From Surviving to Thriving
I was hired just over a year ago to come into this organization I love and help it thrive. What I’ve found is an organization that has silently struggled to survive for years. You’d never know it given its enormous impact on thousands of kids and families over nearly 18 years. That’s the reason for this letter. Though it’s uncomfortable and risky, I have to bring the struggle out of hiding and invite this community to fight with me for a new era in our history. With your help, this next chapter will be marked by a shift in mindset-from fear and scarcity to abundance and hope.
What I’ve seen.
God has been doing amazing things in 2019! It is undeniably clear to me that his hand is on this program. Here are just a few examples from the year:
- God has confirmed and deepened Journey’s mission to serve families as well as youth.
- The Journey community has committed to three core values: integrity, community & quality.
- We’ve seen a work of healing and strengthening in relationships throughout the program.
- A Journey benefit dinner introduced many new supporters to the program and brought in funds to sustain the following class session.
- A volunteer grant-writing committee has begun work and already landed their first grant.
- A surprise donation at the end of the summer made scheduled fall programs possible.
- The Board of Directors has approved a Strategic Plan to guide our efforts in growing People, Places and Things in the next 3-5 years.
I’m calling 2019 a year of relational healing, affirming identity and discovering direction for the Journey community. And I am excited to see how God will build on this foundation in 2020. So what’s wrong?
What I see.
I have to be honest with you. I confess that despite God’s provision, I wrestle with fear and frustration each week as our business manager, Rhonda, and I look at the bank balance and bills together. Journey is operating unsustainably and we cannot continue in this way.
Take a look at the graph above, and let me summarize what I see. I see a nonprofit that in the last fourteen years has nearly quadrupled programming operations (Total Income and Expense) while on average barely breaking even (Net Income) each year. This means Journey has never been able to build a “rainy day” fund, which in the nonprofit world is called an “Operating Reserve Fund.” Due to this lack, Journey becomes more vulnerable each year to unexpected expenses and circumstances that could push it over the edge.
But this is more than just a looming threat. This financial reality affects staff and volunteers daily. Currently, Journey staff is consumed with monitoring daily the exact timing of each dollar spent against when the next dollar will be received to make sure the organization doesn’t overdraft that week. Staff also has to ration even budgeted funds, often having to say “no” to things it makes sense to say “yes” to. This is an incredibly time consuming and stressful way to operate, and it severely limits efficiency.
Consider a very small example of this. Post Halloween costume sales are huge! Say we could pick up a thousand dollars worth of costumes for winter shows for only five hundred in November. But because we don’t have an operating reserve fund, we have to wait until winter tuitions come in and pay the full thousand in February. Multiply this across every area in the organization and you can understand why our current mode is not working.
Financial sustainability is one piece of the puzzle. Employee sustainability is the other. At the heart of any thriving non-profit is the staff that run it. We need a staff that is sized right for the workload that this program creates. Though we have grown immensely over the years, administrative staffing has not grown at the same rate. Instead people have simply shouldered more and more work, and burn-out is a constant struggle.
We’re in this position because of years of good intentions. The programming growth over the years reflects the staff’s desire to serve more kids and families. The problem is that with historically inadequate income streams and lack of fundraising efforts, we continue to strain the organization to keep up with rising expenses (such as venues, minimum wage hikes, and license fees). In short, we’ve overextended our resources both in time and money. And because “the show must go on,” we’re burning people out and putting the overall program at risk of collapse. No more.
God is calling us beyond a pattern of merely surviving. He wants this community to thrive. He wants to see kids continuing to blossom in skills and in faith, parents encouraged and supported, staff filled up by this meaningful work, artists living as role-models, and the entire Journey community marked and known by its love.
What’s the plan?
First and foremost, I’d ask you to pray with me for God’s guidance and his abundant provision for this life-changing program. Father Greg Boyle writes “the God we have is immeasurably greater than the God we think we have.” I confess I don’t always believe that. (“I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9:24) Would you pray with me by signing up for the prayer team email list? Just email email@example.com. Next we need to roll up our sleeves together. Here’s what we need to do:
- Operating Reserve Fund: Build a $60,000 Operating Reserve Fund by the end of 2020 and ideally $10,000 of that by the end of 2019. This can’t happen fast enough and it’s job number one to bring financial stability to Journey.
- Right Size Fees: Execute a deep analysis of our ticket prices and program fees to right size them to our actual expenses.
- Optimize Programming: Look closely at our programming and income streams to optimize them for financial and employee sustainability.
- Predictable Giving: Build a sustaining monthly giving program to increase financial stability, ensure program longevity, and open the doors for more families to participate.
We’ll have to do this together. In the new year I’ll hold discussions in each area, and we’ll create ways for people to get involved.
Right now we can start on step number one—building the Operating Reserve Fund to ease daily burdens and operate with health. $60,000 represents nearly two months of wages and taxes. If we divide the $60,000 goal by the 315 families involved in 2019 that’s only a $190 donation per family. And just imagine if alum families, grandparents, friends, business owners, and foundations caught the vision to help as well?!
Now for some of you, I realize that paying for classes and shows is already all you can do right now, and that’s ok. I’m glad you can participate! For others, you can give $190 or even much more than that. It will take many giving at higher amounts to make up for others and keep this program alive and well for everyone.
2 Timothy 1:7 promises “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” And Jeremiah 29:11 says “‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
This is a critical turning point in our history. We must abandon a pattern of mere survival, come together as a community, and make sure kids and families can thrive for decades to come. We can trade a mindset of scarcity and fear for one of abundance and hope.
Will you join me and the 52 other current and alum families who have given this year to see Journey thrive in 2020 and beyond? To make a commitment right now, text “thrive” to 360-228-3855 or go to journeytheater.org/thrive. And then spread the word, inviting others to join you.
Together we can give hundreds of kids and families a place to belong.