The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 25, 2012

Budget built on grants, donations | VOMA fundraisers generate revenue

BY RUTH RICE
RRICE@TRIBDEM.COM

— With training as a certified public accountant, Dennis Mical is qualified for the post of treasurer for  Venue of Merging Arts.

After the former St. George Serbian Orthodox Church was purchased at the end of January 2009 and board members brainstormed on uses for the space, a nonprofit corporation had to be set up.

As an auditor for the state Department of Welfare, Mical had audited nonprofits, but had never helped create one.

“We had to register with the state as a corporation and get our tax-exempt status from the IRS, which was a thick application,” Mical said.

“We weren’t operational yet, but we had to fill it out as though we were planning what we were going to do.”

After more questions, the whole process took about nine months and was made retroactive.

There were limitations put on  VOMA.

An idea to create a gift shop in the adjacent parsonage where artists’ work could be sold was not permitted.

Mical and other board members are working on remodeling the living room of the parsonage into VOMA offices.

Ideas for the remainder of the parsonage include making a place to stay for visiting artists and traveling music acts.

“Some groups write their own music and travel for the exposure,” Mical said.

“We’ve had groups from Connecticut, Ohio, New York, Detroit and San Francisco.”

Funding for VOMA has come from grants from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, corporate and planned giving, philanthropy, in-kind and patron support, and fundraising efforts.

Mical said funds were received from the Community Foundation to fix the roof and for emergency lighting to get VOMA started, and for more recent projects involving moving a boiler to open up a back door that had been boarded up.

He believes he has only scratched the surface when it comes to searching for grant funding.

“Someone needs to donate their time to find it,” Mical said.

“You could spend days on the Internet finding ones that fit your geographic area or cause. A couple of us took a class at UPJ on grant writing.”

Mical added that government grants have all but dried up, and the Community Foundation is having a big demand for funding for fewer dollars.

Finished in red

Board president Adam Mundok said with the cost of building renovations, some unforeseen, VOMA finished 2011 in the red.

“Our budget generated $45,000 in revenue, but with the cost of operations, including paying artists, promoters and staff, $48,000 was spent,” Mundok said.

Mundok and other board members realized last year that events weren’t enough to keep VOMA strong.

“There’s a misconception with the public that when you’re a nonprofit, you don’t need to make a profit,” Mundok said.

“We’re exempt from taxes, but we’re not exempt from utility bills. We have the same financial challenges as for-profits.

“Nonprofits have to generate revenue. If more people understood that, maybe they would chip in more. We have liability insurance the same as any business and when it comes to utilities, we’re dealing with a 100-year-old building that’s not up to modern code, so there are renovation costs.”

A $65,000 operating budget comes from donations and event revenue.

“When we have a band, they get half the door (admission),” Mical said.

“Thunder in the Valley and the ethnic festival also have generated a nice amount of money, and our Battle of the Original Bands was a huge success.”

Capital budget

A capital projects budget of $12,000 will go to more roof work on the former church and parsonage.

“If someone gave us $100,000, we could put it to use, but since we don’t have a blank check, we go with priority,” Mical said.

“We get what is most needed done first.

“We’ve learned need versus want.”

Fundraising efforts have included VOMA Rising, which featured craft beers, food, performers, an art auction, gallery show and sale and holiday bazaar.

“If we can do one big event a quarter, that should be enough to keep funds for what we need,” Mical said. “I would be optimistic if there would be more government and private grants.”

To date, 2012 fundraising amounts to $3,205.

A possible spring fundraiser is being considered, and in May, a homecoming gallery show featuring the photography of Tara Glenn will be held.

“She’s in Florida now, but when she was here, she came to listen to some music, and I put some of her art in city hall,” said Mical’s wife, Janet. “She said it gave her such confidence, and this is her way to say thank you to VOMA.”

Proceeds from the show will benefit VOMA.

Talent show

An original talent competition is planned for late spring or early summer as a follow-up to Battle of the Original Bands in 2011.

“The Battle of the Original Bands was so successful, we had to raise the rails on the balcony to make it available for seating,” Mical said. “It was the first time we had to turn anyone away.”

A first-time gala planned for the end of the year will take the place of VOMA Rising.

VOMA will once again participate in Thunder in the Valley and Cambria City Ethnic Festival.

An online WePay sustainability fund for 2012 has the goal of raising $10,000.

“It’s an online opportunity to donate,” Mical said.

“We want to take advantage of technology. If you’re not online, you won’t reach the younger people who are more inclined to donate online.”

Those who are interested may donate securely by credit card one time, monthly or annually by going online to www.wepay.com/donations/165096 or using the link on VOMA’s website at www.thevoma.com.

“If you’re retired, you’re going to respond to a newspaper ad. If you’re a teen band, it will be Facebook,” Mical said.

“We want to cover all the bases. We’re not a  membership organization, so there are no dues.”

VIP perks program

Karen Mesaros, who works with development, outreach and marketing, will handle the direct-mail campaign and a VIP perks program, both launching this month.

The perks program will involve a $10 fee and members will receive a frequent admission loyalty punch card, 20 percent off private venue rentals, monthly email promotions and VIP only event invitations.

Mesaros also will be promoting venue rentals at VOMA.

Venue rentals can be for wedding receptions, bridal and baby showers or birthday parties.

Bands also can rent the space and receive half the proceeds.

Mesaros said either floor may be rented separately or the entire space as a whole.

VOMA will partner with local businesses for event planning, catering and entertainment.

Those interested in renting space at VOMA can email at thevomaspace@gmail.com.

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