewpoints in member dialogues, you contributed to our growing a collaborative culture. My hope is that each of you will find how you contributed within the following accomplishments (by the way, paying your membership dues ranks as a way you contribute!). 

  • IOA contracted with a new IOA Ombuds, Breanne Taylor. Grateful to have Breanne and her efforts to continue on our journey of continuous improvement. The inaugural IOA Ombuds, contracted in 2020, published her final IOA Ombuds Annual Report for 2021. Have you read it? 

  • Implemented changes from Committee’s Terms of Reference to association best practice of Committee Charge, in addition to implementing committee structure changes the prior Board identified for improved governance and collaboration (for example, Member Engagement now includes Membership, Volunteers, and Mentoring; GPC became Advocacy Committee)

  • The Board adopted the DEIB Framework developed by the DEIB Committee rolled out to Committees to imbed a commitment to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in all IOA activities.

  • IOA launched an Outsourced Ombuds Directory to help organizations find members who can provide outsourced ombuds services and consulting

  • The 2021-2022 Board of Directors approved and in 2022 we rolled out the revised IOA Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics

  • The Conference Committee again planned and executed an excellent virtual Annual Conference in 2022, “Belonging Together: Reimagined" (And they're at it again - I can hardly wait to see all my ombuddies in Seattle at #IOA2023!)

  • Launched a new Online CommUnity for enhanced networking and resource-sharing

  • We made Core Courses virtual, which made them more accessible

  • Our Professional and Development Committee held 10 Foundations Courses - the highest ever!

  • Did I mention Ellen Miller came on as our full-time ED?

  • Relaunched Good Day IOA 

  • Celebrated Ombuds Day 

  • The Advocacy Committee, with Ellen’s leadership, hired a lobbyist, filed Title IX comments, and met with 11+ congressional offices in addition to providing technical assistance on legislation relating to ombuds

  • Revised the Modern Ombuds videos, created a new conference ombuds video, and updated the modern ombuds toolkit

  • Consulted with 25+ organizations to help them set up new programs

  • Launched a new Community Connections series

  • Held member focus groups and gatherings on how to approach developing a code of conduct for IOA, which has evolved into Community Norms & Values, which we anticipate rolling out this spring

  • Supported a strategic planning session with the International Outreach Committee 

  • The Board met in person for the first time since 2019 and worked on strategic planning issues including an educational strategy to position IOA well for the future

  • Developed comprehensive advocacy and outreach strategy focused on external issues

  • We continued to make user-friendly improvements and added resources to our website, revising Why an Ombuds webpages and creating new resources

  • Launched the new IOA Book Publishing Program with the first book as a "Handbook on Practice," in addition to launching a new IOA Grant Program and Research Award Program with significant leadership in this area from Shannon Lynn Burton

  • Established a Joint IOA & CO-OP Task Force to explore creating an ombuds office accreditation program

Ellen Miller, IOA’s Executive Director, along with our Managing Director, Lindsay Jennings, and our committed staff, spearheaded many of these accomplishments. Ellen and Lindsay are both open and available to membership. I refer to them as our biggest evangelists, as they both sincerely appreciate not only our niche profession, but also IOA’s dedicated volunteers.

As my term as IOA President ends in April, I am especially grateful to each of my colleagues on the Board and the many leaders who volunteer with their whole hearts in so many areas including, yet not limited to Conference, Research and Assessment, Advocacy, Member Engagement, Professional Development, Communications, DEIB, Finance, and Nominating, especially significant for this time of year with both the Board of Directors and Distinguished Emeritus nominations in process. As our prior IOA President, Melanie Jagneaux, commented in her 2022 President’s Message, this community is inspirational and generous. We are IOA - together - with all of our giftedness, shapes, sizes, colors, languages, ethnicities, quirks, brilliance, and big-heartedness. Beautiful!

Thank you for your thoughtfulness in discussing our challenges, initiatives, mistakes, and opportunities. We’ve come a long way IOA! Let’s keep transforming and supporting each other!  

Ronnie Thomson, IOA President

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Thomas A. Kosakowski - Wednesday, February 08, 2023

As a long-time IOA member, I deeply appreciate time and effort the Board has put in over the last year. It has indeed been a very productive couple of years. The benefits are many and obvious. It is especially impressive when I consider that all of the Directors are volunteers and most are working full-time jobs. Kudos also to Ellen Miller, who seems to be an incredible asset for the Association and our profession. Tom Kosakowski

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