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Outfest’s message to supporters after “perfect storm” resulting in financial crisis: “Let us regain your trust”

Outfest means the world to me and has provided me with many of my favorite moments with community for more than 20 years. It is going through a turbulent time and trying to get back on track.

This message was sent out today by Outfest Interim Executive Director Christopher Racster:

In Outfest’s 42-year history we have survived other seemingly insurmountable challenges and proven our resilience. Any organization with such a long life-span will face these moments. Those that are built upon a solid foundation of service to the community often emerge stronger. As will we. To this point, we are thankful to have received a tremendous outpouring of support and goodwill from so many of you that have been a part of our family for years.

As a former Outfest Executive Director, I have returned to help guide Outfest through this difficult time. I am happy to share that I will be acting as Interim Executive Director with my goal of helping stabilize our beloved institution. Our work is extremely personal to me. Outfest was the place I found my community, became a Major Donor, and began my career as a queer filmmaker. In 2011, when former Executive Director, Kirsten Schaffer reached out to me to join Outfest as a member of staff, I leapt at the opportunity to give back to an organization that has given all of us so much. I say all this so that you understand my deep dedication to rebuilding a vital and sustainable organization.

So, what happened? This year Outfest faced a perfect storm. Inflation has continued to increase the cost of goods and services. Corporate supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community have faced fierce attacks by Conservatives, softening financial support. Mergers among entertainment entities have trimmed sponsorship budgets. And, the entertainment industry strikes impacted both our ability to mount programming and the personal finances of many of our longstanding donors.

Our core program is a film festival, a large-scale production with dozens of vendors and contractors, a tireless staff often working overtime, and variable attendance as we begin to return to a new-normal post-Covid. Our past successes have also allowed us to launch more education and mentoring programs, which also require sizable staff and resources. With quickly rising expenses and a difficult fundraising environment, a financial crisis can become evident all at once.

As the extent of our financial crisis dramatically accelerated, the Board of Directors pivoted quickly, making difficult and painful choices to assure the continuity of the organization. Programming was paused and we were left with no option other than to layoff our dedicated and valued staff. Unfortunate timing as the team was in the process of forming a union that would assure that their voices were heard in shaping the operation and growth of the organization.

What are we doing about it? I have worked to assure we have an accurate account of our debts and initiated conversations with our creditors to negotiate a repayment process. We are working with outside advisors to review and update our processes. The Board is in the process of electing new officers to ensure fresh eyes on planning and budgets as we move forward in a more scaled back form. We are committing to transparency and continued stakeholder dialogue. And, we are moving forward with unionization conversations with our staff in preparation for their return.

Shortly, we will begin a series of town halls and focus groups where we can hear directly from our members, filmmakers, volunteers, and partners regarding their concerns and thoughts on what Outfest needs to be to best serve our community and our storytellers. From here we can build our long-term programmatic strategy and plan for fundraising. Funds we raise will be divided between a reserve, debt repayment, and programming.

What will 2024 look like? We will focus on our core mission – creating spaces for our community to come together and celebrate, working with partners to screen the best in queer cinema, and producing some of our education and mentoring programming to continue to assure we foster new talent. The exact form of these efforts will take shape in the coming months informed by your input and our fundraising. We will continue to share our plans as they evolve.

How can you help? Let us regain your trust – give us your feedback, participate in one of our focus groups or town halls, reach out to me or our Board members directly. Your voice will be invaluable to our efforts to ensure that we can rebuild a solid, sustainable, mission focused organization that will continue to live on.

You have our profound gratitude and we humbly ask for your continued support!



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