ACUI Revisits Successes from 2020–24 Strategic Plan

The past five years have been considerably tumultuous and ever-changing. The Association had to navigate significant challenges along the way, beginning with the decision in March 2020 to end the strategic plan that was in place at that time, and re-evaluate organizational priorities alongside external factors such as a worldwide pandemic, a major recession, and ongoing racial injustices.

The revised 2020–24 plan focused on stability for the Association and providing timely education and resources to support members on their campuses. While it is important to have flexibility, the Board of Trustees needed to also ensure the long-term viability of the Association and ways to support members to navigate a dramatically different changing world.

As the 2020–24 plan ended, ACUI unveiled the new strategic plan at the 2024 Annual Conference in Denver; and while we prepare for the future it envisions, it is important to reflect on the resiliency of the Association, to celebrate the impact of organizational accomplishments. An overview of the next strategic plan will be shared in an upcoming issue of The Bulletin.

Impact on Developing the Profession

During the past few years, ACUI made great strides in maintaining a focus on developing the profession in a time when the pandemic, burnout, and financial restraints led to an increase of professionals leaving the field and student affairs in general. 

Thanks to the continued support of hundreds of donors during the pandemic, ACUI launched two initiatives: Financial Assistance Fund and the Investing in Our Profession campaign. 

Established by the Board of Trustees in 2020, the Financial Assistance Fund provided support for campuses facing financial difficulties because of the pandemic; the initial fund goal was $50,000. Since its inception, $69,000 has been distributed, allowing 19 institutions to maintain membership and 37 individuals to attend ACUI events. The last of these funds were used to support attendance at the 2024 Annual Conference in Denver. 

The Investing in Our Profession campaign, launched in 2022, is designated to support the Student Affairs & College Union Certification Program, including educational scholarships toward ACUI programs that support participants learning and preparation for the certification program. The campaign has received $167,750 in pledges and contributions toward the $200,000 goal, making this the largest single fundraising campaign in ACUI’s history.

ACUI is a founding member of the Higher Education Consortium for Student Affairs Certification. The College Unions Student Affairs Certification is designed exclusively for college unions specialists and campus community builders who are mid-level and above, as well as student affairs educators looking to transition into college unions specialist and senior-level roles. As the profession is challenged with staff leaving the field, certification offers the opportunity for supervisors to directly support their staff while strengthening the overall workforce. It encourages lifelong learning, supports professional advancement, and strengthens the profession.

In addition to these new initiatives, ACUI continued to assist with professional growth through awards and scholarships, supported by money raised through Education and Research Fund activities, such as the Day of Giving, Silent Auction, and more—all of which continued in a virtual format throughout the pandemic.

Impact on Community Development

ACUI’s greatest benefit, as identified by members, is the community found alongside colleagues who understand the work. Over the last few years, ACUI focused on being responsive to the needs of members and delivering innovative and engaging experiences—despite the delivery method. 

The largest gathering of college unions professionals—and ACUI’s membership—each year is the Annual Conference. In 2020 and 2021, ACUI offered a virtual conference experience as the impact of the pandemic prevented the Association from gathering safely in person. ACUI’s seminars, institutes, student programs, and regional conferences also switched to a virtual model in these years. Through these virtual opportunities, ACUI provided members a way to connect “face to face”; additionally, healing spaces, roundtables, and community events offered virtually filled a much-needed void for many.  

As in-person event resumed, ACUI sought to improve connections made at the Annual Conference. Small-group dinners foster community building, and welcome events for newcomers and those from small delegations provide an initial connection point once arriving at the conference. Additionally, a new way to connect to local communities was introduced at the 2023 Annual Conference: the ACUI Adventure. Successful in both Boston and Denver, this conference-wide opportunity provided attendees the chance to choose from tours of local campuses, community service, and more. 

But virtual and in-person events weren’t the only place where community was built. During the pandemic, ACUI noted an increased use of the online communities of practice, with most topics devoted to how campuses were handling the impacts. ACUI, focused on providing timely information for members, created a dedicated page on the website that collected all community discussions and both internal and external resources related to COVID-19.

