Colony takes realistic tack to future funding

By Craig Westcott | The Irish Loop Post

Despite the popular perception that Ferryland's Colony of Avalon archaeological foundation is surviving on government grants, the truth is that the operation gets most of its money from its own sources. That was the key message delivered by the foundation's chairman earlier this month at the group's annual general meeting.

Mike Harrington noted too that the board changed its accounting firm in the past year, hiring former board member Tom Nemec. "Tom is giving us the personal attention that we wanted that we really weren't getting previously," said Harrington, something that looked to be evident in the meticulous notes attached to the Colony's financial statements. "The Colony and Tom have spent a lot of time together making improvements in our reporting and I think we have a more concise and easier to understand financial report."

Harrington said while the Colony still receives government funding, some 62 per cent of its revenues are earned from admission charges, gift shop sales, donations, fundraising ventures and other self-generated sources. Between them, the federal and provincial governments contribute about 38 per cent of the Colony's funds. That includes some employment grants.

"This is grant money that has to be applied for," said Harrington. "It isn't guaranteed money and there's a lot of competition for grant money these days. The Colony spends a lot of time and effort (with much help from board secretary Jane Severs) in tracking down and applying for grant money. So, it really keeps us going."

The biggest source of self-generated revenue is the gift shop, Harrington noted, which contributes some 31 per cent of the Colony's total revenue. Admissions contribute about 14 per cent, and donations, at some $32,307 last year, constitute about 12 per cent.

In total, the Colony recorded some $337,418 in revenue last year and spent $340,173, leaving it with an operating deficit of $2,755.

On the expenditure side, Harrington said, half of the Colony's money goes to salaries. "The Colony last year employed 25 people from the Southern Shore, 11 of whom were students," he said. Supplies for "the best gift shop on the Southern Shore," he added, were the second highest expense. "And, unfortunately, we have some debt financing that we have to take care of," said Harrington. "I personally hate debt and interest... We have two loans from years ago that we're trying to retire. We haven't had to borrow money in a while."

Looking to the future, Harrington warned the Colony should expect that funding from the government will decrease. "For sure it's not going to increase," he said. "That 38 per cent is not going to get bigger, it's going to get smaller. So, the contribution on the other side of the pie has to increase. Also, the grant money that we receive is usually very specific money - it can only be used for certain purposes, it can't be used to pay the light bill, or to pay salaries, unless it is specific for salaries, like some of the student salaries, for instance. We can't use it for operating funds, so we rely on admissions and membership (sales) and the gift shop. With that in mind, the primary goal of the board and the Colony of Avalon is sustainment of this business. And I call it a business on purpose, because I think we've got to think of the Colony of Avalon as a business and a lot of times it's not really thought of as a business. But just like any other business, there's profit and loss and we need to be thinking of it that way."

The best way to improve the business, Harrington ventured, is to enhance the visitor experience. "This is the daily goal for all of our employees when they're here and it's the goal of the board overall," he said. "We continually try to improve our programs. We added 'Dig for an Hour' to our other dig options. The 'Colonial Cook-off' that we started a number of years ago had a record number of participants (this past year). And our student tours were booked solid this year, both prior to the season and at the end of the season. So, we did very good in that regard."

Harrington said the Colony also improved the look of its lobby in its visitor centre using grant money from the government.

The past year saw the Colony host Memorial University's SHAD program, which was a net financial benefit, and hosted the 'Homesteadapalooza' which featured Newfoundland Backyard Gardeners and Homesteaders of Witless Bay. "That, surprisingly, sold out and was a success for the Colony," Harrington said.

The Colony also increased it social media presence, Harrington said, starting out by tweeting finds from the archaeological dig, which attracted worldwide attention. "It's really interesting where we get people chiming in on our dig finds," he said. The Colonial Cook-off videos also get "big ratings," he added.

Harrington said the Colony has reinvigorated its fundraising committee. "We had a strong initial effort in fundraising years ago, but that started to lose steam, people got burned out by it," he said. "It's very difficult to get corporations and individual donors to even talk to you. And the competition for the charity dollar is very intense. But we have a new, enthusiastic group of people strategizing and brainstorming about that. So hopefully, we'll do better or bring it back up to where it was."

The Colony has also established a committee with the goal of increasing membership. "We're working on a membership enhancement program that will easily cover the cost of membership," he said. "There will be more to come on that. Think about this: a 2019 membership is a good Christmas gift if you want to give it to somebody."

In highlights not directly related to the financial report, Harrington pointed out the late Marilyn Wilcott, who passed away last year and had been a big part of the Colony, was honoured by the Newfoundland Archaeological Society with an award established in her name. The Colony itself has decided to name its conservation laboratory in her honour.

In addition, said Harrington, the Colony's chief archaeologist, Dr. Barry Gaulton, in concert with the Colony, received Memorial University's President's Award for university community engagement. And one of Gaulton's crewmembers, won the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology's graduate student paper competition.

"So, congratulations to all of us," Harrington said.

Posted on December 20, 2018 .