Journey to nonprofit: Winters Open Mic prepares for the future

The Winters Open Mic is free and is open to the public every third Thursday and currently hosted at 22 Main St. at 7 p.m. (Courtesy photo)

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The recently revamped Winters Open Mic, after a hiatus during the pandemic, opened its doors again and did so as a 509(a)2 non-profit. Sam Hawk, the organization’s executive director, shared what exactly this means for Winters Open Mic, how it came about, and how other organizations in Winters can do the same.

Hawk explained that the motivation behind making Winters Open Mic a nonprofit was to, “build a self-sustaining permanent open mic in Winters.”

“Our status as a public charity enables us to support artistic growth and development in our community and enhance our local culture,” because, “Winters Open Mic is a 100 percent volunteer operation.”

“Everyone involved…donate(s) their time, energy, and ideas to create a professional-quality performance platform for amateur musicians and poets.” But Hawk notes that, “it takes a lot of time, energy, technical expertise, and money to run an open mic,” and that, “as a nonprofit, Winters Open Mic can accept donations and support from sponsors, which enable us to serve the community in a sustainable fashion.”

To make this change possible, Hawk said the organization required lots of planning, a process that began in March as he researched into and developed a checklist for what was needed for an organization to become a nonprofit. 

“The checklist included filing the appropriate applications, assembling a board of directors, developing the organization’s bylaws, and then holding a meeting with the board to approve the bylaws and set an agenda.” Hawk described the passion and efficacy of the assembled board, which includes Treasurer Corinne Martinez, Secretary Rebecca Fridae, Directors Gregg Partridge and Gar House, and Board Chair Jesse Loren.

The organization then determined which nonprofit model most fit for Winters Open Mic, and applied for tax-exempt status with the IRS, as well as relevant paperwork and applications with the Office of the Attorney General, the California Secretary of State, and the Franchise Tax Board. When their application was approved in October of this year, Winters Open Mic officially became a 501(c)3 status nonprofit with the sub-category designation of 509(a)2. 

What this actually means, Hawk explained, is that “Winters Open Mic will fund operations through grants, donations, and sponsor support rather than requiring any one individual to pay for equipment or resources necessary for the program’s success.”

With this model, Winters Open Mic will be able to provide, “quality audio equipment, a venue for performances, and opportunities for musicians and poets to perform,” as well as, “educational opportunities for locals to be trained as crew members and assist with setting up and running live sound at events,” which according to Hawk means, “Winters Open Mic is positioned to thrive over the years, even if leadership, board members, or crew members change.”

“This program fulfills a key role in Winters’ development as a vibrant arts-focused community,” Hawk said.

In addition to helping new musicians and poets hone their performance skills, Winters Open Mic programs are a way for seasoned artists to try out new material on live audiences and to meet other musicians and potential collaborative partners. Local businesses through sponsorships and community members through donations are afforded tangible ways (to) show their support of our growing creative community. All of this is a win-win for Winters, which continues to attract more visitors as our reputation as an arts community grows.”

In advice to other organizations in Winters interested in becoming a nonprofit, Hawk suggested first and foremost visiting the IRS website on the topic to help determine which type of nonprofit structure their organization aligns with.

“Follow guidance for assembling a board of directors and carefully select members based on the skills, abilities, and resources they will bring to your board,” Hawk advised, and suggested looking for online resources like the Council of Nonprofits, as well as, “(being) sure to get legal advice and have a qualified attorney review important documents, especially the bylaws.”

Even if the process seems like a cumbersome task, Hawk heartily encourages anyone with any interest to pursue it. 

“If you believe in your project and the good it will bring to your community, then forming a successful nonprofit organization is well worth the time, effort, and cost,” Hawk said.

Winters Open Mic happens every third Thursday of the month at 13 Main St. (formerly the Palms). Shows start at 6 p.m. with sign-ups to perform starting at 5 p.m. The next Winters Open Mic is taking place on Thursday, Jan. 19. For more information, visit, email, or visit its social media platforms by searching @wintersopenmic on Facebook and Instagram.

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