Everything starts with spreadsheets.
I suppose, technically, everything starts with the acknowledgment that we need a spreadsheet, but the spreadsheet shows up pretty quickly. A lot of things go into building a nonprofit from the ground up, but if you want to know the engine powering the Dream Foundry, it’s spreadsheets. There’s a spreadsheet that outlines all the spreadsheets we need to make, with timelines for when. I’ve configured it to get awkward and red if we’re behind, and to purr in green when we wrap things up. So when it was time to run our first fund-raiser, meant primarily as a practice run so we could make all our mistakes on something small and manageable, there was a spreadsheet for that, too. We were doing an auction. That meant we needed items to put in the auction. What were those items going to be, and where would they come from?
We approached it very similarly to how we’ve approached everything so far: We put out a call to our volunteers for items and help. We sent word to our various networks. And then we started putting people in a spreadsheet. But not just any people.
Moments like these are where, if you’re thoughtful, you expose your core principles. Relevance is one of ours. There were a ton of things we could have put into the auction, but we didn’t want to put just anything there. Or just one kind of thing, either. We’re building a community of professionals who work in the speculative arts; we want things that will be valuable to them.
But we’d exposed a value before we even reached this point. We could have done a straight-up fund drive, asking people for money in exchange only for the promise that we’d spend it well in service of our mission. We probably would have seen success—people started offering us money before we’d formally incorporated—but we didn’t like that approach. Inclusivity is another of our core principles, and while there’s a lot that goes into fulfilling that, one of the elements is a firm stance that professionals deserve recognition and compensation for their work, even—especially—from us. There’s a material difference between asking for naked donations and curating an opportunity for people to acquire items they’ll treasure in exchange for their support. We care about that difference.
From the inside, the Dream Foundry is a stream of people constantly and generously saying “yes.” A number of people replied to our request for something small with, “Sure, but wouldn’t you like this other, better thing?” Yes, we would, thank you. People stepped up to offer items, and administrative work, and research. They spent time spreading the word about the auction and making a case for why it was worth time and attention to others. Some of them made cash donations without bidding on anything. Some of them donated and bid.
A lot of the founding members and early volunteers in the Dream Foundry are primarily traditional prose writers. Many of them wear other hats, too, but that was how they came to us. That meant a lot of the unprompted donations and people we were close enough to solicit had offerings relevant mostly to writers of traditional prose. We could have accepted that and been content—after all, this was our very first fund-raiser and meant to be a small, practice event—but we didn’t. Relevance matters, and that means being relevant to everyone we want to include right from the start. And one of our other principles, Networking, would have been quite disappointed in us if we stopped there. In the end our inventory included portfolio critiques, art prints, and craft items.
Spreadsheets proliferated: inventory tracking, bidder tracking, fulfillment tracking. Then, the really fun parts, the final tallying of what we brought in, what we spent, and what our working budget is going to be for the next few months. There’s a lot more green on that spreadsheet than we expected at the beginning.
It’s only been a few months since the Dream Foundry was a pipe dream without a name. It might have faded and vanished, a wistful what-if. But we are professionals working in the speculative arts. Making the what-if real and giving it power is what we do. Nothing quite like this has ever been done before, but we’re doing it, figuring out how as we go. We’ll learn. And then we’ll teach it. After all, our fourth core principle is Mentorship.