2023 President-Elect Candidates

Chez Chesak
Watch Chez’s candidate video here

My first nonprofit position, at a book publisher, was in 1994. I’ve now amassed nearly 30 years of nonprofit management experience, having worked for seven different organizations and consulted with several more. I’m thoroughly versed in every aspect of associations, including budgeting and cash flow, board development, membership recruitment, sponsorship sales, communications, annual meeting site selection and management, national and international contract negotiation and staff development.

While at the book publisher, I increased annual conference sales by 21%. While at a hiking organization, I expanded their national trails program to just shy of 800 events. While at an alpine climbing association, I achieved 14% membership growth, nearly tripled sponsorship sales, and increased cash donations by nearly 150%. While working for an adventure travel association, I helped shepherd its growth from 270 international corporate members to 850. In my current position as executive director of an outdoor media association, I’ve worked with our board to essentially rebuild the organization and imbue it with new life, energy and focus.

I know nonprofits and associations intimately.

As for my writing, I was always a passionate reader and thus became an equally passionate writer. I credit my fourth-grade teacher who noticed my use of the word ‘flat’ in a writing assignment about a London detective. She encouraged me to write more, and I quickly fell in love with the storytelling process. At Wesleyan University, I double majored in English and Government while earning four letters in a varsity sport. I later was enrolled in a Creative Writing MFA program, at least until the money ran out. Throughout, I continued to get short stories and literary works published while also working full time for nonprofits.

In 2004, I deployed to Iraq with my Army National Guard unit. This is relevant because I quickly pitched the state’s major paper on writing a monthly column, and they immediately agreed. Between patrolling the uneasy streets of Baqubah and Kirkuk as a machine-gunner, I wrote articles for that paper, articles that were picked up by national military magazines. Upon returning to the States, I pitched Good Housekeeping on a story about how my daughter, my first child, was born the night I flew in to start my deployment and how I was just getting to know her at age 11 months. They bought it and I’d sold my first major story.

While working at the adventure travel association, it was a perfect fit to also write about my adventures. So, while I worked with tourism boards around the world and ran conferences for up to 700 people in Chiapas, São Paulo, Aviemore, Charlevoix, Swakopmund, and elsewhere, I wrote about my travels too.

Thankfully, this all led me to join SATW, attend the Barbados convention and quickly dive into our association’s opportunities. I co-chaired the 2019 El Paso meeting (where I also introduced the ReVerbs storytelling event to the organization) and the 2020 virtual convention, then served on the board until that term ended in 2021. Since 2019, I’ve chaired the Central States Chapter (CSC), which just had a successful chapter meeting in Shreveport-Bossier. I earned the 2019 President’s Cup and have won writing awards from the CSC.

I look forward to sharing my experience and expertise with SATW as your president. Already I’m talking to recent former presidents to get their input and feedback as to how to best lead this association into the future.

With your support, my time as president-elect and then president will have three major focal points. They are:

1. Transparent communications. I will continue to ensure that SATW listens to you, as a member, and responds. I look forward to having monthly ‘town hall’ meetings and making myself available to you in every possible way. I will be as transparent and accessible as I possibly can and I urge you to share with me your concerns, questions and ideas for our future.

2. Increase income. I’ll be proactive as a president in recruiting new Associate members and sponsors to support SATW’s mission. I will increase the funding available to better serve you – while also seeking viable new membership benefits. I’ll work to grow our ranks of Active members, with a particular focus on younger and digitally focused storytellers. These outreach efforts will always have an eye on continued diversification of our membership and our continued work to make ours a welcoming community for all.

3. Conference accessibility. I will push our prospective conference hosts to make our major event as affordable as possible, working to bring hotel rates down and provide as much support for Active members’ travel as our partners can provide. I’ll also drive these partners to support the attendance of as many editors as possible too.

I must call out my day job as executive director of another, parallel association. Some might be concerned about possible conflicts of interest. I can assure you that there will be no conflicts and that I’ll maintain the highest standards of integrity. Thus far, my work as staff for one association while also volunteering for SATW has been beneficial to both. I’ve been able to share successes from one organization that have benefitted the other and vice-versa. It has been a very positive two-way street. Conversely, there have also been times when I’ve held back to protect one association’s opportunities and intellectual property and not shared it with the other. I will walk the line between these associations with integrity and thoughtful consideration for both. And when I have my SATW ‘hat’ on, it will always be SATW first.

