How to UnMake a Makerspace build thread: "What do you make?"

"What do you make?"  

The TARDIS door at MPR2.
This is the first question I get asked by most people when they encounter me incidentally at work.  I meet new people on tours, or at Tag's Hardware, or just walking down the street.  My answer varies from robots to rally cars at the beginning.  I have said all kinds of answers but most of them were a lie at the time and described something I had done in the past.  One day a sweet old woman was on a tour I was giving asked me this question.  I was doing the tour in between working on some sort of infrastructure improvement.  I explained the specific project and she responded with a very succinct  "So you Make Makerspaces?"

Now when people ask me that question I have a very specific answer canned and a few sentences.  "I make Makerspaces!  I work as the facilities manager.  I make sure tools work, people are safe and things make sense".  That was true.  For a while at least.

At the end of last year I put in a bunch of orders and nothing was ordered.  It turns out we ran into a cash crunch as an organization.  I will go into this deeper in a future post and how we are fixing it.  From this with no resources to do my job, I turned my attention to why I did not have the resources to do my job.  As time progressed, I used my extra time to understand the business of Making a Makerspace.  This system can best be described like my pants and waist since I stopped working out at Crossfit.  My waste grew and I lied to myself saying that my pants still fit.  Then one day you go to buy a suit and the tailor measuring you says 53 when you are expecting 38.  It's not like I didn't have a mirror, I just didn't have enough perspective to see the change and notice the issues.

Let me make one thing very clear.  Being a not for profit does not mean running with no surplus.  It means that you are tax exempt and can't distribute dividends or profit.

We ran with greater than 90% earned income.  If we had an unexpected expense or drop in revenue for even a brief period, we would have issues weathering it.  In a December of 2013 we had both a drop in revenue, and an unexpected expense. I didn't know what was going on.

I have developed a system for when I don't know something.

Step one: Buy a book on the subject.
Step two: Read it and become an expert.
Step three: Make stuff.

I then went on a buying spree on amazon since I didn't know why we were where we were.  If the money did not make sense, lets look at that Nonprofit Bookkeeping & Accounting For Dummies This started to give me a better picture of the intricacies of Not for Profit accounting.  All of my experience was based on Cost accounting, or Throughput accounting as applied in a lean manufacturing environment.  In either case, I would use quantifiable data to make decisions to either maximize profits or reduce bottlenecks in a manufacturing process.  With a not for profit organization we start to add some additional data points.  As a not for profit, profit was not the goal, programs are the deliverable.  This was a much more qualitative measurement.  But how does this fit onto a balance sheet?

The next book I bought was The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management.  I poured over it to understand the differences between a not for profit and a for profit.  I started to look deeper at the numbers and we were running with a very low margin of revenue and social capital.

Working for Artisan's Asylum as an organization has been very hard, emotionally and mentally.  I ended up taking a position of Operations manager (Transitional Manager) after our Interim executive director stepped down.  I figured that I could just find a book that talked about how to do this. How To Do Everything had some great tips but I was in the same position as my predecessors, no one ever did the thing we were doing.  Lots of not for profits exist.  Lots of shared shop space exist.  Lots of Makerspaces exist, some with more people, some with more tools, some with more space.   None at the level Artisan's Asylum is.  Every time we do something for the first time, it is the first time it has been done to the level that we need to do it.  Gui gave three levels of projects he does, awesome, ridiculous and ludicrous.  Being that that is how we plan projects, it has been hard to translate this to GAAP.

The first thing we had to do was stop and admit we had problems.  Our staff, our board, and members took on our biggest community project to date.  We were going to fix OUR Makerspace.  One of my favorite parts of Battlebots competitions was the open build threads where people gave detailed build reports as a story.  Not much was held back.  Our story has just begun.  I want to start to chronicle some of our failures and successes for not just the Artisan's Asylum members, but for all other community workshops to learn from.  This will be a build thread and a place to document for me what has happened.

Please leave specific questions in the comments for future blog posts on topics you would like to see covered.  This is not an Asylum project and only reflects my personal views and experiences.

No comments: