It’s that time of year – May – when charities’ financial results from the past year have been compiled and filed with the IRS and many state governments. We’re thrilled to be able to share that information with you.
2020 brought a lot of challenges, but we’re proud of the developments and progress that our organization has made possible. Early in 2020, a paper by Ben Ramanauskas we funded was published in an academic journal. Throughout the year, we talked with multiple professors and leaders in science – Anders Sandberg at Oxford, Aubrey de Gray at SENS, and Hugh Herr at MIT.
We’ve added some of the best scientists and engineers to our research teams, with expertise in quantitative biology, software engineering, and cell signaling. We started a strategic, internal R&D project in anatomy and physiology, to create what will ultimately be a CAD-like, medically useful anatomy customization tool. In parallel, we started a project to summarize scientific literature about the cell biology of skin, fur, feathers, and scales (the integument project), and to start organizing recommendations on ways of modifying those features. We’ve also grown as an organization as well. We added 3 board members at the start of 2020, we’ve hired more employees and contractors to help us scale, and we’re always learning and improving how we do things.
And those are just the headline developments. There are other discussions elsewhere if you want to read more!
In our 2020 fiscal year (our fiscal year is the same as the calendar year), we had a total of $26,921.30 in revenues, of which $17,550 (65%) was attributable to major donors and $8,968.53 (33%) was donated through Patreon.
We had expenses of $26,779.12. The largest portion of expenses is attributed to legal and professional services – $10,919.08. This was divided among compliance contractors (discussed further below), a payroll contractor, and an accounting firm. We used $6,329.44 for investments in information technology equipment and services, and a further $4,568.16 in part-time employee compensation, with most employee time directed towards IT, especially research, procurement, and deployment of productivity and information tools used across all activities. $2,328.36 in direct costs went towards program services in outreach and education, such as putting on panels and making podcasts possible. We spent $593.34 in marketing. $1,705.66 went towards taxes and regulatory/governmental fees, the majority of which ($1,452.16) went towards payroll and employment taxes. Finally, $335.08 was spent in banking fees and transaction costs. At the end of 2020, we wrapped up with a net income of $142.18.
Our balance sheet at the end of 2020 consisted of $5,273.13 in cash, as a result of retained earnings of $5,130.95 entering 2020, combined with the $142.18 of net income.
Detail on compliance activities:
As a continuation on our note about compliance contractors: At the start of 2020, all compliance functions were contracted via Harbor Compliance, as they had been in prior years. Services included maintenance of the corporation with the Massachusetts Secretary of State and others; fundraising registrations with Attorneys General of several states including Massachusetts; monitoring activities, providing guidance on activities, and screening for any changes in regulations; and providing for Registered Agents in Massachusetts and a few other states.
However, we had been gaining confidence in bringing these functions in house. At a previous Board meeting, we had decided that by the end of 2020, we would have all functions other than Registered Agents taken in-house. This decision was prompted by desires to (a) reduce costs, (b) improve results and the correctness of activities, and (c) reduce extended periods of reliance on external contractors not deeply interested in our success. Therefore, in the middle of 2020, we hired our own Daniel Davies as a contractor, on the recommendation of two independent accountants who considered all relevant regulations and responsibilities including relevant interactions between US and UK laws, and the intensity of work and commitment needed. Daniel is generously working at a below-market rate, and he was recused from discussions involving his compensation and terms. As a result of this change, we have fulfilled all Board goals in this matter: we have reduced costs, improved results, and removed all reliance on Harbor Compliance except for their Registered Agent services. (RA services are heavily commoditized, and not a concern in this discussion.)
Compared to 2019, when we had spent $7,008.50 through Harbor Compliance, in 2020 we were able to reduce compliance costs to $6,594. Of that, $1,937.50 was spent on Harbor Compliance, and $4,656.50 of compensation was used for Daniel.
Notes on accounting, reporting, and bookkeeping:
Our financial results are prepared as carefully as possible. However, our results are neither reviewed nor audited by accountants.
Financial numbers that appear in filings and tax returns may differ from numbers reported here for a variety of reasons, including differences in accounting year (in some cases, numbers are required to be reported on accrual rather than cash basis), differences in terminology, and personal error. Nevertheless, we are extremely confident in the numbers we report, and errors, if any exist, are small in both relative and absolute terms.
The bookkeeping services we purchased in 2020 were intended to improve the quality and accuracy of results. However, we were disappointed – we caught several problems: errors, miscategorizations, and accounting shortcuts, that would not be acceptable to us or our stakeholders. Moreover, we found the external firm was very slow, especially at communication. We terminated that relationship, and manually repeated all 2020 analysis in-house to protect against any remaining undetected errors.
Return on investment versus an endowment:
Notably, we believe that our return on investment of cash will be higher than if we save up with an endowment. (Here, “investment” includes giving out smaller grants rather than saving up for large grants, and also includes our own revenue growth). Therefore, we will avoid saving excess amounts of cash, and we will also avoid initializing an investment endowment because our expected ROI on expenses is higher than 7 to 10%. We are a nonprofit, and we’re also a startup in our early growth phases. This represents a shift in thinking from our thinking a few years ago, when we primarily anticipated to save for undertaking fewer, larger activities.
That said – any affluent individuals reading this are welcome to chip in for an endowment or otherwise. :3
We achieved a lot in 2020, despite many headwinds. We’re proud of the progress we made, and we couldn’t have done it without you!
We understand that many of our 2020 expenses are accounted as overhead expenses, and we are undertaking those expenses to support our program services while simultaneously making sure our organization is scalable, especially in terms of IT, compliance, policy, and institutional knowledge and learning.
At the same time, we know overhead expenses are not particularly attractive for donors. Even if donors don’t have an issue with expenses, let’s just be honest: overhead just isn’t as exciting to support. Thankfully, major donor support allows us to absorb overhead expenses, allowing the vast majority donor funds to go towards program services. Major donor support is committed to supporting our organization and can be relied upon through 2021 and longer.
Our ongoing goals in 2021 are to undertake more research and outreach activities, to grow revenues organically, and continue investing in our growth and scalability. We’ll continue closely monitoring overhead expenses and do everything we can to reduce the percentage they take of our overall budget. And – we’ve already given a $4,000 grant to Hugh Herr’s lab at MIT. We’re off to a great start!
We can’t wait to share more with you throughout 2021.
Note added 2021-06-02: We discovered a small clerical error, a truncation of the FEIN number in our filed 990-EZ, Item D. The error occurred because we attempted to type “82-4415111” in a space limited to 9 characters, and the dash should have been omitted. We have confirmed with the IRS that it will not be an issue, and we do not need to take any additional actions. Thank you!