On Saturday, May 4, 2019, members, staff, our board of directors, and the general public convened at Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, for the Swedenborg Foundation’s 169th Annual Meeting. It was a delight to connect with our constituents to review our successes from 2018 and tell them about the many initiatives they can expect to see from us in 2019! We don’t have video of the full business meeting to share this year, so we’re offering the following written review:
Swedenborg Foundation President Larry Conant provided opening welcome and remarks.
Next up, Executive Director Morgan Beard gave an insightful presentation on what we do and our next steps forward.
What We Do
- Write, direct, and produce original videos through the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel, home to our long-running web series Swedenborg & Life.
- Bring Swedenborg’s writings to life for a whole new generation of people through the work of our New Century Edition translation series.
- Provide comfort and inspiration for lovers of the printed word through our book publishing program.
- Offer a web and social media presence where people can learn more about Swedenborg’s life and thought and get new inspiration every day.
Next Steps Forward
In 2018, thanks to a very generous donation from a benefactor in Canada as well as the Asplundh Foundation, we were able to expand our studio space, invest in some new equipment, and hire additional personnel for technical support as well as community moderation. That, in turn, gave the team more free time to do long-term content development. If you watch the channel, you’ve already seen the results: A new show that launched in early 2019, and new episodes of Swedenborg & Life organized into thematic seasons.
Curtis talked about this more in his presentation, but the important thing to know is that we’re moving toward a network concept: a variety of shows, all catering toward different interests, under the banner of offTheLeftEye.
However, our next steps aren’t only about producing more content; they’re also about community.
Creating Community Online
Morgan shared that as we build our content, we’re also building an expanding audience of interested viewers. In 2018, we got between 4,000 and 5,000 comments on YouTube every month, reflecting not only a core viewership but a constant flow of new people who are discovering the channel, asking questions, and finding deep spiritual content. Our team of moderators responds to every one of those comments – and our Facebook accounts, and private messages and e-mails, and many other forms of contact besides. But for people who want to reach a broader group, last year we rebranded a Facebook group called Watching & Reading Swedenborg. This group has a mix of lifelong Swedenborgians and new people joining to ask questions, and the discussions there have been truly inspiring.
Creating Community in Person
Another step we’re taking to build community among the people who are finding Swedenborg online is to organize in-person gatherings where people can meet people they’ve seen on video, and, just as importantly, each other. Last year we had a test event in San Francisco, and we were really thrilled to get a mix of church-goers, fans of offTheLeftEye, and people who were just generally interested in Swedenborg. The event even led to some additional local meetups. We’re following up this year with three new events: The first one will be just a few days from now, May 9, in New York City; the second will be in July in Los Angeles; and the third will be in Philadelphia. We hope if you’re in the area you’ll come join us and experience one of these for yourself!
In the Books
Our first book release of 2018 was the Universe & I by George Dole, which explores what we know scientifically about the origins of life and the nature of the universe, and then weaves that into a Swedenborgian view of the meaning behind it all. The next was A New Key to the Bible by Bruce Henderson, a beginner’s guide to the correspondences of the Bible. Then there was Seven Days of Spiritual Evolution by Kent Rogers, which helps the reader explore the seven days of creation as a path to personal spiritual growth. We also had three new releases in the New Century Edition series—two short works in paperback (Other Planets and Last Judgement / Supplements) and one annotated Deluxe volume, The Shorter Works of 1758, which Series Editor Jonathan Rose presented on after Morgan.
Authors Kent Rogers and Bruce Henderson joined the event to discuss their books with readers before the meeting began and again at our community reception afterward.
The Financial Side
As the slide illustrates, our spending has been steadily increasing over the past few years, and all of those increases represent an investment in offTheLeftEye. That investment wasn’t just on our part, but on yours, too—this growth was only possible because of all the wonderful donors who have given generously to help support the work that we’re doing.
Who Helped Us
This year was a landmark year at the Foundation as we had the highest level of donations in recent history! We took an important step toward creating a sustainable future for offTheLeftEye with the establishment of the OffTheLeftEye Endowment Fund, which will provide income that will help support offTheLeftEye’s operations into the future. The fund was seeded through the generosity of several members of a local family. We’d also like to express our appreciation of the ongoing generosity of Dick and Sally Brickman, whose support truly allowed us to launch this new direction and is helping to move it into the future. We also owe a great debt to the Asplundh Foundation, without which many of our recent developments would not have possible.
In fact, all of our donors have been vital to our success, regardless of the amount, and we hope that as you hear more about what we’ve been doing you take a moment to appreciate all you’ve made possible.
This chart breaks down our sources of operating funds. You can see that the biggest piece of the pie is “drawdown,” which is money taken from our invested funds. This is kept an annual rate of 4.5% to ensure sustainability, so anything above and beyond that figure has to come from other sources of income. You can see that the biggest piece of that other income is donations and memberships. However, that 28% is not all of the donations we received this year; as you see, only about half of those donations were applied to our operating budget in 2018, and the rest went into restricted funds, like the OffTheLeftEye Endowment Fund. We also have a small amount of investment income earmarked to support operations, and of course we also have some income from book sales.
More for financial details, feel free to download a digital version of our Annual Report.
After Morgan’s presentation concluded, New Century Edition (NCE) Series Editor Jonathan Rose reported on the work of the NCE team.
