Board Meeting Minutes: 04 October 2015

Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Board of Directors

4 October 2015, 09:00 Pacific, Vancouver, Canada

 

Directors present: Eylul Dogruel, Andrea Horbinski, Soledad Griffin, M.J. MacRae, Cat Meier, Jessica Steiner

Guests: Elliott, Michelle Dong, kiki-eng, Amy Lowell, Curtis Jefferson, Dan Lamson, Rachel Vaughn

 

MORNING SESSION

  1. Development & Membership session: DevMem is stable as a committee (yay!); the nature of its work is highly variable, and eventually having executive staff, ideally with a development background, would be really useful so that they can provide a broader vision beyond the purview of the committee. Working with the Treasurer was really helpful because it provided a reason for the fundraising and hard numbers about expenses, and they’ve enjoyed working with the new Treasurer too. Andrea mentioned in an earlier session the possibility of moving to a more Wikipedia style fundraising model (continuous, year-round, rotating through the individual Wikipedias on a set schedule, so that there’s always fundraising going on through one of them). DevMem would definitely welcome having a conversation about that in future when we got to the point where we were ready, but that’s definitely also somewhat beyond the committee’s purview and would require a lot of work with the Board–but given that the nature of fandom can also be somewhat variable, continuous fundraising might help capture more people’s attention during the periods when they’re most actively reading AO3, for example.

  2. Conversation about the problem of fundraising guilt: this is a very common problem in non-profits in general because by their nature they attract people who are less motivated by money. DevMem has definitely encountered the attitude both within and outside the organization of people feeling guilty for asking for money and/or feeling guilty because they don’t know why we’re asking for money. Possible solutions: definitely the biggest thing that will help is having a budget so that we can show people internally and externally what we are spending the money on. Professional fundraisers talk about the fact that a) it’s not bad to ask for money to do what we do! b) us fundraising gives people the opportunity to support our work and to express their love for what we do. Educating people within the organization about this, either through consultants or through DevMem’s own internal experience, would also be helpful: not just through chats but through having some kind of wiki page(s). In future maybe moving to a “pre-drive” model in advance of the drive in which OTW personnel could be given more detailed info about the upcoming drive and how and why to support it. The other thing that people may not realize is that from a non-profit and professional fundraising perspective, our current model of being supported by many small donors is actually a huge positive: it enables us to have a Board that is not comprised of major donors and does not have to spend its time courting major donors and thereby does not potentially beholden the organization to major donors. We are grateful for every donation, no matter how small or how large, and not asking for money would be unfairly denying people the opportunity to express their love and support for our work. There’s also the reality that a lot of non-profits are not very well run, and when they’re fundraising they’re fundraising to avoid imminent doom. We erred in the May 2015 drive by going too far to the apologetic side of asking for money, which is why it took a fairly long time to meet a very reasonable goal: us not being frank about our need for money, because ultimately all fundraising is survival fundraising, is also not serving the organization best.

  3. Short-term goals

    1. Raise enough money to keep us alive. We believe that we can raise the $175K in the upcoming drive, but even if we only raise $125-150K, that is not a failure. We are as ready as we can be for the drive at this point. Bring it on!

    2. Merch store start up: the merch store is moving towards actually happening! Legal is reviewing TOS for our chosen vendor, which is a basic option that is easy to get into and get out of. Once we get some usage data from setting up with this vendor, we will move to one of our better options which are a bit more involved and has higher upfront costs. Ideally we will offer some kind of discount or soft launch sale to give personnel a thank-you for their hard work and also to generate usage data for DevMem to review. Another concern is not to overlap with the drive premiums. The initial merch will feature the organizational and project logos, which led into a discussion of the possibility of redesigning the same. The Webs chair mentioned that the committee plans to pick the visual identity project back up from DevMem in 2016 which will include redesigning the logos after the website migration–this is part of the idea of keeping the Org relevant. Discussion about recurring donations and saving up to premiums; thanks to our new donor database, we can generate much more fine-grained data much more easily and, for example, offer people the opportunity to donate an additional X amount to get Y premium since they’ve already donated Z amount in B time period. Discussion of ways to tie all of this into the prospective 10-year celebration, which is fast approaching and which we really need to start planning for now. Ten years is a real achievement, and we can and should celebrate it accordingly.

    3. Con outreach: there are many different cons and many different kinds of potential con outreach (tabling, meetups, parties). As we continue to go on, we should consider colocating annual Board meetings and/or prospective project-specific meetings with conventions: i.e. have OTW personnel arrive a few days early and then have some of them stay behind to attend and/or do outreach at the event. The Ada Initiative did this with AdaCamps to the greatest extent possible and it worked well. Another thing that Eylul and Andrea can say from attending LonCon in 2014, which in many ways was kind of a dry run for this entire concept, is that we need to think strategically about which cons to attend, which aspects of our mission and projects to focus on, and what kind of events/outreach to do at which cons. Developing this effort will raise the organization’s profile and help increasing our visibility. Another thing we want to do is develop more explicit policies about enabling personnel to attend conventions and also figure out ways for staffers to share back their experiences with the rest of the organization. An additional way to do this is to develop potential allies who can speak about the organization positively in many contexts: an advisory board would be the ideal venue to do this, although we would need carefully developed and stringent policies in advance to make clear when and in what contexts such people could speak for the organization (ideally quite limited).

