Next, I wanted a symbol for CavanKerry. Recognizing that a well conceived logo would go a long way towards advertising the press and would come to represent our books, I obsessed over this one. I wanted it to announce as many of CKP’s values as possible. I searched the Book of Kells and every book on Irish and Celtic imagery that I could find. I chose the linked horizontal circles for their separate identities, their friendship, and relatedness; each intricate, complex, and richly colored. They are the counties of Cavan and Kerry. They are my mother and father. They are my writing and together they are my country.
But the circles are far more than my history; they represent the equality of aesthetics that CavanKerry would represent. Having lived a good part of my writing life on the outside, it’s always distressed me how many journals, presses, and university programs emphasize and support only one type of poem to the exclusion of all others. My goal was to create a press that could not be defined by one aesthetic, but rather one that was inclusive. CavanKerry would not publish only my personal preference in poems but would rather strive for artistic diversity by representing a broad range of aesthetics. I am always honored and delighted when people comment that CKP writers are so different from one another and that other than the fineness of the art, one cannot define the poetry that CKP will publish. CKP looks for voices—diverse, distinct voices that are honest and accessible.
Not for Profit
One of our most critical steps was that we needed to establish the press as a not-for-profit. Since sales would never support us, grants would be necessary. And grants equaled not-for-profit. I had also reassured Alan that his money would not just dissipate; I truly believed in what I was about to do, and likewise, that once people and foundations found out about what we were doing, they would want to help support us through donations and grants. We would create a community and the community would help to keep itself alive.
I spoke with Sara Gorham at Sarabande and was given the name of an attorney who specialized in creating not-for-profits (her generosity also included suggestions for printers and a designer.) She cautioned me that to apply myself would be tricky at best, since the government did not view publishing per se as a not-for-profit venture. (Clearly, they’re more than mildly delusional about the profitability of publishing poetry!) With his help, once we defined our publishing program (which initially included First Books, Notable Voices, Reprints, Critical Collections, and Special Projects) and built a Board of Directors, we were defined as a not for profit/ 501(C)(3) organization and given five years to establish enough donor support to warrant permanent not for profit status.
Our Board of Directors
It was also clear that we needed a Board of Directors that would include experts in all of the arenas that our work would take us— a not-for-profit expert, a publisher/editor, poets, of course— and I found these in my teachers, colleagues and friends. I approached my teachers, Molly Peacock, Jerry Stern, and Louis Simpson, and poets Afaa Michael Weaver and Baron Wormser, whose creative work and integrity I admired and valued. Molly introduced me to Declan Spring, publisher/editor of New Directions, friend and not for profit guru, Didi Goldenhar, and Sandra Gold, a powerhouse of a woman and intellect and founder/chair of her own not-for-profit. Rounding out the Board along with Alan and me.
Fundraising was also a challenge. It rapidly became clear that my fantasy that we would readily attract supporters once our mission was clear and we were fully functioning was naïve. Not that we didn’t find grantors and donors, we very definitely did, but not as many and not as quickly as I had hoped. I was partially responsible for that.
It was my decision that we would not solicit donor support until we were well under way and had a track record that would validate our right to support. Our attorneys and accountant both disagreed with me on this but I was adamant; we waited for two years before we started an annual appeal program. In the meantime, we added a grant writer to our staff and began the exploration of available funding. During our second year, we were awarded our first 2 grants: one for LaurelBooks from the Gold Foundation which included an annual commitment to co-sponsor our Literature of Illness and Disability imprint, and the second from The Puffin Foundation for the cover of our first Laurel Book, Life With Sam. But these were from 2 private funders, it would be awhile before we could qualify for federal and NJ grants; these also required audits. In due time we received grants from NEA, NJ State Council on the Arts, and the NJ Cultural Trust along with grants from other private foundations.
Our advance period was up in 2004. We held our breath as our application for 501(C)(3) was reviewed by the Internal Revenue Service. Several tests had to be conducted on our donor numbers and would decide whether or not we had garnered enough support to warrant final 501(C)(3) status. Surprisingly, the emphasis was on the number of donors, not on the amount of their checks, so in the view of the IRS, a gift of $5 was the same as $1,000. We feared that our initial reluctance to appeal for donations until we could demonstrate that we warranted donor support significantly reduced the number of people we eventually attracted as supporters.
We were 2 years behind where we needed to be and though I still hold fast to the morality of that position, I spent that whole final year friend-and-fund-raising, in a constant state of high anxiety. The other way we could have added significantly to our donor base was if we had agreed to conduct a competition or charged reading fees for each manuscript we read. Both would have added hundreds of names to our list of supporters. But once again, these were non-negotiable; we had built our house on ‘no competitions’ and ‘no reading fees.’ We would not back pedal; principle would supersede practical.
The IRS had given us 4 to 5 years to do the critical work of building a viable press and community outreach program. In September of 2005, we received our final determination from the IRS that we were in fact made a 501(C)(3) public charity. We were afloat! We did it!