Less than two years ago, I trudged up the hill from my apartment and stepped into the 49 Writers’ “Raven Place” house on L Street. They put me to work scraping paint from the door jam. Kneeling on the porch, I elbowed a scraper through layers of red and white paint to create swirling patterns that looked like storms on the surface of Jupiter. Absorbed in flaking colors, I eavesdropped on a nature writer talking with a TV screenwriter who wrote scripts for the SCIFI channel. Who knew Alaskans wrote for the SCIFI channel? How cool.
Inside “Raven Place,” there were two bloggers pulling together a vacation rental for the summer and dreaming about writing classes for the fall. I didn’t know much about their blog, but I was impressed they were making a real place with chairs and a roof, where writers could meet and talk. They seemed to be making it up as they went along, but they were sure motivated. And they did feed us good pizza at the clean-up party.
They must have liked my paint-scraping job, because they invited me back to help with budget spreadsheets for 49 Writers’ application for non-profit status. I added colors to the spreadsheets – reds, oranges, blues, and greens – to highlight particular expenses. Maybe it was my coloring scheme or perhaps my number crunching, but they asked me back again to help with the next budget too. Sitting across a table at Snow City Cafe, I talked with the executive director about what would happen after the lease at the “Raven Place” house fell through.
Back then, we had a few grants and income from classes that arrived in fits and starts. Contributions and memberships were coming in, but how long would it last? Who’s going to take all these classes? How is this going to work? Things were getting more serious, so this time I kept the budget spreadsheet colors simple; I highlighted crucial lines in red and watched them carefully.
Over the last year, as a 49 Writers board member, I’ve gradually stopped worrying as I’ve seen what keeps this organization going. The other board members amaze me with the things they do to make this non-profit fun and interesting. Youth program coordinators create teen writing programs that we had not imagined less than a year ago. Professional grant writers have volunteered to look for sustainable sources of income.
Many others helped convince me to stop worrying. Students kept returning to take more classes, web designers kept us connected online, guest blog writers added their voices, donors continued to give money, a graphic artist made beautiful posters, members renewed memberships, volunteers kept programs running, instructors taught interesting classes, and hundreds of people came to Synergy, Crosscurrents, and open mic events. With this much interest, I became convinced this thing called “49 Writers” is going to thrive.
In the latest version of next year’s budget, I used only a few red highlights. I’ll still watch the bottom line, but I’ll also look for ways to make sure the classes, events, and programs offered by 49 Writers remain high quality, innovative, and fun. That way, the people who already participate will want to keep coming back. And those who don’t know us yet will be impressed when they arrive at the doorstep and come to their first 49 Writers event.