FRIENDS OF WRITERS, INC.
WHAT IS FRIENDS OF WRITERS?
Friends of Writers, Inc. (“FOW”) is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization incorporated and headquartered in the State of Vermont. It was founded in 1991 for the immediate purpose of raising scholarship funds for adult writers.
WHAT DOES FOW DO?
FOW’s mission is to cultivate a diversity of new and vital voices.
It has done so most recently by supporting graduate students in the highly regarded MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. While Friends of Writers, is able, under its articles of incorporation, to select other avenues for supporting adult writers, it has chosen to launch and support activities and infrastructure designed to ensure that the Program’s community of poets and fiction writers continues to flourish. In addition to providing scholarships for WWC MFA students, it provides scholarships to the annual Alumni Conference, and underwrites/guarantees the conference. In recent years, anonymous donors have established additional funds for current students, alumni, and emergency faculty support.
WHO IS FOW?
FOW’s President and Treasurer is Ellen Bryant Voigt. FOW’s other Officers, its ByLaws and a list of current and past Board Members can be found here: FRIENDS OF WRITERS GOVERNANCE. Board members are elected to three-year terms and attend meetings twice a year at their own expense.
The most important people involved with the FOW community, however, are our loyal and generous donors. A list of current donors and volunteers can be found here: Thank you, Donors!.
WHY DOES FOW CHOOSE TO FOCUS ITS SUPPORT ON THE MFA PROGRAM FOR WRITERS AT WARREN WILSON COLLEGE?
FOW is a critical source of financial aid for the MFA Program.
The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College was the first low-residency program in the country, a successful model that has since been replicated at other institutions in the US and overseas. It is consistently ranked as the finest low-residency program in the country. In addition, the MFA Program is the college’s only graduate program. The Program is financially independent and is not subsidized by the college.
To the contrary, the Warren Wilson Program for Writers pays rent for office space, and because all residency fees go directly to the college, they do not flow into the Program’s annual operating budget. The MFA Program does not benefit from any fundraising done by the College or its Alumni or Development Office.
This means every penny of the Program’s direct costs, including financial aid, must be paid by tuition. Over 10% of the Program’s operating budget is earmarked for MFA grants or need-based aid. Admission to the Program is need-blind, and student need has increased dramatically in recent years. FOW is the organization that raises money, manages, and distributed money for additional financial aid. FOW’s funds are distributed based on need, and crucial to Program support.
In addition to using its Discretionary Funds in support of the Program and its mission, FOW serves as the steward of the MFA General Scholarship Fund as well as a portfolio of other endowed funds. These scholarships are all based on need, as documented in student FAFSA filings:
- The Holden Minority Scholarship, which supports up to two minority students in the program at a time;
- The Holden Fund for Diversity, which supports diversity at the MFA Program;
- The Carol Houck Smith Scholarship, which supports a student completing his or her thesis;
- The Steve Orlen Fund for Faculty, which enables sabbatical leave and provides emergency funds for faculty;
- The Lisel Mueller Scholarship, which already provides tuition support to students with small children;
- The Larry Levis Endowment, established by several alumni, provides a writing stipend to support the completion of a book by an alumnus/a;
- The Barnhardt Family Fund, which covers room and board and other residency fees for the Program’s neediest students;
- The Renate Wood Memorial Scholarship, for entering student poets;
- The Amy Grimm Student Emergency Fund, for continuing students and emergency need;
- The Memorial Fund, which provides scholarships to the annual Alumni Conference.
These endowed scholarship funds are managed by FOW and the income from them is distributed to students on the basis of need. Additional details on these funds can be found here: Projects and Scholarships.
FOW is the organization that supports Program Alumni.
While graduates of the MFA Program are Warren Wilson College alumni are welcome to attend homecoming and to send information to the college’s publication Owl & Spade, etc., most MFA graduates are primarily interested in maintaining contact with other former MFA students.
FOW launched and underwrote the annual Alumni Conference (see below), now wholly-run by alumni, and continues to fund scholarships for alumni to attend. FOW funds and manages the Levis Competition, which awards a Program alumnus or alumna up to $10,000 toward the completion of a book. FOW funds the distribution of alumni newsletters, and funds the launch of, and provides ongoing support for, the FOW blog and website. This fall, it is providing support and contact information to a committee of alumni in the Boston area to create events and opportunities to bring alumni together and to showcase alumni work. FOW pays for the annual Warren Wilson MFA party at the AWP Conference.
