[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]
5. What are a couple of major issues that you know the OTW board struggles or has struggled with, and how would you personally act to avoid them if elected?
It is vital for any organization to have a coherent roadmap with tangible goalposts. Whether it is as simple as changing priorities or actively working to achieve currently intangible goals, this is direction that can and should come from the Board. Also, being able to translate between those who may or may not be using the same words to mean vastly different things. Facilitating communication is a huge part of what is meant to be done with oversight. I cannot describe the number of meetings or calls which were disasters until everyone realized that the technical side was speaking a different language than the non-technical side. I still have an eye twitch from the “batch vs. document vs. pages” battle held over a conference room table.
Having a strong technical background is something which is important to be represented in the Board as so many of the OTW projects are heavily technically based. This is something that I believe may have helped lead us to some of the current difficulties we have been experiencing, such as burnout and lack of strategic personnel.
6. There’s a common issue in non-profits, including OTW in the past, where board members can become disconnected from the wider org and individual committees. What strategies do you have to help avoid this kind of situation?
Being disconnected from those you work with and for is a challenge that requires self-awareness and consciousness of the full situation. I have found previously that open communication helps mitigate this failing more effectively than many other things. Additionally, having diversity in representation – meaning drawing from varied groups within the OTW – allows for those of differing perspectives to weigh in and bring new information and viewpoints to the discussion. The Board is, at its core, there to serve the needs of the committees, volunteers and those who benefit from or engage with the OTW’s projects. It is not a monolithic tower that dictates, but a living thing that must take in outside information. At the heart of it, I believe that the main strategy needed is the Board remembering to ask what the Board can do to help you with what you need.
7. Can you name a skill that you consider relevant for a board member, but that you consider a personal weakness?
When I find a problem, I want to solve it. I want to immediately develop a plan and put it in motion to resolve the issue. However, an environment such as the OTW Board requires a different approach, a far more patient one. It is important to serve in a different way, which is something which requires a form of code switching in my head. While this is something I am able to do, and which I do regularly enough to know my process, it does require that I consciously remind myself that I am not serving in a problem solver role – I am serving in a facilitator role.
Because of this, I know that I can and have brainstormed solutions with incomplete information. However, as I work in team based environments, this is something which has thus far been caught early as we have worked out what solutions will work best and what information we are still missing. Serving on the Board requires a skillset more in line with the project management I have done in my past. I have focused far more extensively on my technical and problem solving skills and feel this aspect of my skillset is one which is less robust.
8. Do you think the OTW should have paid staff? If not, why not? If so, which positions should be prioritized?
There is both a upside and a downside to having paid staff within the OTW. While having paid staff does allow us to engage in a different way than as volunteers, as well as have guaranteed commitments, it also runs the risk of requiring significant overhead. The rule of thumb I have seen used is to assume that any entry level position in the United States should be estimated to require approximately fifty thousand US dollars per year to cover wages, benefits and other invisible costs. Simply using those figures, the cost of staffing the OTW, even at a minimal level, becomes staggering – and that is before taking into account that we have highly specialized people who volunteer that are most assuredly not at entry level US wages. When you look at the skill sets required, the base salary quickly reaches the triple digits per year, per person.
It is always a challenge to maintain a strong, passionate volunteer force, but for an organization such as the OTW, it should remain a core focus of our base. That being said, in order to continue to progress and thrive in future, it is increasingly clear that the OTW will require some measure of paid staffers in future. What form this may take is yet to be determined and requires a significant amount of discussion and measured approach while continuing to meet established goals.