Daniel Lamson 2015 Q&A: OTW Culture and Communication, Group 1

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

How do you plan to engage staff and volunteers in dialogue regarding Board decisions and the direction of the organization? How about the membership?

I intend to be open and up front, but also friendly. I am really not the kind of person can be intentionally mean or I’d never try to belittle those around me. I would always try to convey quickly and succinctly, but when an explanation is needed I’d give one.

Two examples, I am talking about something board is approving, then the message can be short, ‘thank you for submitting it and it is approved.’ If it is something board has questions about or needs more info about, I would expand the scope of the message to include the ‘what we need,’ and not just say, ‘we didn’t have enough information, so let’s talk about it.’

Sure, there are some things board can’t talk about and it sucks, but confidentiality is important and if legal or our policies says something needs to be confidential then I would not be talking about it.

As to members, I think it is important to be open with them as well. On DevMem, we have been talking for a long time about sending out regular (every other month or quarterly) emails to the membership just to let them know what’s going on with the OTW. Many nonprofits send out emails like this, and it would be nothing intrusive or annoying (hopefully!) but it would allow us to communicate better with the membership about where the org is going. I do not think it would be out of place to ask board to contribute something here regularly, so they can have a more direct line to the members to talk about issues and successes the org has had. I hope this project moves forward with DevMem if I am elected to the board.

Talk about one thing a committee you served with did really well and how this taught you something valuable about collaboration in the OTW.

Last October, I was a pretty new chair of DevMem, my co-chair had just resigned and there was a drive (my first as chair, and second ever) two weeks away. Needless to say I was stressed. DevMem was smaller then, and so we had less people doing the work. It was a pretty crazy time for us, getting all the things ready for it.

We had to coordinate with translation, board, ADT and several other committees to make everything work, and I was kind of lost. I had a great committee, but there was a lot of work that we had to do with other committees that I’d never done before. It was really hard. It was also a bad time for me in my real life job, so it was additionally stressful.

But at the end of the day, the org came together, we got everything we could done and the drive was a huge success. I learned a lot about the OTW that week and how well our volunteers can function together, and how we can get huge things done by working together. These are lessons I use even today as I do org work, so I’m very glad to have learned them.

What are three things you think Board can learn from committees?

I think board can learn from committees, for sure. I think sometimes board is a bit separated from the rest of the org and its committees. Sure, some are in focus with them depending on what’s going on, but on whole, there’s not the same level of communication from board to committees/chairs as there is from committee to committee. I think this could be a good thing to bring the OTW closer together and to have the board more a part of a ‘us’ as opposed to a ‘them.’

What are your thoughts on a more public ‘in person’ presence being established by the Org? How might you see this balanced with the desire and in some cases need for privacy?

Personally, I have no problem mixing my fandom identity with my real life one. But this is not true of everyone. I do not think there should ever be anything that forces the unwilling to ‘out’ themselves.

I do think the in-person stuff has some strong reasons to exist, because can get a lot done together in person. Communication is sometimes easier and faster and being together can bolster productivity, and keep you focused on one task to figure it out faster.

That said, I do not think anyone should be forced to breach someone’s need for privacy. To my knowledge, no one has been forced to go on the retreats or to any other in-person meetings. I would be against anyone trying their fandom/org identity to a real life identity against their will. I believe everyone has the right to privacy—as much or as little as they want. This might mean that someone can’t participate in a certain event, which is a shame, but I respect their choice to protect themselves.

Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: Conflict Resolution, Group 1

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

Please describe your approach to conflict resolution.

This is a good question! As a huge Star Wars fan, I would say that I try to approach conflict as a Jedi. I am in my heart a peacemaker, I like to reach consensus with conflicted parties. Sometimes it is not possible though, and you need a lightsaber.

What do you feel the Board’s role should be in staff and volunteer performance issues and/or disputes, if any? What guides your opinion on this topic?

I think most performance issues and disputes should be solved on the committee level with outside help if needed. The board is not the place to go for this. If I was on a committee and someone was being nasty to me, I wouldn’t want to have a board member swing in and fix it, I’d ask my chair to do something about it. As a chair, if a board member swooped in and got involved in a conflict on my committee, I don’t think I would appreciate it.

There is a long and detailed dispute resolution process for this, and I think it works well for the OTW. If it escalates or is between a board member and someone else, then board may want to consider taking a more proactive role.

Throughout the years, the Board as a whole has had a reputation for personal conflicts with some OTW chairs, staffers and volunteers, as well as among themselves. Have you ever witnessed this during your years in the OTW? What do you think might fix this?

