MJ graduated from Smith College with a degree in history. While at Smith she was the Chair of the Academic Honor Board and a member of the Student Government Association Cabinet. After college MJ spent three years as the general manager of small nonprofit community theater. As general manager she oversaw the theater’s $200K operating budget, supervised staff, negotiated contracts with producers and vendors, and assisted in fundraising. When it was time to move on, MJ decided to become a lawyer because nobody was hiring knights errant. She intended to return to nonprofit management, but the courtroom seduced her away and now she spends her days in a suit (not made out of armor sadly).
MJ joined the OTW’s Strategic Planning Committee in October 2013 and continues to serve on it. In addition to her work for the OTW, MJ spends her time reading, cooking, teaching yoga, and hiking. Since she learned to read she has consumed books at a staggering pace, and found fandom as a teenager when she was too impatient to wait for the next Tamora Pierce novel. Her fandoms vary greatly, but generally involve knights or their more modern cousins in spandex–superheroes. Firefly, MCU, Game of Thrones, and Star Trek are a few of her favorites and she is always looking for new ones!
1) Why did you decide to run for election to the Board?
Running for board has been a long term goal of mine since I joined the org. I assumed that it wouldn’t happen for another year or two, and I hoped to serve on at least one more committee before I joined Board. Alas, life is what happens when you are making plans or the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. (Its really hard to chose between John Lennon and Robert Burns. They are both so quotable!) I decided to run now because I believe that the best use of my skills are as a board member, and that the best way for me to serve the org at this moment is to run for Board. I also believe that my experience on Strategic Planning has given me a thorough understanding of the org’s current projects, and the challenges the org is working to overcome.
2) What skills and/or experience would you bring to the Board?
I am intimately familiar with the day-to-day management of a non-profit. Prior to attending law school, I was the general manager of non-profit community theater. My job included overseeing all day-to-day operations, dealing with any immediate catastrophes, assisting the executive director and board with fundraising and long-term planning, and, when I was really lucky, I also got to clean the bathroom. During my tenure, the theater reversed an annual operating deficit and increased its programming while lowering its operating costs. The realities of my job meant that I saw a little bit of pretty much every part of running a small non-profit. While my legal background does not involve a lot of work with those legal aspects that relate to business, I understand the basic tenets and know when I need to ask a more expert lawyer for advice.
3) What goals would you like to achieve during your term?
Ultimately, I would like to leave the Board knowing that the OTW is recognized as an inclusive, well managed, innovative, defender of fan culture. Specifically, internally, the org has both an executive and advisory board that are fully staffed; the org develops staff and volunteer skills and in turn elevates successful managers and leaders; the org’s fundraising and development has diversified and includes grants, major donors, and drives; and the org is committed to supporting all fandoms: both established and emerging. Externally, the number of articles on Fanlore has doubled; the archive has 3 million fanworks; the OTW continues its legal advocacy in the United States and as well as in other countries that legally curtail fannish creations; and the org also works with other organizations to promote fan culture and preserve fanworks.
My goals for the OTW are ambitious and I firmly believe that we can achieve them by working together. The OTW’s history proves that each of us brings incredible energy, skills, and commitment to the org, and we can continue to realize our audacious goals by harnessing the best qualities of fans.
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.
My work on SP means that I am familiar with each of the above projects’ respective committees, purviews, and goals. I think that the way that I would collaborate with each of them is the same as the way that I would work with any project within the OTW. To wit: I would consult with the committee(s) that work on each project about their needs, request additional information when necessary, solicit feedback from the rest of the org and the end users, determine what resources the org has available, and prioritize the various needs of the organization in conjunction with the rest of the Board and the org’s strategic plan. Realistically, I think that each of the projects above have wildly different needs from the Board in general, and from me as a director specifically, and I would strive to approach each in the most effective way possible. This might mean in the case of the TWC taking a hands off approach and trusting their editors to continue to do an awesome job, or assisting Open Doors in writing a grant for funding to preserve an at risk collection of fanworks, or working with Systems and AD&T to identify the most productive use of expert consultants so that the archive can sustain its level of growth.
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?
In my opinion the most the important issue facing the org is fostering a culture of inclusivity, support, trust, respect, and forgiveness. I realize thats a broad answer, but, based on my experience on the strategic planning committee I am very familiar with the the worst and best parts of the OTW. At worst we can be exclusive, belittling, defeatist, harsh, and judgmental. At our best we are inclusive, audacious, inspiring, encouraging, and innovative. I understand the org’s past leadership has been varied, and at times has set a dissonant tone within the org. I strongly believe that this is one of the biggest reasons that historically we have seen high rates of burnout throughout every part of this org. Specifically, I am committed to improving the staff retention rate, developing chair successions plans for every committee, and overall decreasing the level of staff burnout. I also think that those concrete goals require that we work together to promote a culture that develops our staff, supports our chairs, and respects our Board of Directors. In no way am I suggesting that our current culture is anathema and should be abandoned, nor do I want to discourage constructive discourse, but, I believe we can each think of moments where the org has not lived up to its full potential and, as a result, has hurt people who are active within the org, distressed our community, and alienated fans. I am committed to changing that and working with the incredible people who make up the OTW to creating a more perfect culture that embraces all fans and supports our community.
Similarly, I believe the org’s structure needs to be updated to reflect the incredible growth that the OTW has experienced since its founding. Right now there are committees that do not have the tools or support they need to realize their goals, things fall through cracks because its not clear whose purview controls, there are unnecessary roadblocks to cross-committee communication and projects, and its not always clear what is the best use of org resources. All of these issues can be addressed by the org clarifying the purview and function of the Board, each committee’s mandate and goals, the expectations and duties of chairs, and the best ways to train and support staff and volunteers. When discussing this issue with other people I often say that the org needs to build better scaffolding to support its continued growth. What I mean by that is creating support structures that allow volunteers, staff, and committees to continue to develop efficiently and successfully. This idea was inspired by when I taught preschool and we used teaching technique called scaffolding, which meant building support structures that the children could use to accomplish tasks on their own. As an example, I created an infographic to show the right order to put winter clothing on so that children could consult it and dress themselves. The OTW has grown far beyond its original scaffolding (which is great and awesome!) and we as an organization need to improve our structure so that we can continue to grow.
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?
This varies depending on the org. In the case of the OTW, I believe that the key responsibilities for our Board of Directors is to serve as an executive board. Given the size of the org, both in terms of projects and staff, our Board is needed to oversee and execute a cohesive management plan. However, the org’s need for an executive board comes at the cost of long-term planning, goal setting, and outreach, which are functions of an advisory Board. Ideally, I hope that over the next few years as the org completes the forthcoming strategic plan we are able to move to a structure that has both and advisory and executive board.
I am familiar with the legal duties a director owes a non-profit in the United States.
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?
Currently, I am a staffer on Strategic Planning. I plan to step down from the role when I join Board so that I can devote my time and energy to Board duties. To that end, SP and I are working together to make sure that my committee responsibilities are wrapped up, or properly documented so that another staffer can pick them up. I hope to continue to assist with the NP 101 sessions as a board member.