ETA: Per this announcement, Nikisha Sanders was removed from the 2015 ballot by the OTW Board.
Nikisha Sanders holds a BA in sociology and anthropology from Earlham College, where she authored a senior thesis on gender representation among queer women. She has worked as an activist for AIDS awareness and education, lobbied for LGBT rights at the local and state level as staff for the Fairness Campaign, and served as member of the board of the Kentucky coalition of Jobs with Justice. From 2007-2011, she served as staff on the OTW Finance Committee. She served on the OTW Board of Directors from 2011-2014, was the organization’s Treasurer and Finance Committee Chair from 2011-2015, and joined the Development and Membership Committee as staff at the beginning of 2015, bringing experience in nonprofit management, fundraising, and financial accounting, and a personal interest in outreach to fannish communities of color to each role. She joined online fandom in 2000 as an avid reader of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic and has been writing fan fiction in various television and film fandoms since 2006. Most recently, her fannish interests have grown to include vidding, online comics, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
1. Why did you decide to run for election to the Board?
I served three years on the Board after being elected in 2011. The decision to run again after a year serving as an officer of the OTW and a regular staff member is one I’ve spent months thinking about. I will be candid: I’m still not sure this is the best decision. I made mistakes the first time. I am certain to make mistakes this time. What I know, however, is this: for each mistake I made, I also made efforts to apologize, correct my errors in action or thinking, and be accountable for those mistakes.
During my first term, I was able to be a voice for staffers on the Board when other Directors weren’t speaking up for or listening to them. I was able to build and maintain relationships with a number of committees and individuals who felt alienated from the Board, leaving those relationships in a much stronger place. I was able to give concrete support to the implementation of several projects and practices that have changed the internal operations of the org for the better.
I believe I can not only do this again but that it is much needed. I disagree with the direction the 2015 Board has taken. They have operated in a way that is less transparent rather than more, reversing progress made during my term toward discussing more issues in open Board meetings and fostering wider dialogues between Board members and staff. I’ve personally seen the disconnect between committees and Board liaisons. I have seen little being done to provide regular interaction with non-chair staff, and instead witnessed a Board making decisions that impact work delegated to committees with little understanding of or engagement with the realities of that work. This can only be changed from the inside.
2. What skills and/or experience would you bring to the Board?
My past career experience includes twenty years in the nonprofit arena, serving as everything from a volunteer to an executive director. My responsibilities included fundraising, volunteer supervision and mentoring, outreach, finance management, and meeting coordination, among other things. Due to my various past and current roles with OTW, I also have experience carrying out each of these responsibilities within organization.
As an OTW Board member, I was one of two Directors responsible for building the initial Strategic Planning workgroup and helped develop and implement the first phases of the strategic planning roadmap. I worked with the Volunteers and Recruiting Committee to secure the Code of Conduct and Constructive Corrective Action Procedure, adding protections for all OTW personnel. Additionally, I advocated for VolCom’s changes to the recruitment and induction policies. Within the Board, I assisted other Directors in their respective pushes for increased Board documentation, open Board meetings, and laying the groundwork for conflict resolution policies increasing the accountability of all staff, including Board members.
Each of these achievements resulted in policies under which I’ve worked for the better part of 2015 as regular staff and as an Officer detached from the Board. I’ve seen firsthand the strengths, weaknesses, and repercussions of decisions I made while on Board and how those things impact staff and committee work. This perspective is one only a handful of OTW personnel hold— returning to staff after serving on the Board is a rare act— and is one from which the Board would greatly benefit.
3. What goals would you like to achieve during your term?
I want to set OTW up to still be vital in fifty years, starting with the implementation of the strategic plan and pursuing contracted executive level staff. At minimum, I see us with the following: Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Technical Officer or a Lead Coder and Lead Systems Manager/Analyst, In-house Legal Counsel, and Human Resources Director. Ideally, priority will be given to advancing OTW staff who’ve already been serving in similar roles to paid full- or part-time contract positions. In conjunction with this goal, I would like to see some of our current staff able to reduce their volunteer hours to a more manageable and balanced number as needed.