ACUI also acted to provide community space as racial injustice emerged as a key topic for higher education and society at large, gathering relevant community
of practice posts and developing resources to support members. 

 — Susan Pile, University of Michigan, 2023 Conference Program Team Chair, reflecting on the success of the ACUI Adventure

Impact on the Regions

The regions seek to create community and provide educational opportunities on a more local level for members. This is often the first level of interaction a member may have with ACUI. Regions create pathways for involvement and community building. 

During the 2020–24 strategic plan, the regions, led by the Regional Leadership Team, supported the overall mission of the Association to deliver on the ever-changing needs of members. Regional Conferences were combined or offered virtually; some regions developed webinar series or podcasts; and still others developed successful in-person programming for specific audiences, such as Region VII’s Grad and Grow event, which has been going since 2022. 

The regions also strengthened their connection to Association component groups, such as working with the Education Council to better understand the Educational Plan and review session proposals and the Corporate Partnerships Development Team to seek out sponsorship support from associate members. 

However, regions do continue to struggle, even as the Association rebounds from the pandemic, with declines in engagement with activities. To assess this issue and provide strong regional goals for the 2024–2029 Strategic Plan, the Board of Trustees formed the Regional Engagement Task Force in 2022. The task force spent significant time reviewing data and collecting feedback from various volunteer groups and the Central Office. Recommendations were provided to the board in 2023 and are incorporated in the next strategic plan to ensure the strength and growth of the regions remains a key focus moving forward. 

— Antonio Talamo, Montclair State University, Region VII Educational Coordinator, reflecting on the 2023 Grad and Grow event

Impact on Volunteers

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Association, bringing their skills and expertise to the organization to ensure success. During 2020–24, while volunteerism struggled as many had to realign priorities in the wake of the pandemic and its effect on their work and home lives, work was done to strengthen the overall volunteer program.

The Volunteer Development Team completed five audits to improve equity in the volunteer experience—including expanding the definition of volunteerism, incorporating core competencies into job descriptions, and improving the application, selection, training, and transition process. As part of this, a new Volunteer Interview Action Steps and Process is now in place, which outlines steps for the “Search Chair” to follow to ensure equitable access through vetting by component group chairs.

A new process and expectations were created for short-term volunteer opportunities to assist with building consistent and positive volunteer experiences across the Association. In recent years, ACUI has increased the options for members to volunteer in these short-term roles, allowing those who cannot commit multiple years to still engage with the organization. 

A working group was established to make recommendations to the board to improve volunteer recruitment and marketing tactics, with an emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Actions were taken to address recommendations with the Volunteer Development Team creating internal processes, documents, and resources to help promote, encourage, and engage with volunteers. This work laid a strong foundation for rebuilding volunteerism for the Association. 

To encourage continued work toward Association goals, the Board of Trustees also increased communication with volunteer teams by hosting regular check-ins. 

— Caroline Lenz, University of Florida, reflecting on her time as student member of the Board of Trustees 

Impact on Corporate Partnerships

The support of associate members allows ACUI to improve the programs and services provided. In 2020, ACUI decided to take a new approach to developing corporate relations by hiring a third-party company, Wyman, to take the lead in driving sales. ACUI worked with Wyman to develop a menu of advertising and engagement opportunities. 

With Wyman focused on sales, the Corporate Partnerships Development Team sought ways for associate members to deepen their relationships with the organization and determine gaps in the business relationships that do exist. By identifying gaps and needs, such as personal development products, programming services, and sustainability solutions, ACUI can better cater to members. 

ACUI also made strides to maintain connections with associate members during the pandemic. The virtual conferences hosted in 2020 and 2021 included exhibit halls that allowed attendees to directly connect with vendors. 

With events back in person starting in 2022, ACUI has sought innovative ways to meet the needs of both attendees and exhibitors. Some concepts have included an innovation stage, hosting special events within the exhibit hall, and seeking interactive experiences from exhibitors, such as the esports demonstration at the 2024 Annual Conference. 

