UAS SHOWS YOU THE MONEY
This update is a follow-up to my annual report message from January. Since the annual report, our life has been upturned in the best way possible. The IRS approved our 501(c)(3) application within six weeks; we were expecting it would take the better part of 2017. First, I want to thank my husband, Sunil Dasgupta, for all the pro bono work writing the articles, bylaws, and putting together the documentation for an effective Form 1023. Thanks also to Jennifer Gniady of the Gellar Law Group, who served as outside counsel and reviewed our documents.
I also want to thank our small Board of Directors, Theola DeBose and Amanda Ripley, both extraordinary professionals and Squad moms, who will now be taking on greater responsibilities in overseeing our organization. I am hopeful we will be able to add a few more members to the Board soon.
The biggest change you will see is this: the new nonprofit entity is called Urban Learning and Teaching Center (ULTC). I have executed an irrevocable and indefinite transfer of the name, “Urban Adventure Squad” to the new nonprofit entity. In the near future, ULTC will trademark the name “Urban Adventure Squad” as its own. Consequently, UAS and ULTC are now the same entity. We will be filing “Doing Business As” papers shortly.
None of this will affect our programs and operations. We’ll continue to announce programs on our website. Families can register and pay for programs as they always have (we are undertaking an effort to improve the registration process). We will still send out detailed logistics, staff bios, and Squad letters before programs, and our approach to programming—keeping what works, while experimenting and seeking ways to improve our curricula—will not change. Families can expect the same high-quality, low-cost experiential learning programs that UAS has become known for. You’ll see more references to ULTC-UAS, and a new FEIN number on the receipts issued for FSA purposes—that’s really the most practical change for families.
We planned the conversion this way to make the change easier and as seamless as possible. I am happy to explain more personally. Better still, you can ask Sunil (email@example.com), who came up with the plan.
I know that receiving tax-exempt status is just the beginning. The very real challenge of raising money lies ahead, but based on what I report below, I am very hopeful.
In 2016, our revenue grew over 250 percent and we were left with a small surplus last year (see .pdf on left side of this page).
Our staff costs remain the biggest budget item. Our highest paid employee is Christy Brock, our Director of Programming. In 2016, Christy started working fulltime for UAS; in 2015, she was still part-time. We have already budgeted for another half-time staff position to help with enrollment and program management that I expect will become fulltime later this year. UAS Squad leaders are paid between $16 and $25 an hour, which is quite a bit above the market. We are also looking to add positions in subject matter expertise, including in environmental science, history, the arts, engineering, and archaeology.
We are paying more in rent now because we offer many more program days. Our other costs have grown at a slower rate than revenue, which is great news because it means we are finally hitting economies of scale. Notably, we didn’t spend more on advertising in 2016. This is because our word of mouth is so strong—thank you, Squad Community!—and because all our energies have gone toward program management as we have scaled up.
The surplus this year is, of course, great news, and evidence that the UAS model can become financially viable, but we are still not paying all our costs. All of my UAS hours in 2016 were volunteered. I will have to start drawing a small salary in 2017. With 501(c)(3) status, UAS work is going to redouble as we seek grants and organize our fundraising.
It is quite unimaginable how far UAS has come in just three short years. Our success is attributable to the gaps in our education system. The Center for American Progress—their 2016 report mentioned our work—seeks more school time as families struggle to balance work and childcare. But as I like to keep saying to anyone who will listen, there is little point in filling gap days simply by warehousing kids in a gym or stupefying them with screens. The days when kids are not in school present excellent opportunities for exploration, learning, community engagement—and fun! We need curricula that engages children when they’re not in school, and we need to fill gaps in outdoor education and experiential learning that even well-resourced schools are finding hard to meet.
The demands of testing and more classroom time are pulling schools and students inside. We need to develop partnerships with parents, teachers, schools, and communities to reverse the trend. In Finland, for example, schools give kids 15 minutes of recess for every hour of class time, and according to our board member, Amanda Ripley, Finland is one of the great education successes of the contemporary era. With creativity and careful attention to resources, we can find exciting ways to learn that don’t involve relying heavily on technology or on school days spent mostly inside.
There is a lot of talk about these problems, but we did something about it. The success of UAS is an example of this partnership working; we hold programs because parents ask us to support them on the many days when schools are closed. We wouldn’t have space for our programs without the support of many, many community organizations across the D.C. area. We couldn’t hold these programs without community educators, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses who provide us with incredible opportunities for experiential and hands-on learning, and who allow our Squad members to foster deeper connections with their communities. We are now making a concerted effort to coordinate with teachers and schools so that our curricula dovetail with their teaching goals. This is a very exciting time for us.
We hope you can join us in what we were are trying to build. Please continue to send us your children, take another look at our summer programs, give us feedback, tell your friends and neighbors about us, and join us on our Twitter.
If you can think of potential partners (schools, teachers, education administrators, grantmakers; subject matter experts; and people/places to visit), please help us connect with them.
Please consider helping us fundraise, reach out to new communities and neighborhoods, and find Squad leaders (here’s a link to our job opportunity).
Finally, consider making a donation of any size and including us in your future charitable giving plans.
As always, many thanks to all of you for your feedback, ideas, energy, and support. We are looking forward to growing together!