Our sustainability also depends on expanding our fundraising and outreach capacity. DevMem already has great ideas for this that I want to see implemented, chiefly building a major donor program, structuring planned giving and legacy gifts, and increasing the presence of OTW representation at conventions and conferences. As a Board member, I would support them in building a solid plan for these things and working with other current and emerita Directors to find the best opportunities both to connect with existing and potential supporters, and to promote OTW’s projects to new audiences.
Ultimately, by the end of my term, I want to see the Board functioning primarily in a manner closer to traditional boards of directors, focusing on the larger picture of governance. In order to get there, Board must improve Directors’ management skills and find the balance between benign neglect and micromanagement. The incorporation of outside training and building a steering committee of veteran staff, chairs, and contractors will allow for a better approach to management while freeing Board to focus on the long term goals of the organization.
4. What is your experience of the OTW’s projects and how would you collaborate with the relevant committees to support and strengthen them? Please include AO3, TWC, Fanlore, our Legal Advocacy work, and Open Doors, though feel free to emphasize particular areas you’re interested in.
As a Board member, and subsequently as Treasurer, I’ve worked with all of the committees of OTW in some capacity, and I am very familiar with all of our projects. I know from experience that my role as a Director would largely be to follow the lead of the committees, trust their expertise, and be responsive to their requests, while also sometimes asking the hard questions to make sure their work fulfills the overall mission and needs of the organization, as well as the legal requirements we face as a registered charity.
A specific example of this came up at the end of last year and into the start of 2015. A project was proposed which certainly fit within our mission and goals, but the proposal didn’t address needed collaboration with other committees and didn’t fully take into account some of the financial repercussions of the plan. I was able to raise those questions and discuss with the committee ways to address those gaps, leading to a stronger understanding of the project, its needs, and its potential impact on the organization all around.
In general, I think that’s one of the best things I can bring to the table: working with each committee as needed to see different perspectives on their work and helping them connect those projects to our overall shared goals.
5. Choose two topics/issues that you think should be high priority for the OTW, both internally and externally. What do these topics mean to you and why do you value them? How will you make them a part of your service?
I still fundamentally approach working with OTW through a fundraising and financial lens, and those are among the areas I believe should be high priority internally. We are in better shape both in terms of fundraising ability and financial management than we have ever been. We need to maintain both states, as well as expand our fundraising capacity to incorporate different activities: building a major donor program, structuring planned giving, and adding additional interest-bearing accounts all would increase our revenue.
Externally, I would like to see OTW building more relationships with fannish communities in online and offline spaces. My particular interest is in increasing our presence at conventions, conferences, and other physical venues. The ability to connect in-person with other fans is a privilege and we have the means to make it possible for more of our staff and volunteers while promoting OTW’s work. We can use these platforms to host panels, provide keynote speakers, and access other opportunities to start or further conversations about fan works, the legal hurdles we face as creators, the emerging academic fields for fan studies, and the importance of preserving fan histories and artifacts. My goal is to work with DevMem and Board to build a focused outreach program and take advantage of the opportunities we have to network and promote our work.
6. What do you think the key responsibilities of a/the Board are? Are you familiar with the legal requirements for a US-based nonprofit board of directors?
I am very familiar with the legal requirements for a nonprofit board, having served on two previous to joining OTW, both as a staff representative and as a Director, and having worked with several more over my twenty-plus years in the nonprofit field.
The question of key responsibilities, for me, breaks down to two areas. First, there are the strict legal and fiduciary responsibilities of good governance, the duties of loyalty, care, and obedience that guide financial and resource management. Those are the basic tenets of nonprofit management. Secondly, I believe boards have the more complicated and sometimes nebulous responsibilities to the people with whom and for whom they work. Those principally include honesty and accountability; being available to staff for support, mentoring, guidance, and collaboration; and keeping an eye on the big picture, while making all reasonable efforts to understand the details, in order to set out a plan for sustaining the organization into the future.
7. How would you balance your Board work with other roles in the OTW, or how do you plan to hand over your current roles to focus on Board work?
I have already resigned from my position as Treasurer, something I had intended to do before the end of the year in any circumstance. I intend, regardless of the outcome of the election, to remain part of the DevMem staff. Given the relatively low workload for DevMem outside of the two annual drives, and my desire to see Board take a more active role in fundraising, I have no concerns about balancing the requirements of the two roles.