Where will the Imperial Court of New York be in five years? Where do we want it to be? How will we get there? I have applied to run for President of the Board because I have the professional experience of bringing people together to help answer these questions. As a team, as an organization and as a group collectively we can define a long-term vision for who we are, and how we can move forward together.
Over the last few years, ICNY and its leadership have done a good job of attracting more media attention, more celebrity attention and more general interest from the outside in the work that we do. These are all extremely important to the long-term health of the organization. This pertains particularly to Night of a Thousand Gowns, because as it is currently configured it relies heavily on corporate sponsorship to pay its expenses.
But is just having more media and celebrity attention useful? It certainly helps, but are there internal challenges ahead that can’t be solved simply with more glitz and more glamour?
Some of the great questions that should be addressed are those of financial policies and procedures: “How much does it cost to sustain our organization?” “What are the real costs of producing Night of a Thousand Gowns?” And perhaps most importantly, “Are we giving enough away to our beneficiaries?” As a board member, as a monarch and as a general member of the organization, these questions have never been, to my satisfaction, answered or addressed. We need agreed-upon metrics to help us with determining this.
As the Imperial Court of New York relies on more and more corporate funding, we must raise the professional level of our business model. We are an organization of volunteers, but that alone is no longer a reason to drift without a formal fiscal year budget. We produce a ball where our budget discussions start with “what did we spend last year?” We need a strategic, multi-year plan to help get us what we need: more members, more ticket buyers, greater audiences and more money to give away. These will happen as we determine the scope and role for the ICNY in its fourth decade, continue to build the respect of the community, and increase the excitement our membership for our work.
Many among us have the skill sets to look at our model and improve on the good work that’s come before. And it will take many of us: fully engaged, fully respected and with a fully renewed spirit to do that. Given the astounding growth of what was originally conceived as a grassroots organization, it's now time to implement systems and procedures in line with generally accepted principles, such as those practiced by the organizations we work with and the funders whom we seek to work with.
As President of the Imperial Court of New York, there are three tasks that I would lead the board and the membership to undertake in the first six months:
Formalize a fiscal year operating budget in line with best practices and current accounting standards. This should not be a difficult task, and will provide information to the membership and the public on how we use our resources. We have annual operating costs (meeting space rental, storage, insurance, communications, etc.) that are known, and other ongoing programs (Hearts and Voices, Scholarship Funds, Event-based grants and impromptu requests) that can be better managed and grown if there is a fiscal plan in place to support them. Ideally, an annual process would be put in place where a budget would be approved by the board in August and ratified by the membership at the annual meeting in September, the start of the new fiscal year. As we already go through an annual audit and IRS filing, this will help formalize a process that will please funders, donors and members alike.
Formalize the Budget Process for Night of a Thousand Gowns, with all income and expense categories (including complimentary tickets, in-kind donations and cash transactions). We have been giving less and less to beneficiaries over the recent long term, and any discussion of the ball and its finances must answer the question, “What do we want to give away at the end?” Both income and expense programs have to be examined, and while the 28th Annual NOATG was an artistic and emotional success, our margin for philanthropic activity needs to be a driver, not an afterthought. The action of creating and adhering to a budget will not only help to assure members and beneficiaries that we are doing everything we can to produce the best fundraiser possible, but also will show potential corporate donors how seriously we take the work and exactly where external funding will help.
Develop a 3-5 Year Strategic Plan for the Organization. At no time in the last five years have we done a formal, scientific polling of our membership, our ticket buyers and event attendees, our beneficiaries or the community at large to see how we’re doing. To assure our long term survival, we need to get their feedback on what we do well, what we can improve, what opportunities we have coming in the years ahead or what challenges we face as we grow our profile and our expectations. And how we can all have more fun! I would convene a strategic planning committee (including board members, general members and college members) to develop an intense, focused program of work that would be facilitated by an in-kind external consultant and help provide us with a roadmap for the future.
The creation of a strategic plan for the ICNY will help drive other conversations for the long-term, those of interest and importance to our current members, our lapsed members and our greater public. The 29th Annual Night of a Thousand Gowns will have a more formalized budget and approval process, but on an artistic level, should not be directly impacted by a strategic plan finished in the intervening months.
As President, I would work to delegate much of the power and responsibility that has centralized in that office over the last decade. The College of Monarchs has already taken on the duties of mentoring the reigning monarchs, and I look forward to a board that will look to them for recommendations and guidance where necessary. I look forward to strengthening our standing committee structure. For example, our membership committee should recruit, engage, and support our members; likewise, our events committee can proactively reach out and help develop ongoing plans and revenue streams for our fundraisers. I would activate a nominating committee to continually help develop organizational leadership and ensure a healthy pipeline for board and officer positions. I would work to continue the executive producer structure of Night of a Thousand Gowns, relying on both experience and enthusiasm to keep that event strong.
There is a lot of work to do, and I hope that we can count on members interested in sustainability, growth and a new level of professionalism to join us in that work. Ultimately, we’re here as volunteers to have fun and raise a lot of money. If we solve some of the infrastructure challenges, that will give us more time and more energy to focus on the biggest parallel question: “Are our members and guests having fun?” Believe me, part of the work ahead involves figuring out how to bring more fun, more frivolity and more fabulous to the every day!
The job of the President of the Board is to ensure the long-term health of the organization and maintain an efficient day-to-day operation. I look forward to working with a board interested in thinking forward, continuing the amazing work of our growing media presence, and working with the membership for a more transparent, more streamlined and more integrated organization. We can work hard, and we can play hard. There’s room for all of that.
There is a vision for the future of the Imperial Court of New York: and it belongs to all of us.
In the spirit of community, camp and collaboration,
Michael Barret Jones
Empress XXVI Witti Repartee