Diary: Where does the money go? (Part I)

"Angels in the Dome" Photo of the VATT Dome by Ryan Ferguson of Flyback Productions

In a recent post, I put out a short beg for folks to actually subscribe at $10 a month (more if you want!) and keep this blog, and the Foundation, going. This has brought up, quite rightly, a question about where exactly this money goes.

The first item, of course, is to pay for the cost of this blog itself. At the moment, that's covered. But the bigger goal is to have surplus from this funding go to support the Vatican Observatory Foundation and its works.

What is it that the Foundation does? If you want to know what the Vatican Observatory Foundation has been up to lately, click here for a pdf of our most recent newsletter.

What about the details of our funding? Where does it come from, where does it go? That's covered in our annual report, (click here).

The numbers in the annual report are the accountant’s numbers, which is different from actual cash flow. For one thing, it includes in our expenses the depreciation of the telescope. That is not cash we're actually spending, though it does mean that we should be putting away money to replace our telescope at the end of its useful life, probably 30 years from now. For another, it includes the “salaries” of two Jesuits (including me) which are in fact not paid as cash but donated by the Jesuit community. This is put on the books to let people compare our Foundation to other foundations, where their presidents and other folk doing the work are actually paid salaries.

So, to get a sense of what our actual cash flow situation is like, here's what's in this year's budget:

We budgeted $545,000 this year to keep our telescope, the VATT, running. That’s a fixed cost. (In fact we probably won’t spend that much because we are still looking to hire an engineer to replace one who left last year, who was promoted to a higher position at another telescope. It's tough being short handed; but it does save us the cost of a salary.)

In addition, we actually spend about $100,000 (not counting my "salary") in Education and Public Outreach. Much of that pays for itself…  the costs of me going on the road giving talks, which are then reimbursed by the people who invite me; running workshops, most of which have costs covered by those who attend them... and so forth.

The other expenses, about $150,000, are administration and fundraising. We have one part time lay employee, and one full-time employee (who looking to retire and be replaced by a Jesuit). Their salaries makes up the bulk of those costs, but we also have folded into these expenses the regular legal costs of doing business… accountants, lawyers, insurance, registration as a non-profit (which has to be done state by state, every state with different rules and paperwork and fees), etc. Also included in this are the costs of preparing our calendar and newsletters, which really are both EPO and fundraising... but, since they include envelopes to raise money, the accountants have to call that fundraising.

The cover of the 2018 Vatican Observatory official calendar

 Our income is mostly contributions from small family foundations and from individuals. Last year that brought in about $450,000… about half of that from a handful of foundations. We get the honoraria I receive, my royalties from Turn Left at Orion, some fees that we can collect from select users of the telescope, and the income from the blog… which is about 3% of what we need to run the telescope.

So, we need to come up with $800,000 cash every year to cover our costs. And we if we’re lucky we get about $500,000 a year in donations and grants.

You will note that we spend more than we get. By a lot. (Around $300,000). Yes, that is a problem. The bottom line is that if we don’t get a lot more donors involved, we’ll probably go broke within the next ten years.

So what are we going to do about that? That's the topic of another post. Watch this space...
Br. Guy Consolmagno

About Br. Guy Consolmagno

Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is Director of the the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he earned undergraduate and masters' degrees from MIT, and a Ph. D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona; he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps (Kenya), and taught university physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuits in 1989.

At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, observing Kuiper Belt comets with the Vatican's 1.8 meter telescope in Arizona, and applying his measure of meteorite physical properties to understanding asteroid origins and structure. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of a number of popular books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), and most recently Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial? (with Father Paul Mueller, SJ). He also has hosted science programs for BBC Radio 4, been interviewed in numerous documentary films, appeared on The Colbert Report, and for more than ten years he has written a monthly science column for the British Catholic magazine, The Tablet.

Dr. Consolmagno's work has taken him to every continent on Earth; for example, in 1996 he spent six weeks collecting meteorites with a NASA team on the blue ice regions of East Antarctica. He has served on the governing boards of the Meteoritical Society; the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (of which he was chair in 2006-2007); and IAU Commission 16 (Planets and Satellites). In 2000, the small bodies nomenclature committee of the IAU named an asteroid, 4597 Consolmagno, in recognition of his work. In 2014 he received the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences for excellence in public communication in planetary sciences.

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Diary: Where does the money go? (Part I) — 1 Comment

  1. “we are still looking to hire an engineer to replace one who left last year”
    I’m not saying I would pick up and move my family to work on a telescope in Arizona, but as a mechanical engineer Purdue graduate I would be curious as to where that job posting might be located.

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