July 2012 PSA

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So. We’re in the middle of asking everyone for money. A question looms though…. What do we do with all that money? Which is closely tied to another question: why should I give you my money?

Let me start by sharing a little of the philosophy I have used in my tenure as the keeper of the coffers at TarValon.net, Inc. Money is great. Money lets us do all the things we want to do to make this community thrive, and to further make this community (we certainly hope) one of the most preeminent Wheel of Time websites on the great wide interwebs. I like to think that it’s worked, and that we’ve been able to achieve just that. However…. We don’t pack away money just to pack away money. It’s important to me that the funds we take in are used, and that we’re not sitting around on big wads of cash. We want to have enough on hand to meet our needs, and a little extra for some security, and that’s all. Further I think it’s important that the funds we receive are used judiciously, and we are good stewards of your resources. There are times when I’m asked what we may be able to fund for a project, or an expense, and I’ve said, “You know, I think we could put X towards this, but I don’t think any more than that is a good use of funds.

An example: this last year was a huge transition for us with a fairly new Keeper, and training a brand new Amyrlin. The now Koyn Amyrlin, the prospective new Amyrlin, and the Keeper wanted to meet in person to develop a vision, plan a transition, and otherwise figure out how to best make this change go well for us. To better accomplish this it was felt that a face to face, in person meeting would be useful. And it was. There simply is a better feel to working on a project when everyone is present, and you can look someone in the face, hear the lilt of their voice, as well as see all the non-verbal communication that is presented. There really and truly is value to that that simply cannot be assigned. I was asked what we could afford. I went through my usual process of looking at what we have, what we’re going to need for the foreseeable future, and came up with a number. The ladies who were traveling, and for the life of me I can’t remember whom it was, said, “No problem. Anything over we’ll cover ourselves.” Again, I gave my opinion as “This amount would be worthwhile, this other would not be good use of our member’s resources.”

The flipside to that is another idea which is, “Just because we have money, we don’t have to spend it.” This speaks again to responsibility and good stewardship of our resources. I don’t believe we need to spend money just because it’s burning a hole in our bank account. Honestly nothing has ever come up where I’ve had to say, “No. I can’t get behind this.” I think because, in large part, that the other administrators and leaders of our community share the same mindset of everything we do adding to the “value” of our “product” that I use. If it doesn’t build and grow the community, if it does not strengthen the community, then we do not want to do it.

So. After all that… Where does your money go? I could go through and list everything we spend money on, and that would largely be repetitive, obvious, and frankly boring. It’s kind of a no-brainer that we spend our dollars on server space and to pay for our unique domain name. The only thing I would add here is that we always want things to run smoothly, so we are prepared to increase server space when necessary, within reason. Again, something along the lines of “We need this much, let’s do that, we can always add more later if we need to.”

One less obvious thing though, and something that I think makes us unique as a community, are our events. In general, our events are self-sustaining, paying for themselves. While it might be a simple accounting trick, the deposits for our events come out of (usually, not always) our general operating budget. As with everything there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. I consider this a necessary part of our operations. Why? Because our events are fairly unique amongst Wheel of Time communities, and have been one thing that set us apart. They are also something that builds and strengthens our community. A way to put meat and bones to otherwise ephemeral figures, the people we spend so much of our time with on the internet. Having been to many of these since I first came over ten years ago I’ve noticed something happen. When I’m reading the posts of individuals I’ve met, I’m no longer seeing their avatar, and reading type. I’m seeing their face and hearing their voice. There are people, when I see their name pop up on the list for an event I’m planning on coming to, I get excited about. I finally get to do this with some folks that I have adored, but haven’t actually met yet. I know that after I get to do this…. That change will happen with them. I will start hearing their voice.

There is some travel that is paid for through Tower funds for certain people at certain times. It is important to us that we have a commitment to our European members, and that we are able to have a presence with them. That we be able to have that transformation that happens when you meet Tower people happen between our Euro friends and administrators that are here in the US. To this end we have, in the past, paid for plane tickets for Administrators to go to Euro parties. Again, the idea behind this was to build and strengthen our community. I would like to see us be able to find some way to have someone attend any and all significant events. If we start having a large presence in the South Pacific, and begin having official events down there again, I hope we will be able to send someone to those. To be able to build our community that way also.

We also send administrators to important Wheel of Time events. Almost two years ago I was privileged to attend the midnight signing for the Towers of Midnight. On a person level, it was pretty exciting to hold an official, first edition copy of this book before most of the other people in the world. On an official level I was our presence at that very important event. It was important that we be involved in that, to demonstrate our commitment to this series of books that we all love. This trip was paid for by the Tower. The last book is scheduled to be released this coming January. Currently we are planning to send our Amyrlin to that midnight signing to be our official presence. (Although I may very well still go, ‘cause it’s going to be my birthday. But I’ll pay for that myself.)

As a gesture of good will from TarValon.net, we have long invested in building our relationships with key figures from The Wheel of Time. At Jordon*Con we purchase gift baskets for people such as Alan, Harriet, and Maria. When we’re able to, we take them out for dinner or for drinks, such as at our 10th Anniversary event. We were even able to treat The Creator a time or two before he passed away. The value of the goodwill of this really cannot be quantified.

Significant events in the lives of our members are also something we, as a community, want to connect to. If you have had a baby within the last several years we have sent you a gift from the Department of Membership. (I think we send onesies from our TarValon.net Café Press shop.) We have sent flowers to members who have lost loved ones. We have thanked important and trusted administrators with gifts upon their retirement. It is our desire to tell individuals that belong to our community that they are important to us. Really and truly our members are why we’re here, and are why we do what we do.

Really it comes down to deciding how we can best build our community. How can we foster and strengthen the connections between our members, whether it's investing in more server space so our interaction with the boards isn't slow, or if it's finding a way to thank Team Jordan for their support of our community. It's all about tieing one member to the next, then to the next, then to the next.... That's what we're all about. That's the question I try to answer when making decisions. "How will this connect our members with each other?"