by Zachary Violette
While its bylaws outline the purpose of the organization, the VAF never had a proper mission statement to succinctly articulate what it is and what it stands for. At its November 2018 meeting the Board of Directors tasked then-president Louis Nelson with forming an ad-hoc committee of five to craft a pithy statement, which would be useful in fundraising and recruitment efforts. The move was part of the strategic planning and evaluation that VAF leadership has been engaged in over the past few years: the 40th anniversary of the founding of VAF, combined with the rapid growth of the endowment, has prompted a good deal of organizational soul searching and planning for the future. Reflecting the diversity of the organization, the ad-hoc committee represented a variety of ages and professional backgrounds. Members included Catherine Bishir, Jobie Hill, Ian Stevenson, and Zachary Violette, as well as Louis Nelson as chair.
The group started its work by examining a long list of nonprofit mission statements. These were noteworthy for their brevity, some containing only three or five words, most with less than 25. The committee set for itself a goal of not more than 20 words. Each member was asked to send to Nelson an initial suggestion of a complete statement, which he then anonymously compiled, and honed into a single working draft. This draft prompted vigorous debate among committee members about core aspects of VAF’s purpose: what is the role of historic preservation? How can diversity be properly acknowledged? How does VAF relate to other academic and preservation organizations? After weeks of exchange a draft statement was circulated to the full board in early April. While the committee’s final proposal was longer than many of the other statements that were the initial inspiration, capturing the nuance of the VAF’s mission, it was decided, was more important than brevity for its own sake. After a lengthy discussion, it was approved, with minor changes, at the spring board meeting. (Because it will not be inserted in the bylaws, approval of the membership at the Annual Meeting was not required.) The approved new mission statement reads:
The Vernacular Architecture Forum promotes a broad and inclusive interpretation of the built environment to encourage a deeper understanding of how and why people make and use buildings and landscapes. Working in archives, in communities, and in the field, our members support the preservation of everyday buildings and affirm their important role in the lives of people and places.