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Gamers Outreach Foundation's Troublesome Finances
Part 4: 2009 Financials

This is the fourth (final?) part of an ongoing piece. If you have not read the initial article, the followup, or the most recent installment, I would suggest reading them before continuing, as it will most likely add context to the proceedings...

Gamers Outreach Foundation has finally made available their 2009 financial (again made available here in .xls [Office 2003] or .ods [OpenOffice 2.4] formats). Without much more ado than has already happened leading to this point, let us dive in, shall we?

While I commend Zach for the relative expedience with which the numbers were released (relative: from the Latin word rela meaning “we only asked over a month ago” and tive meaning “thanks for finally coughing SOMETHING up”), the fact of the matter is that the problems I expressed regarding the LAST run of numbers is even worse here. For our purposes, these problems can best be split into two categories: those problems of presentation and those of poor financial practice. Let me first address those of presentation, as they are the quickest and easiest to speak of and dismiss.

Presentation

Before we address the horrifying method by which GoF has chosen to display its financial situation, I would like you, the reader, to take a moment to look at one of the above linked documents, then check out this document here (fast forward to pages 44 and 45 to start the financial bit). Ignore the fancy presentation and focus on the important bit: an understandable series of numbers. This is an important concept. When comparing the financial reporting methods of the two organizations, one certainly gives a feeling of comfort while the other does quite the opposite. One imparts information in a reasonable fashion that is discernible not just to professionals, but even to laypersons like myself. I took the opportunity to float GoF’s reporting past two friends who are accountants by both trade and schooling. One laughed and pointed out that the paperwork done would be abysmal if it were merely to balance a checkbook, let alone to run the books for an organization. The other merely looked at the document for a while and gave up entirely. I almost donated a copy of Quickbooks Pro to the organization, for my part.

Ridiculous accounting practices aside, I am far more concerned with the numbers. This is something I have observed more than once in the past, but it bears repeating: the team that is managing this event is simply not up to the task. They are enthusiastic, and many are hard working, but neither enthusiasm nor work ethic make up for just understanding how to run an event; that you have to learn, and it is pointless to learn the hard way.

And they are learning the hard, expensive way.

Let us begin with the notion of purchasing retail. Let me explain this in no uncertain terms. If you are an organization buying things in bulk and you buy them at retail price from a big box store, you are an incompetent planner and should be immediately fired and replaced by someone that knows what they are doing. It is that serious. Why? Let’s look at some numbers: over $14,500 was spent at Best Buy on monitors, XBoxes, and cables. If we make the almost assuredly inaccurate assumption that there is no way to get the electronic devices loaned, donated, or partially donated, surely we can do better than 10% off of Best Buy’s radically marked up prices? Well, I spent 10 minutes on the phone with Best Buy this afternoon on behalf of my fictional charity organization and managed to arrange for 10% off, free shipping, 10 donated 23" widescreen monitors (brand unspecified) and cabling included free of charge. Depending on what monitors the charity purchased, that is a savings of somewhere in the vicinity of $2,000 or so.

That was in 10 minutes; imagine if I spent some time on this. I am convinced that, given some time, I could have found a supplier for monitors that would donate the gear for free. Similarly, Microsoft is fairly famous for the freedom with which they throw money at charitable causes. Several years ago, we filled out a web form on behalf of a local church that wanted to start teaching basic office skills to parishioners that were displaced from their job. Microsoft gave a site license for several pieces of software (to include Office 97, Windows 98, and several other pieces) and a grant with which to purchase PCs. These are, of course, the first thoughts and impressions; I’m assuming that sufficiently dedicated folks spending a bit of time would be able to find dozens of other solutions.

At the end of the day, even renting equipment would have been a better solution than ending up with $6,500 in the bank and $23,200 in debt at the end of the second year. That is nearly $17,000 in debt. Let me put this in context: Last week, I bought a breakfast sandwich at McDonalds on the way to work. It came to $4.82. I paid with a five and dropped the 18 cents in the donation container for the Ronald McDonald House; so as of last week, my charitable contribution was about $17,000.18 more than that of GoF.

Clearly I’m being facetious, but the point stands. The organization is running at around 145% overhead. A really good charity runs at about 10% overhead; a poor one at around 50%. An organization that exhausts every dollar of income during the year is not really a charity at all.

I don’t really know what to say about one that spends nearly half again as much as it makes.

There really isn’t more to be said that I have not already said. The organization is in dire straits. There is a culture of wanton spending and an attitude that says “more money will arrive” with nary a thought to the source or possible budgeting of said money. The spend-spend-spend viewpoint needs to change, if this organization is to be considered an actual charity. Zach, Rusty…it is time to fix what is broken, or give up on the idea of having a charity and just continue to have your fun XBox party.