I think a lot of it has to do with people who turn things personal, something I will strive to avoid. Issues can be discussed calmly and rationally, and in a professional manner. While some members of board have been more bombastic than others, I would not be that kind of board member. I have seen a few examples of this behavior in my time here, and I hope that when I am on board it does not happen.

I am a relatively calm person, I will not react to something in anger or frustration. I may feel anger and frustration, but I will vent that privately and not take it out on the person or issue causing it. Basically, my philosophy is that we can all disagree without being disagreeable. I have lived that thus far in my RL and org lives, and plan to do so going forward regardless of the outcome of the election.

As to situations with board members, I will answer that in the next question.

In a hypothetical situation where you believed your fellow directors were behaving with hostility towards an OTW staffer’s request due to a personal grudge, how would you react? / How would you address a fellow Director who has been disrespectful or abusive to someone else in the organization? What if they refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for their behavior?

The first thing I would do is try to sort it out, maybe send a friendly email or chat explaining my concerns with them. I would also encourage them to work out the issues they may have with said person, and to perhaps apologize if it was appropriate. (Assuming it is not happening live or in a chat meeting.) Hopefully reason and logic can help diffuse the situation. If it were a ‘live’ situation I would try to defuse the situation (assuming I was chairing or it was the person chairing being the jerk.) After the meeting, (assuming they did stop with the behavior) I would go back to the first step with the letter or conversation.

If the behavior is repeated, the rest of board would need to discuss it, but board does have the power to remove a member now. So there is stick to use, if the carrot of encouraging better behaviour does not work. It may not be a popular decision, but if someone is being continually abusive or hostile without remorse or change they have no place on the board.

Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: Finances, Group 2

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

Can you describe your ideal setup for OTW finances going forward, given that many of you flagged the current situation as an issue?

I think the treasurer is a position that needs back up and accountability. One idea that I think has merit is to find a bookkeeper to help carry the load. The treasurer would still do a lot of the day to day work, but the bookkeeper looks over everything on a monthly basis. This would also allow a second pair of eyes between money and a volunteer, which is always a good thing, for everyone involved. I would also love to see the org hire a CPA to check things regularly and to make sure that things will be ready to go come tax time, so there’s no surprises—also they can do the annual taxes, which for an organization this size probably should be done by a professional.

I also think the treasurer should work closely with DevMem to make sure that the committee is fully informed of changes to budget or new expenses that need to be accounted for in our fundraising efforts.

Basically, being treasurer of the OTW is a big job, and having backup would be good for the org as well as the person serving as treasurer.

There is currently no internal or external auditing structure checking the OTW’s bookkeeping (no legal worries, here: the Delaware state laws do not require annual auditing from nonprofits). If you join Board, is this something you would like to change? If so, how?

Audits! I love them. The OTW is long overdue for one, and I would push hard as a board member to get one done, and hopefully one every year or two going forward. Audits are a fundamental part of running a nonprofit, financial transparency. We are well past the point when it became a good idea to have one just so we could see that our financial practices meet acceptable standards. Basically, having an audit completed looks good, it shows potential donors that we are solvent and stable and treat their money well.

Our finances are currently being overseen by only one person with actual decisional and content-producing power, which is concerning in terms of transparency, and efficiency. If elected, how would you go about building a sound administrative Financial structure for the Organization?

I am not sure I would say that one person has decisional power, because all expenses are approved by the full board. That said, it is possible the treasurer not pay for something the board tell them to pay for. Board currently has very little recourse in that instance, but I would hope that the treasurer chosen by board would be willing to follow board’s direction. Going forward, we should also work on a better system and document it so the knowledge is preserved if something happens to the treasurer.

Further, as I mentioned above, I would love to see infrastructure built to help the treasurer do their job better and for more transparently and efficiently.

I saw many concerns about finances in the candidates’ statements, but I did not see outsourcing financial oversight mentioned as a solution. I’d like to know what the candidates think about outsourcing (paying for) some responsibilities, in particular engaging a company with a background in financial services for non-profits.

As I stated above, I would be very much fine with the org bringing in outside CPAs or bookkeepers or an accounting firm. I think it would be something the org could and should pay for, if necessary.

Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: Other Questions, Group 1

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

What kind of training would you like to receive for the position of Board member, if you could get any?

I think an important training for board members would be in communication skills, and how to deal with each other and the rest of the org. Kind of a group therapy thing where can learn together and bond over the experience. This kind of training would be team building as well as improve how we deal with each other and the org in general.

