Maker’s Nation is still very much in a bootstrap-y stage, and in addition to volunteering my time with no compensation, most of the non-program money in last year’s budget came out of my own pocket. I’m still learning how to fundraise for a nonprofit and set aside my proud independence to ask other people for money, but I also know that I will need to continue contributing some of my own funds to the organization as I get various wheels in motion toward financial solvency. (Nonprofits are still businesses, after all.)
There are also “softer” things that I can do to help Maker’s Nation grow, and one of those things is attending conferences and events that could help me widen my circle of successful makers and small business experts, build a larger audience for the organization, and start to plant seeds in other locations where I’d like to see Maker’s Nation to expand down the road.
One conference in particular that I’ve wanted to attend for a few years now is Craftcation, and I’ve heard from countless maker friends and colleagues who have attended that it’s a can’t-miss event. The four-day conference at the end of March hosts about 400 people in Ventura, California, and I had the chance to meet the bad-ass organizers, Delilah and Nicole, at School House Craft last fall in Seattle. If there was any year worth attending the conference, 2015 would be a great year to do it. I also know a lot of amazing people that will be there, so in addition to being a business-focused trip, I’d have a fair share of fun with my friends, peers, and colleagues. (I like to profess that I’m "not that crafty,” but hanging around Kim, Diane, Rosalie, Kari, and Marlo, among others, is a hoot!)
By the Numbers
As is my analytical way, I first needed to make sure it was financially feasible for me to attend, and the money for this trip was going to have to come out of my personal budget—Maker’s Nation has neither the funds nor the direct justification to support this kind of expense. Traveling to Southern California from Portland is a little more involved than driving up to Seattle and staying with friends, so I threw together a quick estimate of costs. Flights were looking pretty inexpensive, but my total including the conference ticket and estimates for food and beverage came in just shy of $1,200 (even factoring in a generous room share offer). Incidentally, that’s pretty close to how much I donated directly to the organization in 2014 (in addition to covering a little more than $600 in legal expenses).
I dove into my personal budget and started plugging in numbers, trimming some discretionary spending amounts to see if I could make it work and still leaving a buffer to compensate for any fluctuations in my monthly income projections. Being self-employed does require a bit more caution than having a regular day job. When all was said and done—and no doubt because I was emotionally driven to make the numbers work—I ended up with a big satisfying check mark in the “financial feasibility” box.
But before I could jump in and purchase my ticket and flight last week, I hesitated. Something wasn’t sitting right, even though the numbers were telling me everything would be okay. Was I letting my emotional desires to attend this conference outrank what I really should do? Was this the most effective use of my own personal money to achieve the goals I’ve set forth with Maker’s Nation?
The Hard Truth
The more I took a hard look at the options, the more I started to question the true feasibility of attending. Despite some heartwarming encouragement from a few people on Twitter and wanting to support the hard work of Craftcation’s organizers (I do love being a cheerleader for the maker cause), I had to take a practical look at what this would achieve for Maker’s Nation. But try as I might, all of the benefits that I could come up with were intangibles. Even if I set goals for adding new email subscribers or connecting with prospective educators or members, there were no guarantees that I’d achieve them, nor that those goals would translate down the road into hard numbers, whether through engagement or revenue for the organization.
I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth saying again that I have a stellar role model of fiscal responsibility in Justin, and when the sting of his no-nonsense advice wore off (such is the nature of emotionally driven decisions), the truth was evident. When it came right down to it, I had the choice of spending $1,200 to attend a conference with soft, indirect outcomes, or contributing that same $1,200 into the Maker’s Nation budget to help offset the costs of producing programs and maintaining the organization’s infrastructure directly. None of my arguments in favor of the former would hold up against the benefits of the latter.
Am I sad that I won’t be able to attend Craftcation this year? Yes. I will miss spending time with my maker friends and building new relationships with those I don’t know. But am I confident that I can be more productive focusing that funding right where it’s needed most? Yes. This is the right decision.
Emotional decisions are easy to justify in our hearts and can quickly outweigh the more rational or practical reasoning that happens in our brains. While I’m typically an advocate for balancing the two in an "ambidextrous" way, I have to acknowledge that sometimes the constraints of the situation force you to take a really hard look at why your emotions are hitting so hard and where your priorities actually lay. In the case of Craftcation, I can always set the goal to attend in 2016, and find other, less costly ways to achieve the softer benefits that I would have gained from going in the meantime.
What about you? Have you ever been faced with a similar decision? Did it pay off? Did you opt for the emotional choice instead of the rational one? How did it go?