I sincerely thank you for reading my candidate statement and for considering me to lead our association. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions at all as I am eager to speak with anyone interested in conversing further. I look forward to your support, hopefully your vote and to continue doing all that I can to work for SATW members like you.

Mary Jo Manzanares
Watch Mary Jo’s candidate video here

I am a traveler, travel content creator, and digital publisher, and a member of SATW since 2014. I am standing for election as your President-Elect and hope to earn your support and vote.

I refer to myself as a content creator because saying digital publisher, writer blogger, social media storyteller, photographer, book author, travel newsletter editor, video content product, podcaster, etc., is just too much of a mouthful.

The world of travel journalism has changed. The pandemic, decreasing budgets, and technology mean that we don’t all consume, publish, or create content in the same way we did 10 years ago. The same will be true 10 years from now. The era of new media has passed. It’s just media.

Our business models and choice of media may differ, but we share a common goal – sustaining successful careers and businesses. To do that, individually and as an organization, we must be prepared to keep up with the evolution of media.

I have worked in digital publishing for over 18 years. I’ve been an advocate for digital publishing and media on the Board and committees during the entire time of my SATW membership. That combination of knowledge and experience uniquely positions me to help guide the Society into the future of publishing and journalism.

What can you expect from me as a future President? At the heart of it all, I believe in servant leadership.

Servant leadership focuses on serving members rather than on maintaining insider cliques or control. Servant leadership encourages diversity of thought and creates a culture of transparency and trust. It fosters leadership in others, actively encouraging and recruiting successors and volunteers. We must increase participation, make the load lighter for us all, and eliminate constantly reinventing the wheel. This also allows us to establish succession and continuity in a way that ensures SATW’s continued preeminence.

Here are some places where I think we’ve made a great start and can continue to build on our successes.

We need to live our DEAI values and principles, reaching out for opportunities to embrace the wonderful diversity of travel content creators. We need to continue to remove barriers to membership, participation, and opportunities, as well as look for opportunities to do better and to do more. There is strength in our diversity, let’s make it work for us.

We need to review our conventions, meetings, and other events, to ensure we deliver affordable value for attendees. I have experience with sponsorship and event planning/management on three continents, having served as Conference Director for TBEX for five years. Creative minds can keep prices low and values high.

We need to continue to grow our revenue-producing activities, including sponsorships and fee-based events for non-members. A robust sponsorship program allows us to keep event prices low for all members. We also need to find creative new opportunities that do not involve continually returning to members to foot the bill for everything.

We should review our successful initiatives to see where modification or expansion would be worthwhile. This can be done while still staying within budget. It’s also time for a little tough love – perhaps letting go of (or modifying) processes and projects that no longer serve us well. This should be done while maintaining focus on our core mission of inspiring travel through responsible journalism.

We need to continue our website development, recognizing it is an essential tool for our members, and can also be a tool for membership recruitment and promotion of SATW initiatives. In addition to the herculean task for the Board to find a new website developer, I’m personally providing some interim service to make the current website more user-friendly. You may have seen the development of our professional development pages making it easier to find information and watch the video. These will continue to be updated. Coming soon are improved member benefits pages, Council and Chapter sections, and a Photographer section.

Since joining SATW, I’ve been involved at various levels of Society business, volunteering when and where my skillsets match up with a need.

I currently serve as an At Large Board member and the DPC (Digital Publishers Council). I’m on the Communications Committee, DEAI committee, serve as the Website Committee Chair, and helped to draft the RFP for our new website development (out for bid soon). I was responsible for suggesting the initiative that led to our new weekly opportunity bulletin and served on two contract review committees.

Past service includes two stints as PD Convention Co-Chair (El Paso and Bogota), serving on the Convention RFP committee, and one term as your Board Parliamentarian.

I’ve learned that SATW membership is enhanced by the service you perform. I have been richly blessed by my volunteer work, professionally and personally, and I am honored to have received the Board of Directors Cup in 2019 and the President’s Bowl in 2022.

I believe the path ahead of us is bright. With a dynamic leadership team, an active Board, and engaged membership, SATW can create new opportunities and enjoy continued success.

We need to work together to create this success. I’m up to the task. I think you’re up to the task, too. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. It’s time to walk our talk.

I respectfully ask for your support and your vote.