Three New NCE Books
As Morgan mentioned during her presentation, the NCE team published three new books in 2018, and Jonathan had a fun anecdote to share about his findings during work on Last Judgment / Supplements. Last Judgment came out in the same year as Heaven and Hell, so you would think all the information about heaven is in Heaven and Hell, but in fact Last Judgment has some information about the afterlife that is not in Heaven and Hell!Jonathan reports that he was especially struck by the second chapter of Last Judgment. It has very comforting information—especially for anyone who thinks we are on the verge of destroying each other and the planet: the book says that humankind will never stop. There is not going to be that kind of apocalypse! God and heaven have a huge stake in this whole experiment continuing. See LJ 12—it’s a beautiful thing to meditate on, and in fact offTheLeftEye did a whole show based on it in February 2017 titled The Heaven Project.
One Revised Book: Secrets of Heaven, volume 2
Jonathan coyly reports that Secrets of Heaven has passed to within range of being able to solve Zeno’s paradox—they are getting closer and closer to finishing volume 15 of 15. There are only a few hundred numbers left.
Two New Members Joined the NCE Team as Copy Editors: Mary Wachsmann and Michael P. Russo
What’s Next from the NCE: The next book in the pipeline, close to being ready for publication, is The Shorter Works of 1763, a deluxe, annotated volume featuring the short works The Lord, Life, Faith, Sacred Scripture, and two short supplements to Swedenborg’s earlier work on the Last Judgment.
Sales and Downloads
Jonathan comically points out that during the course of his research, he found that sales figures were really important to Swedenborg!
When Swedenborg and his publisher John Lewis found out that Secrets of Heaven, volume 1 sold only four copies in two months, they launched a major marketing campaign that included releasing individual chapters as pamphlets, having them available in both Latin and English, and advertising in local papers, as shown in the image here. Swedenborg was doing everything in his power to let the public know about these works. Speaking of which, we think he might be fairly pleased with this news:
We sold 5,086 units, up 10 % over last year. Printed books were the major growth area in 2018—up 17 percent! All told, the cumulative sales of physical volumes is 66,891, and the downloads passed a quarter million volumes: 253,704! Jonathan pointed out that offTheLeftEye was greatly influential in their sales and downloads numbers and introduces offTheLeftEye Director Curtis Childs who joins the stage to present.
offTheLeftEye Becomes a Network
In March 2019, the offTheLeftEye (OTLE) team revealed plans to expand their channel’s offerings. Now, instead of producing two videos a week, they would produce five videos a week—one variation on Swedenborg & Life, two short clips taken from past episodes, and two episodes of the brand-new series News from Heaven.
Curtis reported that the team saw a clear bump in participation metrics after the transition to more programming: the number of comments doubled, as did the number of video likes. And in the first few months of 2019, the channel had 174,000 unique viewers per month!
This was a part of the presentation that drew oohs an ahhs from the crowd in attendance. We had 42,706,227 minutes watched since last year’s annual meeting, with a total of 6,730,935 video views!
Curtis discussed some of the various conferences he’s presented at over the past year (including the Annual Convention of Swedenborgian Churches, Near Death Experience Symposium, The Conference on Consciousness and Human Evolution, and more to come!) and also some of our own gatherings planned for various parts of the country, as Morgan mentioned previously.
To conclude his presentation, Curtis shared some of the touching and heartfelt comments viewers have shared with them:
“I was on the verge of turning my back on the whole belief system of the Christianity in which I was raised when I discovered Swedenborg in the most random way. I felt the truth in his spiritual revelations about Jesus and when I returned to the Bible, it was illuminated like never before. Thank you for making all this wisdom so accessible! offTheLeftEye is a bright, warm city on a hill.”
“This was wonderful! I always learn so much! I am living in such a better way each day because of the things I am learning from Swedenborg…Thank you so much!”
“Hey Curtis and Team: keep doing what you’re doing. It IS making a difference.”
“Holy Moly! I just watched this for the first time. I am completely blown away. I’ve been on the path of Jesus this whole time and never even knew it! Who would have ever guessed that the Bible is talking about me, about us, about YOU! All of the spiritual struggles, the changes, the revelations and difficulties. All of the unions, mistakes and re-unions. All of this, all the time in divine order and I never knew it, until now. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have already downloaded “Secrets of Heaven”. My study starts tonight. I am hooked, amazed and so very, very thankful. Why have I not heard this before? Swedenborg is a diamond hiding in coal. Thank you for sharing his experiences and knowledge. Thank you for loving God and his creation enough to do these videos! I can’t wait to learn more, to see where I’m heading. I’m so freaking excited I could burst! I hope you see this comment. I’m 4 months late in commenting. I really want to express how grateful I am to you and your organization. This news is the Gospel! Who would have ever guessed? Wow! I could go on drooling but I’ll stop. You have really impacted a middle aged woman in Texas and changed my life. I will never be able to express my gratitude. Keep it coming….what you are teaching is GOLD!”
At the end of Curtis’s presentation, Larry Conant rejoined the stage to resume the business meeting. We observed a moment of silence in memory of the Foundation’s lifetime members who passed into the next life in 2018, and took care of a few other points of business. Before the meeting ended, acting chair of the nominating committee Karen Feil then introduced the nominees for the class of 2023: returning board members Cory Bradford-Watts and Soni S. Werner, and brand-new board members Carl Godlove and Chad Odhner.
Larry offered concluding remarks and thanks to staff, donors, and members.
After the conclusion of the business meeting, the offTheLeftEye team gave a fun preview of their full program lineup, which was recorded and will be posted on the channel at the beginning of June (for their five-year anniversary), so stay tuned!