    4. Second payment processor: should be online by Wednesday and will give people an alternative to PayPal. Yay!

  4. Long-term goals

    1. Endowment/grow money. Now that we are in a position to put more conscious thought into the finances we can start thinking about ways to manage the finances so that, for example, our strategic reserves are making us money while they are doing their job of being there if we need it. Having an endowment would be a very attractive alternative to certificates of deposit because we wouldn’t have to pay penalties to actually use the money in it, particularly the interest. This is a very long-term conversation to have that we’re not quite ready for yet, but we are very much looking forward to having it, although we will need a financial advisor to help us set it up and that is beyond DevMem’s purview. Another advantage of an endowment is that it’s a clear signal that we are planning to be around for the longest possible term, and it could also possibly provide an avenue to major donations and/or ways to diversify fundraising. There are a lot of different ways to manage endowments, and they each offer different potential spreads of benefits and risks.

    2. Planned giving. This is people putting the organization in their will and stipulating monetary gifts to the organization in them. Obviously this is a delicate topic and it takes people with dedicated experience to broach the conversation with potential donors, but it’s definitely something to explore. One possible way the OTW could approach this would be to link it with the fannish next-of-kin, not as a requirement, but as a conversation adjacent to the concept of putting the OTW in people’s wills–this is the other way to make sure that your fan works are maintained, for example. The OTW has already received bequests, and it’s also something that won’t be relevant in every country due to variations in legal systems. But all we need to do is to get people to start thinking about it as a possibility.

    3. Grant-writing. There was a Grants committee when the OTW first began which had several problems: grantwriting is a multifaceted operation, and the team in place only had pieces of the necessary experience because neither they nor the current Board members fully understood what was required. Additionally, the committee did not receive the support and/or information they needed from the rest of the organization in order to write grants effectively, partly because the organization did not have the operational or financial infrastructure to apply for and manage grants effectively. The committee eventually shut down, which led to the perception that the OTW did not need and/or could not use grantwriting. But now that we have adopted the strategic plan and are redesigning the finances we are in a place to reconsider grantwriting as something the OTW could potentially do effectively: the new Treasurer is explicitly setting up the finances so that we can administer grants effectively, since effective grantwriting and grant winning requires fairly stringent reporting and evaluation from the grantees. Another problem with the original Grants committee was that they were going for grants that were simply too large. We will have much better luck starting small, because a truth of grants is that once we start getting money it becomes much easier to continue getting money and to scale up in the amount of money we are obtaining because funders have already given us money and we can point to that as evidence of our worthiness of being funded. There is also a wealth of experience with grantwriting out there, both within the organization and with outside contractors, and that would be well worth it. The structure of the strategic plan was explicitly constructed with an eye to demonstrating to potential institutional funders that the organization has the infrastructure required for this sort of thing. Having put grantwriting on an effective multiyear hiatus also allows us to get back into it much more consciously and conscientiously so that we’re not searching for grants in a scattershot way. Ultimately as server-related costs continue to grow we should explore additional revenue streams, and institutional funding could provide an excellent alternative revenue stream to fund projects. There definitely is not much overlap between institutional and individual donors, and maximizing both revenue streams could greatly benefit the organization. The OTW’s audience and current fundraising structure–100% individual donations, 60% donations under $10, audience that is heavily women and people from historically marginalized groups–truly remarkable among non-profit organizations and would make us very attractive to institutional funders.

    4. Newsletter to members/donors. Currently we only contact people twice a year to ask for money. Sending people more regular communications will have many positive consequences: making people more aware of the OTW and its activities, increasing engagement with the organization, mitigating the perception that we are fundraising in a life-or-death situation, and also potentially increasing donations. Obviously we will think very carefully about frequency of messages because we don’t want to overwhelm or annoy people, but we do want to communicate with our members occasionally. We are talking about a maximum of four to six messages per year, and we would probably start with one message between asks and see what kind of response we generated before increasing from there as needed. We also probably should move to sending out an end-of-year email as the newsletter update.

    5. Miscellaneous. a) As is usual during the drives, we anticipate receiving questions during the drive that Board will have to answer. Board will be around to answer them. b) Rough contingency planning for an emergency drive? Definitely not a bad idea to put at least a little bit of effort into preparing for these kind of situations in advance so that if they ever arise we are already prepared: this is the point of emergency planning, so that it is already in place should a crisis actually arise. This is emphatically an absolute worst-case scenario, but it being there doesn’t mean that we’re going to use it, just that we’ll have it if we ever actually do need it, and we almost certainly won’t. This is definitely the responsible thing to do, but it’s also by no means an urgent priority and will be something that DevMem begins to undertake after the next fundraising drive. c) Another discussion about the merch store: depending on the response, it might wind up becoming its own project and Board, DevMem, and VolCom are very much happy to support that when the time comes. We also need to consult with our outside counsel about potential tax issues in advance of actually starting it up. The other consideration is that while we are happy to have revenue generated from the merchandise store, it is in our best interest not to maximize profits from it but to use it as a marketing tool that allows people to show their support and love for the OTW and its projects. As long as it’s self-sustaining, it is a positive for the organization. There is also the possibility of tying it into the new website via plug-ins once the transition happens.

LUNCH BREAK

 

  1. Finance session. Reviewed draft 2016 budget line-by-line. MJ has been working to document outstanding invoices and vendor information, which was not previously documented, both by proactively contacting vendors and retroactively examining the transactions on the accounts. The draft budget is based on October 2014 – August 2015 because MJ hasn’t had a chance to do the reconciliation on September 2015 yet. At this point there’s not much point in working to construct a budget for the remainder of 2015; we have more than enough cash on hand to cover all possible expenses for the rest of 2015 and all or part of a strategic reserve as mandated by the strategic plan. MJ will revise the draft budget based on the changes discussed and approved here and present it to the Board at its next meeting, ideally incorporating budget items from committees not represented in the draft budget (Journal, Elections).

  2. Motion of thanks to the outgoing directors for their service. Moved: Sole. Seconded: MJ. Unanimously approved by voice vote.

  3. Thank you to everyone who attended!

 

Meeting adjourned at 17:20.

Minutes approved by the Board on 11 October 2015.

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