Ottawa StoryTellers Newsletter Telling Times   April, 2012  

In this issue:

Message from the President

Note from the MAD

Note from the editor
Two Notes And a Notice
Three Reviews
NAC Fourth Stage 4S
Billings Estate BE
photo of Dean that links to his webpage


Collected Works
Shenkman Encores
Story Swap
Tea Party
News - Reviews (and gossip)

New Member Information

Tips & contributors
Dean Verger

Message from the President - April 2012

This is my last message to the membership as president. All good things must come to an end. I will be stepping down at the AGM this month. I have been president just short of three years, and they have been three eventful years indeed.

During this time, we have some significant accomplishments that should be celebrated. We have hired our first managing artistic director (MAD), held our first International Storytelling Festival under the new model, and moved into a permanent office. In an effort to balance the new festival with our ongoing commitment to local storytelling, we have instituted a children's festival for the alternating years, attempted to launch a series at the Shenkman theatre (unfortunately, not financially viable), involved ourselves with monthly story slams, and launched a new series at Collected Works bookstore. Very importantly, we are making progress toward serving the professional development needs of mid-career storytellers, a problem that has been on many peoples' minds for several years.

The board has solved another long-standing problem - where to store and how to keep track of important documents - that plagues organizations like ours that have operated from different peoples' homes and hard drives for years. We're using an on-line facility called Dropbox.

Since 2008, our budget has doubled. The five-year plan developed in 2007 has been largely accomplished, and thus we have undertaken a major review, working toward a new long range plan. The results of this review were discussed a few weeks ago at a Town Hall Meeting, and recommendations will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

We look to these accomplishments with pride. There have, however, also been some challenges during this period. We were shocked in September 2011 by being turned down for a grant by Canada Council. We have since been assured that there were irregularities in the decision making process, and that our 2012 application will be judged in the context of our 2010 award, and 2011 will, in effect, be ignored. Nevertheless, 2012 and 2013 (at least) are years of severe belt tightening. Our accumulated surplus, which some funders had asked us to reduce, is now much more modest (I guess that's an accomplishment!). As well, we have undertaken a major fundraising campaign. Please stop reading and write us a cheque, Ottawa StoryTellers, PO Box 74015, 5 Beechwood Ave, Ottawa K1M 2H9. Amounts of $20 and more get a tax receipt.

The position of treasurer has been an ongoing problem. Since Bob Woods, our highly competent treasurer-for-life (199? to 2008) left, we have gone through three treasurers. I have been acting treasurer for half of my term as president. When I leave the presidency, I will remain on the board as past-president and treasurer, although I keep hoping there will be an election for the treasurer's position and I will lose (Anyone? Anyone?)

I will be the first person not trained as an accountant to take on the treasurer's job. Does it have to be so complicated? Can we not return to a simpler time? Well, no. Funders have a right to know that their money is well spent, and we are being caught in the current push for more accountability. Starting with 2011, one of our funders is requiring that our books be put through a "review engagement," a process just short of an audit, undertaken by an accounting firm. To produce the professional quality books required for this, and to pay for the review itself, it is costing us 20% of the grant in question.

We have had a few offers from bookkeeping firms to take over our books. The three short-term treasurers in recent years all shared a common problem - a lack of familiarity with the organization. This lack of familiarity created several problems in the accounts, which, (knock on wood), Bob Woods and I finally sorted out for the review engagement (Thanks, Bob!). Paying someone for such a service would not solve this lack of familiarity; in fact, it would institutionalize it. It would also weaken the ongoing communication between the treasurer and the MAD that is so vital to smooth operations.

I am convinced that the treasurer must come from within the organization. To this end, at the February meeting, the board approved a motion to appoint an assistant treasurer - a person not necessarily on the board - who will serve as a treasurer-in-training to take over when my term is over. In reality, I'm in no position to train anyone, and this will be more like learning together.

The third ongoing problem involves the job descriptions of the board, the committees and the MAD. When we hired the MAD, there needed to be, of course, a massive revision of duties of most officers and committees. This has been one of our ongoing tasks throughout my term as president, and it still continues. In practice, though, there are two related problems. One is that the MAD is spending too much time on administrative tasks, and not enough on artistic direction. The board is doing what it can. We have engaged a volunteer coordinator and have instituted policies that will make relatively small decisions less time-consuming. We are also investigating ways to make some routine tasks (e.g., keeping membership lists and financial records) less time consuming.

However, the heart of the problem seems to be the committee structure. We have made great strides in clarifying who should do what and how, but more remains to be done both by the board and the membership. While some committees are working well, others are not. This eats into the MAD's time and the board's time. There are some chronic shortages in key volunteer positions, leaving some committees understaffed. In fact, all but two committee chairs also sit on the board, a double-duty problem brought on by being so thin on the ground in volunteers.

I've really enjoyed my term as president. I've learned a lot. I want to thank everyone who contributes to the organization, the board, the committee members, the volunteers, the tellers, the listeners, and the donors.

All the best



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