4) What do you believe the Board’s role should be in the area of fundraising in particular? What kinds of concrete acts should or shouldn’t Board members do with regards to fundraising planning and execution?
On this I would defer to DevMem. For the other non-profits I have dealt with, professionally and as a volunteer, the Board’s role was much more advisory than our Board. We don’t have a board buy-in, aside from the $10 membership fee, and I would be extremely upset if we moved in a direction where we recruited board members exclusively, or mostly, because of their ability to write large checks or get their friends to write large checks. To me that is anthesis of our mission and values.
That said, I can think of several ways that Board can help DevMem, not the least of which is clear up DevMem’s purview. I personally am very committed to building membership and outreach to fans, but in many ways that important goal takes DevMem away from focusing on development, which is vital to the org. Both are great missions, but I am not sure that they are missions that should be accomplished by the same committee in concert. Also, we need to diversify our fundraising. I know that DevMem wants to do this, but they already have a ton on their plates.
Clearly, one of the ways to do that is to work on getting grants. The fact that the Grants Committee was never able to get off the ground makes me really sad, but there are clear lessons that we as an org, and especially Board, can learn from it. I have written grants before, and I know how much work it is to develop a grant program, so I am hesitant to add grantwriting, or managing a team of grant-writers, to DevMem’s load. I know that it will relieve a lot of DevMem’s pressure if Board steps up and develops a functioning Grants team. As for more practical things, if DevMem tells me to write a letter to a supporter, call a donor, or make a face-to-face request for a donation, I am happy to do that and in fact have done all of that before. (I don’t really know how many potential donors there are in north Idaho…so face-to-face might be unlikely.)
5) What kind of challenges, in your opinion, does the OTW face in the financial area? What do you think are our most pressing needs and flaws in that realm?
We are an incredibly lucky org and in a great position because we are supported by numerous donors. I realize that might not be readily apparent, but one of the non-profits I worked for had to seriously cut back its programing, fire staff, and take on debt because it lost one major donors. Major donors are great, but they come with their own problems. The fact that we have such a large donor base is phenomenal. It is also really appealing to large donors and grant funders.
That said, we have to start developing our donors more. We also need to move away from relying exclusively on the drives and word of mouth to find our donors. It’s a long-term goal of mine that we develop an advisory board who can work at getting the word out about the org. There are numerous development tools that we don’t make use of because we don’t have the staff to do it. That has to change.
Overall, our current internal financial management lack necessary redundancy. What I mean is that we have created a system that creates a lynchpin. If Sanders were to get hit by a bus, I would be super sad, and the org would be super screwed. When I was the general manager of a non-profit my boss, who telecommuted, and I had the bus rule. Both of us had to maintain our files, physical and electronic, in a way that we agreed to so that if one of us got hit by a bus the other could sit down at the desk or access the work computers and immediately know what was going on.
6) Would you be able to lay out your vision for OTW’s financial future? How do you intend to balance the committees’ different needs?
I hope that when I complete my term the OTW has at least six months of cash reserves; drives regularly raise $100,000; and the org has been awarded five grants, one specifically to train technical staff to support the archive.
As for balancing the committees’ needs, I am more concerned with ensuring the OTW’s continued growth and stability. As a board member, my duty is to the OTW as a whole. Each committee’s needs are important, but those needs must support the OTW’ overall health and continued existence. Of course, it’s impossible to please everybody anytime, or anybody all the time, and I assume that there will be times that the org’s needs will upset individual committees.
7) We’re currently projected to be operating at a financial loss this year. Do you have any concrete plans for how you’ll address issues of financial sustainability going forward?
The org’s rapid growth makes it hard to really address what our operating costs are. I know many people in the org would argue that our operating costs include the cost of expanding our servers to match the growth of the archive. I really respect that position, but if we continue to operate at a loss that may very well be an untenable position. If it comes down to it, until we can develop new funding sources, the org would need to deliberately slow its growth. This idea makes me queasy, but we need to grow at a sustainable pace. Obviously, economy would need to be practiced in other areas as well, but the bulk of our expenses have to do with the archive’s rapid and awesome growth.
Ideally, it would be great if the org were in a position to project its growth so that we could fundraise to meet that projection, instead of reacting to outgrowing our current capacity. It would also be great if we were running capital campaigns to buy new hardware, getting grants to fund expert contractors, and developing major donors to support specific projects.
When I reversed an operating deficit at a meatspace non-profit I had to cut services, staff, and raised the cost to our users. Was it fun? No. Did people like me for it? Not really. Was it the fiscally responsible thing to do? Yes. This is one of the reasons you need a strong board or functioning executive; there are times that no one wants to do the unpopular, but necessary thing. We aren’t anywhere near this point yet, but if you are asking if I will do the unpopular thing to right the org’s financial ship: Yeah, I’ll do that.
8) AO3’s continued survival currently depends on a small handful of volunteers doing massive amounts of unpaid work. If those people became unavailable, what would your plan be to keep the archive from going under? Do you have a sense of how much it would cost to hire external contractors to do that work?
First, yes the archive survives because of the work of a handful of volunteers, but our entire organization survives because of the work of volunteers who put in insane hours for little reward. I do not want to ignore the hard work and commitment of anyone in this org. It should not matter if you bring specialized skills, or incredible enthusiasm for our mission–each volunteer is priceless.
The next thing is that we have to stop creating lynchpins. If the org can’t find volunteers with the skills we need, then we should start recruiting volunteers that we can train. If our staff doesn’t have time to teach someone so they have the skills that we need, we should find an external training that will develop our staff’s skills. If we can’t find an external training that works for us, then we should hire a contractor to teach us. I would much rather teach a person to fish then give them a fish. (Come to Idaho we can go fly fishing. Its fun!)
I have no idea how much it would cost to hire contractors. I don’t understand the point of this question. If you are asking would I just blindly hire a contractor and pay them what they ask, well no; because that isn’t the responsible way to hire services. I would expect that the various committees that need contractors would identify the specific skills the contractor needs, then get multiple bids for specific jobs, and then present this information to the Board and explain why, even though Contractor A costs more than Contractor B, A is the better choice to accomplish the needs of the committee.
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