10 Minutes with the Executive Director

2020 was a challenging year for everyone across the board, but for an organization like BGES, which relies heavily on in-person tours, the hit was especially hard. Barbara Noe Kennedy of the BGES Blog caught up with BGES Executive Director Len Riedel to discuss what’s in store for the organization after this tough year. Some exciting things, as it turns out.

BNK: As BGES emerges from the challenges of 2020, what most impressed you about the year?

Len kicking off a tour at Richmond Airport 

LR: I believe I was most impressed by the loyalty and generosity of members. We feared the impact of lost revenue from tours, and after looking over our core operations we projected our expenditures would drop by 40% (unexpended cost of tours). The balance needed was $65,000. Right now we are on target to better that challenging goal. While we tried to execute programs to raise the money, book sales being the most visible, that effort fell short … the bar was raised by donations … people reaching deep and often. BGES matters to our folks.

BNK: I know you are constantly busy, what things will look different this year?

LR: I am really excited about our entry into the Zoom world. Covid forced the Board of Directors to online meetings. I admit to being a skeptic, but they generally worked well. As other organizations turned to online presentations, the Board strongly suggested we get on board. Frankly, I lacked the time, so my paradigms had to shift. For me, the question was what could I do to meet the mandate?

BGES has more than 13 years of recorded lectures and tours. A little staffing and inventory of the electronic infrastructure needed showed we could put upward of 350 lectures online by April 2021. Behind that, hundreds of hours of field tours could follow. We started posting those in early December. We expect to put a hundred online by the end of January 2021, two hundred by end of February. Three hundred by end of March, and the balance by Founder Day … April 25.

BNK: Anything else?

LR: Later this week, we will start a weekly series of lectures and interviews featuring our 2021 historians. These Zoom exchanges will allow our historians to introduce key elements of their programs and answer questions from the cohort. I think it is a great intro to the field studies we will conduct this year and may help unregistered people decided to get on board. Later we will fold in additional engagements with other historians that could involve contemporary issues, Book Notes type of pitches, and interesting or unique topics that may arise.

BNK: Why are you going in this direction?

LR: First, it is not a replacement but rather a membership enhancement. We will keep doing other things that we have done for years. As our organization grays and money gets tighter, this will let more members benefit from quality educational experiences. Less than 20% of our members actually register for the live tours. This reaches out to the other 75% who cannot go but can witness online at their leisure. Sadly, about 5% of our members are not online and this won’t do much for them.

We will be using two platforms … our archives will be on Google Workspace. They will be password protected and available only to active members. The lectures and a limited number of lectures will be on the BGES YouTube channel … many linked to the tours they support. Later those interviews will be retired to our archives and will be password protected.

BNK: What’s BGES’s most important “Must Do” for 2021?

LR: We have spent a considerable amount of time organizing databases. We have a great message reaching a lot of people who are interested in what we do. Well over 3,500 people open our emails a large percentage of the time. We need those people in the BGES, and our goal is to grow dramatically between now and the end of 2022. How dramatically? We are shooting for 2,000 members. We need to double ourselves this year. It is the singular focus to the practicality of our future viability. Everyone should take this seriously. We may be approaching our 28th year, but, as 2020 has shown, tomorrow is not guaranteed.

BNK: I have heard you did a great interview back in October. What was that about? Can I view it?

I did an hour-long interview with Civil War Congress President Mike Movius in mid-October. It was a freewheeling and reflective opportunity that turned out to be an excellent recruiting tool for us. Attendees became members, and BGES members aware that the interview was being conducted joined and added their endorsement to our life’s work. If I was to have a prospective member’s attention for an hour, this is the presentation I would give them. If a past due or current member wanted to be convinced of the need to be part of BGES, I would steer them to this chat. I believe it touches all the key items that they would get studying our website.

** Click here if you would like to watch it now or later … you need an hour. **

BNK: Sounds exciting!

LR: You gotta love what you do. Thank you for the opportunity.