ACUI also focused on developing corporate relationships on the regional level. The Corporate Partnerships Development Team created a training video and other resources for use by Regional Leadership and Regional Conference Planning Teams. 

In 2024, the Association continues to look at ways to grow its corporate program. This includes an assessment of current offerings and experiences by an external consultant, and seeking information from volunteers and members about existing relationships with companies that may be a good fit for ACUI.

— Andy Smriga, Texas State University, Corporate Partnerships Development Team Leader, reflecting on the impact of corporate members

Impact on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

While the pandemic had a lasting impact on the world and the Association, another emerging issue throughout the past few years has been a noted increase in racial injustice and continued legislation in the United States that does not align with Association values and impacts ACUI community members. 

During this time, ACUI sought to be a space where members could receive support, process concerns, and find resources. A big step in that process was the creation of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Community of Practice, providing a virtual connection point for members to share ideas and current efforts related to training, dialogue, and education.

Other initiatives during the past few years have included the Social Justice Institute, TableTalks podcast, SafeZone virtual training series, healing programs, DEI Toolkit, annual communication calendar, and increase in webinars focused on DEI topics, such as the talent pipeline, DACA, and empathetic leadership. 


  • For the past three years, ACUI has invited Social Responsibility Speaks to host workshops at the Annual Conference, allowing attendees to take a deep dive into
    social justice
  • The Annual Conference, Regional Conference, and seminars and institutes have incorporated social justice, racial justice, and/or equity education into all-conference programming
  • The I-LEAD® curriculum was updated with content that uses a social justice leadership lens
  • The Education Council focused on incorporating the Core Competency Equity Thread into multiple competencies
  • The Closing the Gap program continued to evolve in the past few years to include new and innovative ways for the cohort to engage and learn. Program graduates indicate a positive experience as expressed in a series of follow-up interviews in The Bulletin

As ACUI continually sought ways to educate members and staff on DEI topics, the Association also made commitments to living our values:

  • After discriminatory legislation was passed in Florida targeting the trans and nonbinary community, the Association opted to exercise its force majeure clause that included termination based on enacted discriminatory legislation. 
  • ACUI’s financial investment policies were revised to make sure our portfolio emphasizes companies that operate with high environmental, social, and governance standards. 
  • An ACUI constitutional amendment implemented ranked choice voting for Board of Trustees candidates, considered to be a fairer process that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.  
— Chris Morgan, East Carolina University, reflecting on Closing the Gap experience

Impact on Financial Stability

When the strategic plan was reworked in the wake of the pandemic, it highlighted the need for financial stability. ACUI had to make tough financial decisions when it came to canceling the 2020 and 2021 Annual Conferences. Thanks to our strong relationship with Marriott and the extenuating circumstances all were facing at the time, ACUI was released from its contractual agreement with the 2020 host site and was able to re-negotiate the 2021 Annual Conference to be hosted at a future date (in 2025). Similarly, anticipating it would take time for conference attendance to bounce back to pre-pandemic numbers, ACUI negotiated to lessen hotel rooms contracted for the 2022 Annual Conference in Chicago to avoid paying additional fees.

Innovation was key as ACUI determined avenues to increase non-dues revenue. During the pandemic, ACUI created a virtual events business following the success of our own virtual conference. The staff produced 20 virtual events for external clients, resulting in a necessary financial boost to the Association in 2020 and 2021. This work was in addition to ACUI’s ongoing support of other organizations through Atria, the association management service.

ACUI also sought and was awarded relief funding through the U.S. Government, which significantly helped in offsetting financial losses in 2020, 2021, and 2022. And in late 2023, the Central Office changed locations in Bloomington, Indiana, to an office that has fewer office spaces and boasts a larger footprint for storage to better accommodate shipping for Annual Conferences and other off-site programming. This change was a positive decision, both fiscally and operationally. 

— John Taylor, ACUI Chief Executive Office, reflecting on financial decisions 


  • Liz Stringer

    Liz Stringer serves as ACUI's director of outreach, overseeing the membership, marketing, branding, and member services areas of the Association. Stringer has been with ACUI for more than 15 years.

    View all posts