Nikisha Sanders 2015 Q&A: Finances, Group 1

When Elections was ordered to remove Nikisha Sanders from the 2015 Election ballot, the committee was told to erase all information about her candidacy from the website. However, Elections firmly feels that there is no situation in which candidates, whether former or current, should be silenced or erased from Election information. As in all circumstances, Elections’ policy is to only edit and/or post candidate-written information with candidate permission. Therefore, with Sanders’ permission, we have posted the Q&A responses she completed prior to her removal.

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

I pushed for a published budget starting in OTW’s first year. The hows and whys of that not happening until 2014 would take way more than the word limit, and the lack in 2015 comes down to bad planning on my part and that of the Board at the end of 2014 combined with putting out fires in the org. Of course it’s still something I want to see, especially as our expenses have finally fallen into a general trend that allows for reasonable predictions. This wasn’t true prior to 2014, when our income and expenses fluctuated from year to year in some pretty dramatic ways.

The key items for OTW’s budget as things stand breakdown to machinery, staff development, contract staff, funding for outreach and promotion, and committee software for program management.

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?

I would hope we can change this–I have hoped we could change it, and the blunt fact is interest rates in the US suck right now. The $40 in interest came from the Certificate of Deposit fully maturing and rolling over. That CD and the current one are both short term, which gives a lower yield but allows withdrawal in case of emergency without penalty. When the current one was invested, we weren’t in the financial shape we are now, and there was more concern that we’d need access to the funds. That’s no longer the case, which means several things can happen. FIrst, we can increase the amount we have in a CD and look for a longer term and higher yield account. A sixty-month CD is a feasible option now, as is doubling or tripling the amount we have in it. We also, due to the total balances of and types of accounts we have, qualify to add an interest-earning savings account to our holdings, as well as developing an investment portfolio through a partnership between the bank and an investment service. Moving the majority of our funds to a savings account and leaving only monthly operating expenses in checking would be an immediate way to earn more interest. Setting aside some amount to invest in stocks and/or bonds would be another way of increasing our assets. Finally, doing some bank shopping and potentially having accounts at a second bank or leaving our current bank altogether would allow us to look for higher interest rates.

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?

The escalating goals have matched the escalating costs of the organization, particularly with regard to expansion of servers for AO3 and adding a contract worker to the coding team, both of which are paced to the growth of traffic to the site.

Fundraising in any context means raising what’s needed to cover known expenses, to allow for growth, and to provide a cushion for the worst case scenario. It also means asking donors to buy into a cause and organization they believe in, at any rate they wish to do so. For OTW, our major challenge is balancing what we ask for against what we know we will purchase, and getting committees past the fear of spending money. We don’t have to settle for software or machinery that fall short of really meeting our needs–we can find things more tailored to our organization.

We also need to be more effective in communicating to some of fandom that we are not just a fannish project operating on a shoestring budget, but a growing nonprofit organization with half a dozen projects relying on funding in some way. If we’re going to endure, we have to raise money, build and maintain a reserve for operating expenses, and be able to keep up with machinery costs. I do think the vast majority of our donors understand this, but we still have work to do in reaching those who don’t.

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?
Let me start by setting the record straight. One service bill was paid hours late in the past four years and the same account was problematic before that for a simple reason: the company doesn’t issue renewal notices. They post them on the service site, which I didn’t regularly access as Treasurer. It was the responsibility of the committees to flag the renewals. In the single case it was late, it was largely because the credentials couldn’t be reached online and I had to wait for someone to call or email me with the password. The loss of access was fewer than six hours if memory serves. Every other payment has been made on time, and the vast majority are now automated, requiring no human intervention. Invoices have always been paid within the vendor’s guidelines when done by bank transfer, check, or PayPal.