Alex Tischer 2015 Q&A: Finances, Group 1

If elected to the board, will you push for a published yearly budget? What would you consider key items in a budget?

The fact that this question even has to be asked is worrying to me. Of course I would want a yearly published budget. A prospective budget at that. That is such a fundamental item to have, the fact that the org does not, in fact, have anything like it yet completely baffles me. I would want regular updates about the budget during the year as well, even if it were just a short note like “unexpected expense from the left, this will affect the budget in the following ways” or “sticking to the projected budget numbers for now \o/”. Each committee needs to get used to thinking ahead for their expenses and to planning for expenses they might want to have. Being transparent throughout the organisation about things we’re all discussing spending money on would improve the quality of our tools, our capacity for projecting the OTW’s future requirements, and our ability to set sensible fundraising goals.

A nonprofit’s board has a fiduciary responsibility regarding its assets, which includes making sure they earn a reasonable interest rate. In the past three years, despite our considerable reserves, our investment income (per the OTW’s tax filings and Annual Reports) has been, respectively, US$5, US$40 and US$18. If elected, would you hope we can do anything different about this?

Yes, I would certainly hope we can do something about this, no matter if I were elected or not. This is another fundamental thing that should long ago have been taken care of. Yes, I am aware that interest rates are low in the US. However, those numbers are completely unreasonable. According to the finance updates in the Board’s minutes for the past year, only about US$10,000 of our money is invested. All the rest is sitting in PayPal or in our checking account. I am no expert, but that seems to be inadvisable financial planning.

The latest three OTW fundraising drives had escalating goals: US$70,000; US$100,000; US$175,000 (October ’14, May ’15, October ’15). How would you define responsible fundraising in a fandom context? What does it mean for our finances?

Our fundraising goals cannot exist in a vacuum or be a number we just pulled out of thin air. We need a budget and numbers so we can say, “We’re trying to raise this much, because we’re planning to spend this much on vital equipment” and so on. We have to stay aware that some of our donors are often quite literally giving their last bit of money that they can spare, because they enjoy our projects. We can never lose sight of that. One only has to follow the comments on many of the drive posts to see that fans are willing to give more than they can afford if they think it is needed. Creating an atmosphere of fear that a beloved website might cease to exist to increase donations is not an approach I would define as responsible fundraising. When setting any fundraising goal, we need to have a very clear outline of what we’ll do with the money that is raised in that drive upfront: US$X for this, US$Y for that. Donors need to know what they’re donating towards.

There have been complaints in the past, particularly from AO3 committees, of some of the OTW’s service bills not being paid on time or being paid very last-minute—sometimes resulting in committees temporarily losing access to tools they need for their work. What do you think can be done to prevent this from happening in the future?

For regular recurring bills — like for a bugtracker or a project management software — that do not need approval to be renewed from Board, it should be possible to set up some form of auto-payment, where bills are automatically paid on a certain date unless actively stopped. We do not have to reinvent the wheel here. Making use of already existing tools is a perfectly valid way of dealing with those payments. Always having more than one person who can make payments and setting up a reliable and transparent reminder system should cover the rest of the problem.