jennyst: Jenny on a photo of space (Default)
[personal profile] jennyst
The Fanlore page now has some links to most of what's been happening and some good summaries, for anyone who's not already aware.

I have been on various committees across the org, and am still friends with a number of people in it, though I haven't done anything active for a couple of years, as I was recovering from my time on Board. In the current mess, both my time on Board and my time on Finance are particularly relevant.

I am still figuring out what to say publicly, but I am also keen to talk about it, in between being nervous of hearing stuff dragged back up that will upset me. I'm tentatively hopeful but also slightly cynical at the moment. Matty and Atiya are great people and I look forward to seeing what they'll do. They're not perfect people, and fandom's idealisation-devaluation cycle can be vicious. There is a distinct risk of us getting a situation where they make a mistake and a lot of people turn on them at once. I hope that doesn't happen.

A clean slate is easier in some ways than changing a culture when you're a minority, but there are bits of problematic culture that have been spread across the org for so many years that I really doubt they're all gone, and I don't think the Board is the only problem culturally or ethically, let alone in any other way. This is a great opportunity for the org to improve some things, but it won't be the solution to everything.

In other news, I have been sick for the past week, I'm still recovering, and I have my day job to catch up on from a week of sick leave, chores to do, and a pile of fun stuff including Dreamwidth coding that I'd like to get to at some point. But I've volunteered to share my knowledge on the finance side, because institutional history can help, provided you can prevent it perpetuating bad culture (which I'll do by not actually joining whatever new committee or post gets set up, and staying out once I've shared my info).

So, a few clarifications and corrections, in no particular order. Some people may have forgotten or not realised just how dysfunctional things used to be, and how much better the current state of the Org is, even though it's a long way from where it needs to be. If you want more history, look up the 2011 elections on Fanlore. There is a large sum of money in Paypal. It would be much wiser to move that to a bank account at the very least. However, beyond that, options for savings for non-profits are more complex than for individuals - where I could easily open an instant-access savings account with a reasonable-though-not-good rate of interest, it's not that easy for the OTW. They've used Certificates of Deposit in the past, but many of those actually pay a worse rate of interest than leaving it in the checking account, and they require you to lock the money away. When I was on the board there were a couple of points where the then-Treasurer ([personal profile] sanders) showed us the options and we agreed to keep it in the checking account because the CDs were rubbish and we might need it for new servers.

There were several points, both before and during my time, when the Treasurer told the Board we really should have a budget. On some occasions, it was not a high enough priority for the rest of the board, for various reasons. On some occasions, we made a start, had internal versions floating around, or had drafts. I can see from the board minutes that there was a draft of the 2016 budget shared at the meeting in October 2015. I'd be interested to see that draft and/or the information that went into it. Frequently budget creation required input from committees that they were unable or unwilling to give the treasurer or the board, such as what they planned to do in the coming year. This is not an excuse - as many people have said, with the size the OTW now is, it's no longer an optional extra. But it may be interesting information for some people, and I've seen some people implying that no-one in the OTW has ever produced a budget or tried to publish a budget, which is not correct.

Similarly with profit-and-loss reports. I can still remember Sanders telling us all she wanted to publish them publicly quarterly. I have a couple of the ones she shared with the board back then, but various communication issues and other priorities meant we never got them published. One of the choices the new board will face is how much of the financial information to publish straight away, without comment, and how much to hold back until you can add explanatory text with what it all means. Many fans aren't used to reading company/charity financial reports, and even for those who are, some of the categories will need explaining or prompt further questions. Is it right to publish them and then not answer the questions, or should you wait until you can answer the questions you know will be prompted?

I would be interested for someone to look at last year's Annual Report section on finances and list out in the comments their questions from that, and previous years, and see if there's anything I can answer. Even if I can't answer, it will be useful info for Comms and the Board to prepare for when they publish 2015's report.

The OTW website has 2007's Form 990. It would be good to get all the later years published there as well - that should be a relatively easy task for someone with website access and one Board member working together. Sanders made some more comments about recent financials at the latest post on the OTW website. Useful general information in the following: "The IRS's initial deadline for nonprofits with a fiscal year ending on 31 December is 15 May. They offer an automatic, no questions asked 90 day extension to any organization that wishes to take it." "A copy of the 990 [] should be available from [the Board] by request. They are legally required to provide it to any who request it. Copies of the previous filings from 2008 forward should also be available, as copies were preserved in the Board and Finance document vaults prior to my dismissal." This is one thing that's fairly easy to check and can help reassure people.

Delaware state filing has to be done every year around February. Past copies are stored in the Vault, the OTW's internal secure file storage system. I'd need to look up if the results are publicly available.

The three signatories to the bank account always used to be the Finance chair/Treasurer (which was always the same person while Fincom existed), the Board President and the Devmem chair. Each time the finance chair changes, as primary signatory, they have to meet in person at the bank to sign stuff. When board president or Devmem chair changes, they can sign their stuff and post it back. This can get complicated with an international org where those people may be on different continents. It makes things a lot easier if the Treasurer is a US citizen resident in the US with no complications, good credit history, etc. It also helps if the Treasurer is within easy reach of a physical bank branch, for paying in the few cheques we get. This is a much trickier thing in the US than most European countries, which took me a while to figure out. At one stage we paid for a special machine from the bank so that we could pay in the cheques remotely.

