"YPTC exponentially expanded our expertise..."
When Valerie Gay was named Executive Director of Art Sanctuary in 2013, she inherited an organization – founded to bring Philadelphians together through the unique community-building power of black art – undergoing serious financial challenges. With a background as a Certified Financial Planner, a law manager, a wealth and investment advisor, and as Assistant Dean for Institutional Advancement at Temple University’s College of Education, Gay was prepared for the intricacies of nonprofit fiscal management. As a musician and opera singer, she understood the aesthetic mission of an arts-based organization. “This job gives me the opportunity to marry all the parts of my life,” she explains, sitting in the gallery where a new exhibit is being hung.
But Art Sanctuary was experiencing what she calls a severe structural deficit; too many employees and inconsistent funding necessitated a drastic reduction in force to make what was already a lean organization even leaner. It was then that she discovered Your Part-Time Controller.
“Working with YPTC helped us to leverage our small organization with the expertise and resources in the accounting field,” she says. Outsourcing controller services to YPTC offered the wealth of knowledge about finance that Art Sanctuary could not afford to have in-house. “YPTC exponentially expanded our expertise without blowing up our budget.”
Associate Ken Modica and Manager Corey Blum started by getting a handle on the finances to see what was needed to bring Art Sanctuary up to industry standards. It soon became apparent that the organization – and especially an arts organization like Art Sanctuary – needed pictures to tell its story. Modica introduced Gay to YPTC’s program of Data Visualization.
Funders and donors had been seeing spreadsheets which did not look promising on paper because the short-term numbers did not adequately describe a long-term growth pattern that was actually quite promising. Consequently, Art Sanctuary was caught up in a difficult self-fulfilling prophecy: “We couldn’t get funding because we had been operating at a deficit, and we were operating at a deficit because we couldn’t get funding,” Gay explains.
The YPTC team began creating Data Visualization charts and graphs to better tell the financial story. “In education it’s called ‘multiple learning styles,’” Gay explains. “Some people are visual learners. Data Visualization allows us to speak to people using multiple learning styles.”
If a picture is worth a thousand words, Data Visualization graphs now enable Art Sanctuary to convey a complex story with a concise 15-word narrative that can be incorporated quite readily into a grant application. “Data Visualization really hones in on what we’re talking about. It shows people where we’re heading, backed up by evidence that appears in both numbers and graphs.
“Data Visualization gave us a fighting chance,” she continues. Art Sanctuary was invited to apply for funding from a large foundation that previously excluded organizations operating at a deficit. Although that grant was not approved, the foundation invited Art Sanctuary to re-submit in the next cycle, and the Data Visualization format was successful in securing grants from two other foundations.
“I strongly believe that because of Your Part-Time Controller, that if not for their work in creating Data Visualization, I would not have been able to tell the story. Data Visualization got us in the door.
“If you can create narrative that people can better understand, you inform everyone equally,” she says. “Data Visualization gives us the tools to do that.”
Gay also notes that Data Visualization makes it easier for staff and board members to understand the organization’s status and trajectory. “Data Visualization is a way for us to connect the money with the programs,” she says. “Often, the grant writer isn’t the person who’s managing either the finances or the program. Data Visualization is a way for me as Executive Director to get everyone on the same page.”
Gay was so impressed with YPTC’s model of outsourced services that she applied it to other aspects of Art Sanctuary’s operations. In addition to being more affordable, “It becomes a win-win situation. People have to do only what they are really good at, instead of being asked to take on other tasks that they don’t enjoy. We’re generalists: YPTC is our specialist,” she says. “I think that’s the new normal in this world.”
She expresses gratitude for YPTC’s work. “I didn’t know how healthy they could be for our organization,” she says. “We’re mission-driven. If we’re not financially solid, we can’t deliver our mission.”