2011 Candidate Profile: Nikisha Sanders

This page collects all of this candidate’s responses to questions asked as part of the 2011 Board Candidate chats. Questions not addressed during the chat session due to time constraints were sent to all candidates in batches for response within 24 hours of receipt; answers not received within that time were posted with timestamps. Addenda or edits were allowed within 12 hours of that deadline, and are marked inline with timestamps as well.

Read Nikisha Sanders’ candidate statement here.

why do you want to be on the board?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

my answer is short: I’m running for the board for several reasons; primarily to be in a better position to help ensure the financial viability of all of OTW’s projects and the organization as a whole in the long term; to help bring stronger nonprofit management skills to the upper levels of the organization; to provide perspective from a fan of color.

what specific, concrete things does each candidate intend to work on while on the Board, and which of those will be their main focus?

This question was asked during the initial candidate chat.

Clarifying the budgeting process and means by which we provide financial reports to our membership, and putting into place a strategic plan for the next three years at minimum are two of my priorities. I have almost two decades worth of nonprofit experience to bring to bear on both of those, and my overall goal is to internally strengthen the organization and provide greater accountability both internally and externally.

I also want to put into a place a clear structure for mentoring and committee turnover, as well as the ways we make use of our communications tools. done.

That’s a great answer, Jenny, with some very specific tasks that we can realistically accomplish.
[see the referenced response —ed.]

How do you see Fanlore growing, and what do you see as your role in furthering that growth both in terms of scope but also in terms of increased fannish participation?

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

I admit I’m still learning about the scope and possibilities of Fanlore. I’ve fallen into the trap of interacting primarily with AO3 and not as many of our other visible projects. That said, I see Fanlore as a project that needs serious boosting in terms of visibility. We need to remind our members and fandom at large that it’s there, first, and I think we can accomplish that by first making sure all of our board, staff and volunteers are encouraged to contribute. Whether it’s through editing an entry, adding a new bit of information, or posting to one’s blog or journal about Fanlore, we all should be doing something toward building the visibility of the project. A targeted month of promotion would be my second suggestion, possibly in conjunction with the next membership drive, where we invite people to donate to support Fanlore and to explore the pages already there as well as adding to them as a proactive act of membership.

What do you say when asked ‘What does the OTW do?’

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

I love this question because I just had to answer it for a dear friend. I told her that we, broadly, work with fans to protect the right to creating transformative works—fan fiction, videos, meta essays, anything exploring the movies, TV shows, books, anime, etc that we enjoy. We work on several fronts, from working on legal challenges (I usually give an example of YouTube yanking fanvids here, or Anne Rice prohibiting fanfic), to creating an archive run by fans for fans to collect fiction from a variety of places. The project I always make a point of discussing is the physical archive and working to collect tangible materials from fans, artifacts, really, because most of the people I tell about OTW are from anthropology backgrounds and archives to sift through excite them (and me). Usually, from there, I talk about our structure, that we have *no* paid staff, we’re all volunteers, and cover well over a dozen committee areas with staff from around the world, many of whom work to translate our sites into languages other than English. My answer from there depends on my audience; with Charlotte, the dear friend, we started getting into the specifics of how we function as a nonprofit and why it was important to incorporate that way and what it means to have literal fan buy-in. Other conversations have focused on the academic journal and the kinds of topics we get into when fans produce meta, and others have directly to explaining how someone can join as a member and/or volunteer.

What would you do to increase the OTW’s transparency to fandom at large, particularly people who aren’t currently staff? Concrete policies, please. What, if anything, have you done while serving as a staffer to promote transparency?

This question was overflow from the initial candidate chat.
Candidates were asked to submit answers by 19 October 2011 01:00 UTC.

My first project as a prospective board member, and as the incoming Finance Committee chair is clarifying for our board how we can more effectively create budgets for our committees and projects. From there, I’ll be working with Fincom to provide monthly reports to the board with more explicitly detailed breakdowns of monthly expenses and income, and I intend to work with the board to ensure every board member has the basic accounting and financial management skills to step in to work closely with Fincom and/or fill the role of Treasurer for a short time in case of emergency. Along with the highly detailed monthly reports, I’ll be working to make sure a simplified version of those reports are available on our website for member review, and with the agreement of the board, provide the detailed statements by request. I would also create a detailed statement quarterly for the membership/general public.