990 filing has to be done each year. The first couple of years, we could do the simple exemption form version, as our income from donations was under $25k. Now we have to fill out the full thing.

That's enough typing for now. Are there any particular bits people want to hear more about? I also have a giant half-drafted post about the AO3 servers and performance and options for throwing money at the problems - are people keen on me dusting that off as well?

Date: 2015-11-24 08:31 pm (UTC)
princessofgeeks: (Default)
From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks
May I link to this?

Date: 2015-11-24 08:58 pm (UTC)
montanaharper: close-up of helena montana on a map (Default)
From: [personal profile] montanaharper
Thank you for sharing this info.

I've only been on the fringes of fandom for the last few years, so I haven't really kept up with what's going on with OTW, but the one thing I found myself thinking as everything imploded recently was that you could not pay me enough to be on the Board, let alone get me to do it for free. I didn't really have concise words for that gut feeling, but you've summed it up quite nicely with "fandom's idealisation-devaluation cycle." Either the praise is overflowing or the criticism is devastating, but there doesn't seem to be any middle ground, and public sentiment can turn on a dime, which (to me, at least) is a terrifying prospect.

Date: 2015-11-24 11:07 pm (UTC)
burnishedvictory: (Default)
From: [personal profile] burnishedvictory
Very interesting. I'd love to read your post on the AO3 servers as well, or anything else you have to say about the OTW board/finances.

Date: 2015-11-24 11:13 pm (UTC)
ruric: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ruric
Thanks for this - makes for interesting reading.

The 990's seem to be up there now - the 2014 one certainly is.

Financially I think there are a couple of routes to addressing people's concerns.

a) Make the finance/account stuff easily findable on the OTW website. Don't expect people to know to look in the annual report - maybe have an easily locatable tab e.g. How we spend your money/donations? With a clear and short narrative story about where the money goes.

b) Put the balance sheet and P&L accounts on the How We Spend The Money page but cut the jargon and make them accessible. I spent a couple of decades in social housing and any housing association or other charity has lots of info on their websites showing how to present complex financial info so laypeople without financial backgrounds or uni education can see how cash is being spent. If necessary make it really really simple - and go for the how each £1 is spent type pie chart :) If you want more details I'm happy to go away and dig out some of these for you :)

c) Scanning the accounts for 2013/14 there's nothing in them that makes me clutch my pearls and think about some of the more serious allegations I've seen bandied around. Sure the travel increased in 2014 but I understand there was a 3 day planning/face to face meeting and for a worldwide org getting people together face to face is going to cost a bit!

d) A simple narrative explaining some of those expenses could help reassure the more concerned elements of the membership - plus a willingness to be open and accountable about how money is being spent and some footnotes to explain what some items are. I mean I can guess what Systems Expenses are - but having a note to explain in a bit more detail what's covered would be good.

In my day job (I work for a very large professional membership org - 160k members and 450 staff) and manage a budget roughly the £1m mark so I'm used to dealing with financials and am not sure I'm the target audience for the baseline membership of the OTW. But that said the bigger financial concerns for me would be:

a) the lack of an annual budget and a 3-5 year financial plan (which should be reviewed annually when the budget planning is done). This is something I think is worth bringing in outside paid for help to get in place ASAP. I can't see any reason why both the budget and the financial plan shouldn't be available for members to see - it's not like these are trade secrets - there's no competitor waiting to steal the info and if publishing that reassure the membership then why not?

b) Where's the external validation of the accounts? Who audits them? If they're not audited, why not? Again - it's another worthwhile route to reassuring members that there's nothing shady going on. Memberships and donations are critical to the sustainability of the OTW and it seems short-sighted to me not to take every possible step to make sure members feel that their money is being responsibly dealt with and invested/spent.

c) Is it true there's no internal finance/audit committee - if not why not? I'm unsure of why there seems to have been a decision to do away with it and make the Treasurer (and Board?) responsible? Would having a proper finance/audit committee relieve some pressure on the board so they can focus on strategy but still have oversight of spending? Are there sensible policies in place for committees to spend to threshold (dependent on committee chair approval),with expenses above a certain amount needing finance/audit committee sign off and significant expenses needing both finance/audit committee sign off and Board sign off? (Sorry if all these answers are obvious somewhere on the website but it seems really weird to me not to have an internal finance/audit committee - because those are a particular and very specific set of skills that some people excel at and which a Board should not get bogged down trying to do)!

d) get the cash out of the paypal account and move it somewhere else - even if it is more complex than people think :)

e) I really think Sanders idea of publishing a quarterly P&L account or even an summary P&L quarterly account is excellent and again would do wonders for reassuring members.

This is just a quick set of thoughts but happy to go away over the weekend and take a more considered look!
Edited Date: 2015-11-24 11:18 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-11-25 10:25 pm (UTC)
franzeska: (Default)
From: [personal profile] franzeska
I know there have been vicious fights over "But in my country, you could put it in an account with ___% interest!" and OTW not being able to have non-US bank accounts for all kinds of reasons. Money is both confusing and contentious!

I'd love to see any and all posts on OTW. :)

Date: 2015-11-27 04:52 am (UTC)
msilverstar: (corset)
From: [personal profile] msilverstar
Would you recommend a paid staff Accountant who could deal with the normal checking with more continuity than a Treasurer?

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