HOW DOES FRIENDS OF WRITERS BRING IN MONEY?
By raising money.
FOW solicits donations from individuals within and beyond the WWC MFA community. It does this through periodic mailings, by letter and e-mail, to its growing list of past, present, and potential donors. A recently-established network of class agents is working to foster ongoing connections within the MFA Program’s community and to seek support for incoming and current students in the Program.
Every year, at the annual Alumni Conference, alumni volunteers run an auction designed to raise money for Program students and alumni. Every five years, when the conference is held at Warren Wilson College, there is a Gala Auction for the same purpose.
In 2013 FOW held its first Gala in New York City. The purpose of the event was to raise funds from ticket sales and auctions, to introduce new people to the MFA Program’s students and faculty, and to increase FOW’s visibility in the literary and fundraising world. The 2013 Gala raised more than $130,000 for the Carol Houck Smith Scholarship. Another Gala was held on 28 April 2014, in New York City, to raise money for the Holden Fund for Diversity. FOW is considering having the event hosted in different locations in upcoming years.
Working with alumni in various regions around the US, various kinds of regional events will be planned at a local level. While supporting activities that bring graduates together to share their work and successes, these events will also generate revenue to support FOW’s scholarship funds and the Program’s ongoing work.
FOW, sometimes in conjunction with the Program, also seeks grant money to support students in the program. The Rona Jaffe Foundation (through the Program) and a family foundation (through FOW) have been strong supporters of the Program’s students.
By earning money.
The MFA Program faculty have produced seven anthologies (Poets Teaching Poets, Bringing the Devil to His Knees, Hammer and Blaze, The Story Behind the Story, Poet’s Work Poet’s Play, A Kite in the Wind and The Rag-Picker’s Guide to Poetry ). The editors and all contributors to those volumes have donated 100% of each book’s advance and royalties to Friends of Writers’ scholarship funds; when necessary, they have also paid for reprint permissions, so Friends incurred not a single penny of expense to produce the books. Together, as of January 2005, the books have sold over 17,000 copies.
FOW launched and funded the digitization, for sale, of the Program’s lectures and classes from audiotape to digital format, which involved selecting and upgrading recordings from the archives and adding introductions and supporting material. This archive digitization effort is ongoing, and will be completed over the next few years. FOW continues to package the lectures and readings from each Residency on an ongoing basis. These lectures and readings can be downloaded from the store on the MFA/FOW website. In 2013 digital and CD sales from the webstore brought in $4,680.
THE ALUMNI CONFERENCE
What is the relationship between friends of writers and the alumni conference?
The Alumni Conference is run by a Committee of alumni, many of whom have been involved with prior conferences. The committee makes all decisions related to the conference. The FOW Board liaison to that Committee is currently Peter Klank, who works with the Committee on conference location scouting, planning, and policies.
FOW guarantees the minimum fee required by the conference site and in 2014 will provide, through discretionary funds or by drawing on the Memorial Funds established for that purpose, eight conference scholarships to alumni expressing need. FOW pays any postage costs and also the conference fees for the conference director, a volunteer. Accounting for the conference is handled by the FOW’s Treasurer and the Friends accountant.
Why are there Alumni Conference auctions?
The fundraising auction was initiated by alumni conference attendees as a way to recoup the costs of the conference not covered by the registration fee, and to raise some additional money for scholarships. For many years, it has done just that, with the money usually earmarked for the Memorial Funds and conference scholarships. In 2001 and 2006 the Anniversary auctions, held at the college, targeted the Holden Minority Scholarship within the MFA Program. These two auctions raised $14,631 and $17,523, respectively, for the Holden. There is no requirement to have an auction, and the conference planning committee and attendees opted not to have one in 2004 and 2005.
What happens to all the money raised by the alumni conference?
For fifteen years the Conference was subsidized by FOW. In recent years, thanks to increased participation (40-55 alums) and shrewd management by the volunteer directors, it manages to net a small profit, which the Conference Committee (again, alumni volunteers) has reinvested in the FOW Memorial Fund to guarantee each year’s gathering and provide additional scholarships for those attending. The Memorial Fund was established by individual gifts designated in the name of deceased alumni.
In 2013 the Conference was held in Moraga, CA and netted a surplus of $5,100. The Conference Committee voted to allocate 75% of that money to FOW’s discretionary funds, for support of current and future students in the Program, and 25% of that money to the Memorial Funds, which will be available to alumni for future conferences.
