3 min

Getting the house in order

Pride organizers rebuild a financially sound festival

DYNAMIC DUO. Shannon Salisbury (l) and Robin Duetta say Pride is finally back on solid ground. Credit: Rob Thomas

After the last few years of deficit and disarray, it appears that the Pride Committee of Ottawa has finally got its books – and its house – in order.

According to Robin Duetta, the interim executive director, Ottawa Pride’s financial outlook is solid.

“Last year, when we took over [in April], we inherited a deficit of $50,000, one of the bank accounts was seized, there were lots of problems, lots of financial issues after Pride 2002,” Duetta says.

But, he adds, that after negotiating and working their way “through arrangements with those creditors in order to execute” Pride 2003 – and then reducing the festival’s overall budget from $180,000 in 2002 to about $85,000 last year and about $70,000 for this year’s Pride celebrations – the committee’s deficit now stands at only $16,000.

“This year, we’ve spent a considerable amount of our resources paying down the deficit from the year before,” he says. “So we were able to reduce the budget by about $100,000, raise enough money to execute an event and with only a $16,000 deficit – I consider that quite a success. The festival now stands in quite a good position.”

With the majority of the committee’s funding coming from sponsorship arrangements and event revenue, another bright spot is a sharp increase in this year’s sponsorship levels.

“We found ways to be able to put on the same events and through partnerships and sponsorships, we’ve been able to reduce our liabilities and responsibilities, and still put on great events,” Duetta says.

The city has also played an important role in improving Pride’s fiscal outlook, as city council granted the committee a $50,000 loan guarantee in April.

“The City of Ottawa has agreed to a loan guarantee with our bank to give us some bridge financing so we can dip into a reserve when we need to, whenever the festival is troubled with financial difficulties,” Duetta explains. “We’re one of the largest festivals in the city – and we’re treated like that – it’s a very important event to Ottawa, and their support with that financial backing is evidence of that. The city recognizes how important we are to the cultural and diverse make-up of our city. ”

In addition, Debra Beauregard, an event specialist with the city, says the agreement will allow the city to monitor the festival’s books, ensuring Pride’s improving fiscal health continues.

“The city will review the books at the end of the festival and say, ‘Okay, where are you guys at?'” she says, adding that the agreement is also the city’s “sign of confidence” in Pride’s financial turn-around.

“The board is doing an amazing job,” Beauregard says.

In another potential cost-cutting measure, Duetta says the loan guarantee should allow the committee to participate in the city’s insurance program.

If the committee qualifies, Duetta says Pride’s insurance premium would drop from the $24,000 budgeted this year to an annual premium of about $250.

“And this would be a precedent-setting situation, because none of the other festivals in Ottawa are currently covered under this insurance,” says Shannon Salisbury, Pride’s communications director. “And, in fact, none of the other festivals even knew that they might be able to be covered.”

In addition to vastly improving its financial future, the make-up of the committee itself has stabilized, as all of the board’s current members also served the festival in some capacity last year.

And this year’s volunteer levels also look good, Salisbury says. Currently, about 60 people have signed on as volunteers for the weeklong celebration.

“We need about 80, we would like about 100, but we can never have too many,” Salisbury says of the volunteers.

To help secure the festival’s finances well into the future, Duetta says the organization – which recently moved into Egale Canada’s Cooper St offices to help reduce its overhead – will begin the search for its first full-time, paid executive director this fall.

He adds that “the position will pay for itself three times over in the first year,” as it will allow Pride to raise funding and secure sponsorships year-round.

“We need to stabilize the organization, continue building confidence in our abilities to function, and the success will follow,” he says. “And watch what happens in three years, we won’t be having these (financial) conversations – things look very, very healthy.”