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This is Blair.

Nobody said starting a not-for-profit was easy.

And while it has been a labour of love since the beginning, it has been a challenging journey that I have enjoyed immensely so far. I enjoy building things from the ground up. Thankfully, Jenn and I have had each other while we construct this organization. I’ve been focusing more on the administrative side of things and it’s been a journey.

My background is in theatre and I’ve worked as an arts administrator as well as being on a Board for a children’s theatre so I have a lot of experience working in the not-for-profit sector. But everything looks a little bit different when you’re at the helm and trying to steer the ship in the right direction. Between dealing with lawyers, pulling together a (fantastic) Board of Directors, to writing grants and learning how much fun spreadsheets / budgets can be … well, it’s been learning a lot in a little amount of time.

When Jenn and I started the DIA, we had smaller dreams of creating an organization that focused on the lower East side of Toronto and doing work in the community there. Our Board pushed us to think bigger … and so we did. We realized that what we wanted to do would benefit not just an area of Toronto but all of Canada. And so we went big. When the opportunity to apply for funding came up that fit with our program The Stories of Us, we decided it was worth a (long) shot. It was a surprise that we managed to get through the first round. So, okay! Onwards and upwards. We worked feverishly on the full application, revised it, edited it, and submitted it. We waited but didn’t think much would come of it – we were a small, recently incorporated NFP with a minuscule budget. What were the chances we would get a three year grant from the federal government?

Apparently the chances were pretty good.

Receiving confirmation that we were approved for three years of funding was incredible. We were thrilled and besides ourselves with excitement! The first big funding we applied for, we received! It was the green light we needed to know what we were doing was right. And … oh yeah, we actually have to do the work we said we were going to now.

This is where the learning curve really kicked in, for me. Over the summer, I had to put together a budget for our Program Officers to be submitted to the government. Jenn and I thought about what line items we would need and submitted our first draft.

There were changes…and restrictions we didn’t realize we had such as how much money we could actually ask for.

So I adjusted the budget and resubmitted.

Of course there were more changes and adjustments to make.

It took five different budgets to get it to a place that was agreeable and made sense. Google Sheets and I became the best of friends … or at least frien-emies. For someone who never really excelled at math, it was, at times, an exercise in patience. But it was also a challenge that I enjoyed, specifically figuring out what went where and making things add up … it was satisfying to see those line items come together.

I learned a lot about the process of writing a grant and putting a budget together and feel more confident that the next time I have to do it, it will be a little bit easier.

Along the way, I’ve been working full time at my ‘real life’ job as a designer. I usually come home after work and go back to work to do all the little things that I need to get done to help get the organization get up on its feet. Things like putting together an employee handbook, figuring out the policies that will guide the organizations, and creating new relationships with potential partners. This is a labour of love for sure.

But when I get to step out from behind the computer and interact with the people we are working to help, as we did this past weekend at Culture Days, it gives everything more meaning, more reason, and more urgency.

This is just the beginning. There is a lot more to go. We have a lot of little details to sort out and refine. But thanks to this contribution, we are able to bring on an extra pair of hands to help out. It’s exciting. And it’s a little bit terrifying. But it should be a little bit terrifying. This is new for most of us and we’re trying to create something from scratch. At the end of the day, we want to help our fellow citizens and tell the stories of Canadians. Our story is just beginning and we are excited to have you along for the ride.

– Blair

Next steps for us:

  • Continue making connections
  • Recruit more volunteer translators through events such as the upcoming Centennial College Volunteer Fair
  • Refine and rework our workbooks / process of story intake

Blair is a trained playwright, designer by trade, and traveler for life. He is the Executive Director of the DIA and loves all kinds of food.

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