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During 2011, the Estonian American National Council sought to receive extensive feedback from its constituency across the United States.  After trials in several regional centers earlier in the year, a comprehensive questionnaire was published in the August 18 issue of Vaba Eesti Sõna.  Simultaneously, the survey questionnaire was made available on line.  Nearly 200 Estonian-Americans responded and we thank them.  It’s a disappointingly small number, but we think the results summarized below will be helpful in designing future EANC programs.

Our respondents generally profess enthusiastic support for Estonian-American activities.  78% of them know of the EANC, 75% have voted in a past election and 57% voted in 2010.  We believe we received a good sample of the active members of Estonian organizations in the USA.  On the other hand, we were generally not successful in eliciting the input of less active Estonian-Americans.  

Responses on paper were highly skewed to the over 70 age group, reflecting the aging readership of Vaba Eesti Sõna.  Responses on line were much more balanced among age cohorts.  Even so, just over fifty percent of all respondents were over the age of 70.

This is consistent with the other statistics describing respondents.  89% of those responding on paper were born in Estonia, compared to only 39% of those responding online. Over 81% of both sets live near an active Estonian community.  91% of those responding on paper are active in that community, versus 77% of on-line respondents.  95% of both sets of respondents have visited Estonia at least once, with many visiting often.

Respondents of both versions (paper and online) were first asked to rate EANC overall performance, engagement with political issues, and engagement with cultural issues on a scale of 1 (Very Poor) to 5 (Very Good).  Overall, EANC performance receives a solid ranking (3.7).  EANC performance on political issues (3.9) is slightly more favored than performance on cultural issues (3.6).

Respondents were then asked to rank the importance of various programs supported by EANC, with 1 indicating that the program is considered “Not at all important” and 5 indicating that the program is “Most important.”

* They give high marks to our support of the Singing Revolution film (4.5), to Estonian Archives in NJ (4.3), to the dissemination of information about EANC in Vaba Eesti Sõna and online, as well as to the publication of the history of the EANC  (both 4.2).

* The lowest marks were received by support to Chicago First Congregation Church (2.8), Cleveland Estonian Cultural Garden (3.0), sending the NY Estonian Men’s Chorus to the Song Festival (3.2) and support of the East Coast Dance Festival IREKS (3.3).  Overall, support for preservation of the history of Estonian-Americans was considered to be most important and local sites and organizations much less so. 

Finally, the survey inquired about respondents’ ideas for future programs, desire for a regular newsletter from EANC, past and possible future financial support for EANC, and willingness to volunteer with the organization. 

* 85% of all respondents would be interested in receiving an EANC newsletter, but only 35% would pay to subscribe.  Typically, respondents prefer a quarterly dual-language publication.  For 80%, an internet version would be sufficient, but 26% would prefer regular mail.

* 55% have sent financial support to the EANC, the majority at the donor level of $99 or less. Respondents were split 50/50 between adoption of a membership model versus retaining the current voluntary contribution model.  80% of those who indicated support for a membership model also voted for $100 annual dues (some even $250).

* Nearly 30% of the respondents would consider doing some type of passive volunteer work for EANC, but the number drops off sharply when asked about active solicitation of funding. 
Respondents also provided written comments about both past and future EANC work.  They enhance the objective data with color and feeling. 

* On the positive side, many found the EANC to have been most effective in serving as a political representive voice for the Estonian-American community and in supporting independence for Estonia during the Cold War.

* Many respondents were displeased about the failure of the EANC to have published the “History of Estonians in America” despite its having been promised for many years.

* Another Estonian wrote, "EANC has lost contact with the majority of Estonian-Americans.  Having only 757 voting supporters, it does not represent most Estonians in the U.S.A."

* Others commented that EANC “has tried to do too much in too many areas,” that it was “spread too thin,” that it was “too focused on the East Coast.”

* One respondent recommended a three-part program for the future: (1) “strengthen ties with our English-speaking younger generations, who are proud of their heritage even when they no longer speak Estonian,” (2)  “increase ties with newcomers by being responsive to their needs in settling in” and (3) “support Estonian media and Estonian Houses – when these close their doors, our activity is finished!”  Another added, “Find lost Estonians and help them get involved.”

* A separate concern of some was that EANC should do a better job of compiling current data about the activities and leadership of Estonian organizations in the USA.  

* They also commented on the need for upgrading EANC’s current website.  

The comments covered a wide range of topics, but four that came up regularly were: the need to promote EANC activity, the need to connect with more Estonian-Americans (regardless of birthplace or language ability), the need for more support of activities on the west coast, and a strong desire for more accessible language instruction.  Finally, one responder thought that the EANC’s primary mission should be “assuring that future generations remain interested in Estonian activities.”  

These survey results will be a valuable input into the process of drafting a future strategic plan for the EANC.   Better communication with all constituents in order to increase awareness of, and support for, the EANC among all Estonian-Americans will need to be considered.

Arne Kalm, EANC board member
Maia Linask, EANC strategy committee member