Who sets the cost of the alumni conference?
The host institution. Each year, volunteer planners work hard to find the most reasonable location possible for the conference, understanding that cost is a major consideration for nearly everyone. Conference costs fluctuate due both to location and attendance. The Conference committee comes up with a budget, and sets fees.
DOES FRIENDS OF WRITERS SUPPORT FOUR WAY BOOKS?
No. Until November 2004, Four Way Books was assisted by FOW only to the extent that it shared FOW’s designation as a non-profit organization. No money given to FOW went to Four Way Books unless the donor specifically designated his/her contribution for Four Way Books. In November 2004, Four Way Books gained independent non-profit status. It is a fully separate organization with its own Board and officers.
HOW MUCH MONEY DOES FRIENDS BRING IN A YEAR?
Since 2011, annual revenues have ranged from $92,767 to $174,952.
During that period, the amount of money raised by FOW has ranged from $73,456 and $153,108 per year and the amount of money earned by FOW projects has ranged from $6,058 to $21,844 per year.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THAT MONEY?
Most of the money has been invested to guarantee that there will be resources to fund scholarships and projects in the future. It takes a tremendous amount of money to endow a fund. To pay out an annual award of $10,500 requires roughly $250,000 in principal (Based on trailing 5-year average returns, for non-profits, as of December 2013. http://www.thenonprofittimes.com/news-articles/endowments-show-double-digit-gains/.) It takes a great deal of work for Friends of Writers simply to maintain its principal, even more work to develop its financial reserves.
In the past three years, with FOW assistance, the MFA Program has channeled $140,000-160,000 to the MFA students and alumni.
In addition, FOW funds internships for MFA students to support FOW projects (the digital archive project and blog-related work are examples) and pays for the MFA Program’s reception at the AWP Conference. It also distributes emergency funds to students and faculty members in need.
The annual Warren Wilson MFA Party/Reception at the annual AWP conference is funded by FOW.
All of these distributions, as well as FOW’s annual budget, are approved by the full FOW Board.
WHO DECIDES WHAT DONATIONS ARE PUT TO WHAT USE?
Donors are always welcome—and invited—to specify the purpose to which they would like their money put. Unspecified or discretionary donations are applied by the full FOW Board to scholarship funds, as needed. It’s most helpful for donations not to be earmarked for one purpose or another so that they can be put to the best immediate use, but some donors prefer to support a particular goal, which is fine.
WHAT COSTS DOES FOW HAVE?
FOW pays for essential legal and accounting fees. There is no office, and no paid staff. Board members donate their time, the cost of travel to semi-annual meetings, telconferences and postage expenses. On occasion, major FOW projects—such as the Gala and the creation of the FOW website—will require FOW to use paid external resources. All such expenditures are vetted and approved by the full FOW Board.
CAN I GET AN ANNUAL REPORT OF FRIENDS INCOME AND EXPENDITURES?
Every year FOW files Form 990-EZ with the U. S. Internal Revenue Service. This is a public document and can, by means of an Internet search, be accessed from a variety of sources. For instance, one of the places to find FOW’s 2012 990-EZ is right here: https://bulk.resource.org/irs.gov/eo/2013_08_EO/03-0330253_990_201212.pdf
If you’d rather have FOW’s most recent Form 990-EZ sent to you, please contact FOW’s Corporate Secretary, Liz Gray: email@example.com.
WHO’S ON THE FRIENDS OF WRITERS BOARD, AND WHO DECIDES THAT?
The composition of FOW’s Board, past and present, as well as its ByLaws and other matters relating to governance, can be found here: GOVERNANCE.
Each Board member agrees to serve for three years, with possibility of renewal.
Possible candidates are suggested by current and past Board members, and the Board encourages expressions of interest from alumni and others. The Board’s Nominating Committee collects and vets candidates, assesses the skills and experience most needed given FOW’s short and long-term plans and project requirements, engages potential candidates in preliminary conversations, and then makes recommendations to the full Board. The current members of the FOW Nominating Committee are Eleanor Wilner (Chair), David Haynes, Maeve Kinkead, and Abigail Wender.
WHO DO I TALK TO IF I HAVE MORE QUESTIONS?
Any Friends Board member. Or, contact FOW’s Corporate Secretary, Liz Gray: firstname.lastname@example.org