I’d also like to see some kind of apprenticeship with a sitting board member to go over the ropes and talk about how things are done. You could shadow them for a bit and see how it all works. I think this would a lot better than stumbling around, and probably would stop some mistakes from happening.

The Board originally had 7 members. This number was raised to 9 when we realized 7 members weren’t enough to manage the OTW efficiently, then lowered again to 7 due to low participation. As it stands, this election would bring the Board to a total of 5 members. Considering the number of candidates in these elections and the growth of the org so far, what are your thoughts on the number of Board seats?

I think the board could expand its membership again if it wanted to. I don’t see a problem with a 7 or 9 person board at all. I wouldn’t want to see it much bigger at the moment, because it is functioning more as an executive committee at the moment, and it’s not always easy to make executive decisions by committee on a good day. In the future, if the org has full time executive staff, I could see the board expanding quite a bit.

What do you feel is your responsibility if the Board you are serving on is poised to make a decision that you believe to be ethically or legally questionable? Conversely, how would you respond if one of your fellow Directors raised similar concerns about a decision you supported?

An interesting dilemma. If there was a decision before board that was legally dubious to one or more board members, regardless if it was my idea or someone else’s, I would suggest we loop in the org’s top notch legal team and ask their opinion. Once we had that we could move forward.

Ethics are a little murkier, because what is ethical to one person may be unethical to another. I would want a full discussion of both sides, even if I was the one with the accused unethical decision. I would say my piece and they could say theirs, and I would try to be as objective as possible. I always try to listen to those around me, because I know that other people can often have amazing ideas. Basically, I would want a civil discourse on the issue and try to reach common ground or an understanding between the parties involved.

Daniel Lamson 2015 Q&A: Volunteer Management

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

What is your approach to people management and development?

My approach to people management is to treat everyone as I’d like to be treated. I don’t look down on people, even if they are subordinate to me. I generally ask for volunteers as opposed to issuing orders, but when the need arises, an order may need to be made. I find leading this way to be a good example for those I’m working with.

As for development, I feel that learning by doing is a good way to develop people. I like to show people how to act and how to do what they need to do. This encourages independence, but I always am available to my staffers if they need something.

Basically, I’ve found people learn by doing, and getting in their way can sometimes stifle their growth.

How would you build the organisation’s capacity and ensure we are making the most of volunteers’ energy and skills?

This is a question that could be posed to our volunteers and recruiting committee, and they may be better able to answer or have good ideas on it. I think for board’s part what they could do is to make sure that the OTW is an open and friendly place for volunteers.

I feel that making the most of volunteers is a chair issue, more than a board one. I wouldn’t want to micromanage other committees telling them how to use their staffers. That said, I would encourage all staffers to work as much as they feel they can, because burnout is an issue for our volunteers.

A lot of the tensions between the Board, Committees, Volunteers and the public stem from the fact that a lot of those volunteers over-invest because they are passionate about fandom, end up close to burnout, and tend to be overworked, which isn’t sustainable in the long run.
A) In your experience as an OTW volunteer/staffer/Board member, how did you deal with this, both for yourself as with people you were responsible for,
B) How would you promote an atmosphere where volunteers don’t feel this pressure?

A) I have been close to burnout myself, and it was only through good friends on my committee that I didn’t ditch the OTW completely when it was at its worst. There was a lot going on in my real life at the time, and chairing alone was a very difficult proposition. (It is so great to have a co-chair like mine now!) As to my staffers on DevMem, I encourage all staffers to do the best and most they can, but often offer to take responsibilities off their shoulders if it seems like they are doing too much. We’ve been lucky that burnout from DevMem has been rare lately.

B) I would be open and encouraging of the volunteers and their work. I think that doing that is all a board member can do without stepping in and taking over. If it is a chair that has the issue (as I did) I think contacting them to see if they were alright and if there was anything that board could do to help lighten the load. I am not sure if we could ever eliminate the pressure volunteers feel, because a lot is put on one’s self. Sure, there are certain issues that need immediate and total attention or else bad things would happen, but more often than not there is a lot of stuff that can be put off for a bit, or returned to the staff pool if you’re not able to do it. For the most part, it’s a smart thing to do if you are feeling close to burnout, and no one would think less of you.

Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: Powers of the Board

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

Currently, there are no checks on the power of the Board outside the Board itself, since the Board can change the OTW’s bylaws without approval from anyone else. If elected, would you support adding non-Board checks on the Board’s power to the bylaws? If so, what types of checks would you support? If not, why would you not support any checks? (more…)