A few dozen people gather at Westlake Park for The Urbanist's Center City walking tour.
In addition to meetups and speaker events, walking tours are one of the educational programs that The Urbanist offers periodically. (Doug Trumm)

In 2018, The Urbanist notched one of the biggest accomplishments since its inception. We brought on a paid, part-time Operations and Development Manager.

Our volunteers worked thousands of hours in 2018 to fulfill our mission and affect policy. However, our capacity fluctuates wildly, since we depend almost entirely on volunteers. An organization with paid staff is a critical requirement to achieve our mission and all our volunteers are working to make that happen.

Our first and only prior fundraising drive was in the fall of 2017. This effort was entirely coordinated by volunteers and aimed to turn The Urbanist into a longer lasting institution, a key requirement to achieving the larger changes our policy principles articulate. Our supporters surprised us with generous donations and gave us financial stability.

By the middle of 2018, we were confident we could support about 20 hours of work per week. Our volunteer board and staff developed a role that aims to form the backbone of the organization’s growth. The Operations and Development Manager‘s role would focus on two things: increasing revenue to support full-time staff and coordinating volunteers to increase organizational capacity. By the fall of 2018, we completed the interview process and selected Alex Wheeler to take on the role. Since Alex started in December of 2019, he’s organized this subscriber drive and kicked off a new monthly volunteer event, partnering with allies to advocate on their key issues.

If we’re successful, his work will translate into paid editorial, programming, and policy staff, as well as growing our volunteer involvement and impacts on policy.

Board Management and Volunteer Engagement

Strong leadership is a critical ingredient of The Urbanist’s work. In 2018, this involved a lot of board management. At the end of 2017, board member Alex Hudson stepped down to focus on her new role, Executive Director at Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC). Kelsey Mesher, TCC’s Advocacy Director, filled her vacancy and added an invaluable public health and transportation policy background. In early 2018, the board expanded by adding Anna Minard and Patrick Taylor. Minard brought years of communications experience, including with progressive nonprofits like Working Washington and as a city hall journalist with The Stranger. Taylor’s background includes urbanism advocacy, training as an architectural designer, and running The Urbanist’s events programming.

Beyond board management, the organization expanded its volunteer engagement, running a volunteer orientation in early 2018 and onboarding many new volunteers.

Beyond these three big accomplishments, there were countless other tasks; meetings, emails, administrative work, website maintenance and more. Our website went from a rough patch of frequent outages to running very smoothly recently thanks yet again to volunteer help.

All of this work is only possible because of very dedicated volunteers, putting in thousands of hours. Examples of this volunteer work includes writing and editing articles before the 7am publishing deadlines, dedicating entire Saturday and Sundays to strategy sessions, using vacation to do coalition building or reporting. The list is humongous and we hope to do even more in 2019. You can help turn The Urbanist volunteer effort into a sustainable organization, long-term institution by becoming a subscriber today.

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Article Author
Owen Pickford holding a beer, wearing a Sounders shirt in front of a bridge, river and large towers in Tokyo.
Owen Pickford

Owen is a solutions engineer for a software company. He has an amateur interest in urban policy, focusing on housing. His primary mode is a bicycle but isn't ashamed of riding down the hill and taking the bus back up. Feel free to tweet at him: @pickovven.