Thanks Steve, Welcome Erica!

Dear SUS Community, Firstly, a huge thank you to all of you (and Seattle weather for perfect sunset on the sound) for making this year’s gala fundraiser a tremendous success. Collectively we raised over 32,000$ and with many of you having employer match, we could potentially raise another few thousands!

As we announced during the fundraiser, our Executive Director Steve Severson has decided to take a break and step aside. We thank Steve for his tremendous contributions to give us a solid operational foundation. Steve also gave us sufficient lead time to go through a number of suitable candidates from all over US and abroad and we are very excited to welcome Erica Helsel as our new Executive Director. Erica comes with years of managing non-profits experience and is tremendously passionate about our cause. You will be hearing a lot more from her in coming months.

Next, on to our financials! Last year was our first full year under 501Commons as our official book keepers and accounting firm (experts on non-profits accounting). Our transition from in house bookkeeping to them is complete and we are now setup to get our books audited in due course. Enclosed below is summary of our 2015 contributions (contributions subcategories are approximated – as some of the bookkeeping and reporting issues are still being ironed out) and expenses.

Enclosed below is a brief summary of our financials year over year since our inception.

Thanks to tremendous support from all corners, we achieved over 31% rise in our annual contributions (that is twice as much rise than the year before!). Our donor base continues to expand with a greater number of support coming through our squash community be it a $5 raffle ticket, $20 t-shirt, $50 team tournament or $250 annual dinner ticket – every single drop counts! We have also been successful in getting IRS and a number of corporate grants and employer matching program coordinators (e.g. Cybergrants, EasyMatch, GuideStar…) to recognize our Public Charity status. This has opened up Corporate Grants stream as a new source of contributions for us.

While our contributions climb, so have our expenses! We have provided a more detailed break-down of our expenses above. Majority of the expenses are allocated to staff wages, insurance, fundraising and transportation. We will see expenses rising for a couple of years ahead as we hire full-time academic and athletic staff to provide a comprehensive oversight across all our operations to a larger number of enrollments. As we finalize our 3-year strategic plan with help of Erica, we will have a much better understanding of our optimal operating budget at a steady state.

We often get compared to many other non-profits in education or healthcare space for youth and indeed our program has relatively a high operating cost per student. However, a strong counter-argument is that not many of these other programs can show direct correlation of their impact to students’ grades improvement, healthy living, private school placement or college admissions. Secondly even though we have a small group of students to begin with, we add a new cohort each year while keeping all from previous years till they all graduate from high school. As you can see from our expenses breakdown above, the program’s budget goes primarily towards compensation of paid staff members who do the heavy lifting of getting the kids to and from school and facility, ensuring the day to day activities are fully staffed, and that kids are engaged and active in the program besides coordinating our various fundraising activities. These are fixed costs (aside from cost of inflation and our ability to provide them raises) coupled with our ability to accommodate number of kids together in a limited academic or athletic space. I hope that with creative thinking, we will scale our capacity to sustain 60-80 odd students over time thanks to support from multiple facilities, volunteers and our paid staff – full time as well as part time. To scale beyond that, we may need to not only grow our revenues substantially, but also segment or federate the program more creatively to ensure we don’t over stress our limited resources and infrastructure beyond sustainable capacity. Some of the successful programs nationwide have grown to accommodate 130 or so students.

In closing, I would like to leave you all with this compelling narrative from our champion Katie Pearl - School Principal at the Northgate Elementary School regarding impact our Urban Squash program is having at our young adults as they look forward to our enrollment drive at the start of each school year.

Thank you for sharing this journey with us. We have come a long way and realize that we still have a long and arduous climb ahead of us – be it finances, recruiting, student performance, or smooth operations. We look forward to your continued personal involvement and support to our shared vision of creating pathways of opportunities for kids from underserved communities around us through Squash, Education and Community Service.

Naveen Garg
President, Seattle Urban Squash