Atiya Hakeem 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?

Yes, a budget is essential. So far we have never had an actual budget, but only a retroactive statement of how our money was spent. That is a necessary thing for accountability purposes, but it is no help in setting our fundraising goals or allowing committees to plan based on what resources will be available.

Key items on a budget are, of course, what assets we have, itemized lists of what expenses we expect each committee to incur in the following year (worked out in conjunction with the committees in question), and an estimate of what funds we expect to raise.

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. Even just putting more money in Certificates of Deposit would be better than this. I don’t think we are in a position where our reserve assets are large enough to justify a financial advisor or any fancy investment instruments, but making sure we earn as much interest as possible without risk seems like a really good idea. Once we have an actual budget, we can decide how much money we want to keep in reserve, and what kind of flexibility we need for accessing it.

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?

I think that responsible fundraising in any context requires knowing what one’s projected expenses are, and choosing a goal in keeping with them, rather than simply picking an arbitrary round number larger than the last time. Any donor base has a finite amount of money, and crying wolf or going to the well too often will give short term results at the expense of ongoing support. Donors want to see not only what we’ve done with their money in the past, but to know that we have a plan for what to do with it in the future.

The fandom context is relevant in that we have a particularly invested donor base, who feel ownership of our organization and our projects. That is great, since it means we can count on them when we need them, in many cases even if giving is a financial burden. However, it means that our donors will be particularly sensitive to questions of whether their money is being used well.

I think fiscal responsibility to ensure we spend sensibly, on necessary expenses, and fiscal transparency, so that our donors know this is the case, are essential for us to maintain the trust of our donors.

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?

Indeed, as a staffer I have experienced this issue on several occasions. I think fixing it should be extremely easy. First, set up automatic renewal for services that allow it. Second, resurrect an actual Financial committee. The committee should have records of what needs paying when, and contact information for all suppliers, stored in a location that all members can access. That way, if the chair for some reason is not available to make a payment, things don’t just fall through the cracks. A system for paying the bills reliably seems like a really obvious and necessary thing for any organization to have, and something that our volunteers should certainly be able to expect.