The Ursa Major Awards are a fandom institution, but can we fund them?
by Patch O'Furr
Even in non-writing communities in the furry fandom, many furries are aware of the Ursa Major Awards. They’ve been around for about 17 years, have presence at cons, and each year they receive many voters. However, for all their legacy, Thurston Howl – (a furry publisher who assisted with social media and marketing for the UMAs in 2017) – has come forward with concerns involving the UMAs’ recent soliciting for donations and GoFundMe campaign.
A transparency concern.
Until now, there has been no formal budget or accounting for funding. Fred Patten, Secretary of the ALAA (Anthropomorphic Literature and Arts Association, which runs the UMAs), told Howl on 5/30/17: “I cannot remember that the Treasurer for the ALAA has ever submitted a formal treasury report.” Fred confirmed there were no records for 17 years, and later added:
I don’t know how much it costs to print UMA award certificates, buy frames for them, ship them to the recipients, make and ship powerpoint presentations, etc., and I don’t know how much total in donations we’ve gotten over the years…
There have been complaints in email discussion by associates. ALAA member Bernard Doove said: “I would like a report on the finances that is more than ‘we’re broke.'” And on 5/4/17, a donor reported that they considered their donation “an unwise decision that could have been put to much better use elsewhere.” There were even fears of misappropriation, but Bernard Doove found no evidence when he looked in the bank accounts. The explanation seems to be fees of $156/year to maintain a Checking and Savings account if they have under a $300 minimum balance each.
It honestly seems like an issue of mixing small fan efforts with more formal organization, like how fandom started. ALAA Treasurer Rod O’Riley was a fandom founder who helped start Confurence in 1989. He responded to a request for comment:
The problem is not transparency — the problem is a lack of funds to be transparent about.
All donations have made their way into our bank account, and have been spent on either what they were supposed to be spent on — making and mailing out our trophies and plaques — or else were swallowed by the bank fees. ALL donations. Sometimes they took a while to get where they were going — as recently, when PayPal and our bank’s on-line system had difficulties talking to each other, for reasons I still do not understand. But eventually, they got where there were going.
Good faith is evident when many operation costs have been paid out of pocket by Rod and other ALAA members. However, when public contribution is wanted, more formal fiduciary duty should be expected. Can we see a budget for expenses? Will there be accounting for what is received and spent, and a report? Without such efforts, donations could be received under mistaken expectations. There should be clarity for donors reached by public appeals.
The understaffed committee.
When Howl consulted ALAA members in 2017, Fred Patten explained:
The ALAA has always been an understaffed volunteer organization. We have had to take who we can get. Rod is literally the only person who has shown any interest in handling the ALAA’s assets. We can’t afford to fire him; who would we replace him with?
Let me emphasize that the ALAA does have some real expenses, and with all donations going into Rod’s pockets and him paying for those expenses personally, we are basically trusting that his financial contributions outweigh the amount of the donations we get from other people.
On top of all of this, for con presentations of the UMAs, Rod apparently charges the ALAA for some services, such as assembling “and delivering” a Powerpoint presentation. Volunteering is work, but isn’t every con run without compensation? It seems that Rod puts in a great deal of work into both the ALAA and the UMAs, and the ALAA board allows respect for his long experience and devotion. A clear budget could help assure that to the public.
Here’s some steps for proper accounting to solicit more and better help:
- A finance 101 book for indie business could solve some issues such as what the IRS expects.
- Start a basic bookkeeping system – such as with Quickbooks or free Google Sheets.
- Optionally, set up a Chart of Accounts for income and spending categories.
- Make sure all income and expense transactions are tracked.
- Post a clear budget and promise annual reports.
- THEN crowdfund for expenses with full transparency.
I’m actually very appreciative of the system you laid out. Other than the paperwork to fill out for the US of A (which is new now that we have a Tax ID number), much of it is things we’ve already been doing — again, when asked. We simply have to make them habitual even even not asked. Can do.
CAN YOU HELP? PLEASE COMMENT.
Let’s solve this to raise donations and make the Ursas what they always promise to be – a fandom institution to rely on, be proud of, discover with and enjoy!
Are you willing and able to volunteer skill for the understaffed needs? How about donations to offer, contingent on progress? Specifically, there’s a wish for small, stable, solid yearly contributions out of the budgets of big cons to sustain the awards. Can any con organizers assist?
Soon, the UMA GoFundMe campaign will be reposted on Dogpatch Press and promoted with a reminder about needs that generous people can help address. Solving these problems would be a good way to help repay what Rod and associates have done for fandom since the beginning.
Additional comments from ALAA members, February 2018.
The ALAA has needed volunteers for years, but we have lost members rather than gained, and we are all doing as much as possible to keep the Ursa Major Awards running. I’ll be donating money from my personal funds once again for the 2017 Award trophies, and I will be flying up to Queensland where the awards ceremony will be held at FurDU this year in order to run the event. The cost of that comes out of my own pocket too. I’m willing to do my bit for the cause, but we desperately need more people with the skills required to improve it.
Fred Patten adds:
Often it isn’t as much the money as the time & effort to cover the bureaucratic details. Rod has also been handling all the correspondence and financing to have our trophies made and mailed to the recipients. I don’t know exactly how much labor and money is involved, but Rod has been taking care of it alone for over 15 years now.
Since 2015, we have replaced the first UMA trophies — the framed certificates — with the lucite trophies, which are more expensive.
I have told McFarland & Co., the publisher of my Furry Fandom Conventions, 1989-2015, to donate all my royalties directly to the ALAA, but so far this has been less than $200. Something else that I have been trying to get is some of the better-established furry conventions to regularly donate $100 a year to the ALAA. Is there any way to arrange for a regular small donation from, for example, Anthrocon or Further Confusion or Midwest FurFest or Megaplex or Biggest Little Fur Con or Furry Fiesta or Anthro Weekend Atlanta? If we could get just $100 each from some conventions, we should meet our annual budget.
Visit the Ursa Major Awards site to learn more about what they do.