Away from the finance issues that are near and dear to me, I would like to see committee meeting notes made available beyond staff and volunteer access. I understand that some issues need to be discussed internally and kept confidential, but I also think we could be doing a much, much better job communicating with our membership base. Keeping everyone informed not only of what committees have done (via the newsletter) but what is on the horizon is key to that, and in order to accomplish that, we need to strengthen our Communications Committee. We also need to make clearer the avenues for passing on information internally and externally, starting, perhaps, with a clean up of the contact information on the website, making sure all of the contacts are current and that staff are responsive in a timely manner.

Additionally, a work group is currently being formed to encourage Open Houses for each committee, an informal chat in the public room on basecamp where each committee would be available for questions. I think that is a huge step forward in getting information out, but we can go farther still as individuals. I would encourage staff to talk more openly about the work they’re doing in their own spaces, journals, blogs, etc, and invite discussion in those spaces.

As a staffer, I haven’t done a great job of promoting transparency. I admit it, and I believe part of it comes from the area of the organization in which I’ve worked. Fincom is more insulated than other committees from both public interaction and interaction with other committees. We aren’t interdependent in the way International Outreach, Translation and Communications are, for example, and while it doesn’t excuse my own lack of outreach, it is part of the foundation for it. I’m working to turn that around now with simple networking, having a lot of one-c2-on-c2-one conversations with other volunteers, staff, board members and committee chairs to get a fuller view of the state of the organization internally and externally, and I plan to continue doing so through next term and as a board member. I think the single biggest step towards transparency we can take is through building up trust between our leadership to create safe spaces to challenge each other over organizational issues and to be able to reveal those challenges to our membership in a way that doesn’t harm the organization.

Part 1: Off the top of your head: How many staffers does the Org have? How many non-staff volunteers?

Part 2: Considering the many comments I’m reading about understaffing and volunteer burnout, how many additional staffing positions on existing committees would you anticipate adding in your term? Additionally, what concrete steps will you work to implement to prevent burnout, to increase staff/volunteer satisfaction, and to increase internal transparency?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

My very quick answer is that I believe we’re a staff of around 80 and about 300 volunteers, active to varying degrees. The numbers are a little hard to pin down because of the turnover/burnout rate.

I see adding two to three people to most committees over the next year, and possibly more or less depending on need. Strong conversations with committee chairs and Volcom would be needed before naming an exact number.

Concrete steps: Implementing stronger internal communication; clarifying the paths for passing along information as well as resolving grievances (passing the Code of Conduct would help greatly in this); providing more staff and volunteer training and mentoring, starting from the top down, in that Board Liaison roles and the roles of Chairs need to be clarified; instituting a monthly all chairs meeting; creating a resource library covering more issues related to working with nonprofits; and finally, working with chairs on how to delegate and evaluate staff and volunteers.
sorry for the mild tl;dr.

How do you see the OTW as being accountable to its assorted constituents–fandom at large; users of the OTW’s projects (AO3 and fanlore users; readers and writers of the journal; recipients of legal aid; volunteers; staff; etc.) What would you do on the board to make sure that all those groups have the information they need when they need it?

This question was asked during the second candidate chat. Absent candidates were given 24 hours from the chat period to submit answers and all other candidates were given the same time to submit addenda to in-chat responses. Responses were due 27 October 2011 20:00 UTC.

Accountability is hugely important to me, and it means, bluntly, being open to being called on our BS as well as much as being open to accepting praise. I feel like we’ve maybe erred a bit too much on the latter side of that, and responded in ways that ignore or dismiss the criticisms of the organization internally and externally. I would like to see us able to engage, productively, both sides of the feedback to strengthen our work. In order for that to happen, I believe we need to create more pathways for dialogue. The answer isn’t necessarily to deluge people with more information but to make sure the information we put out is accessible (by language, ability, and location) to all of our stakeholders in logical and clear ways without obfuscation. To that end, I would love to see more org-wide emails; a mailing list for our base; open discussion posts for members to engage our staff via DW, LJ, forums, etc, with board supporting each other; our Communications committee with a clear communications plan being implemented. I also, more directly, intend to work with Fincom to provide more and clearer financial reports. I’ve talked elsewhere about providing quarterly reports to our membership and more regular and in-depth reports to the board. To me, financial accountability—showing our base exactly what we are doing with the donations that come in and where we stand—is a cornerstone to being a responsible and lasting organization.


[Question One] I was happy to hear some of the candidates specifically mention outreach as one of their concerns in the chat transcript. However, I’d like to ask /all/ of the candidates if they could detail any ideas they have for specific plans of action that can be taken in the upcoming year to help the OTW reach out to fannish communities outside Western media journaling fandom.

[Question Two] The OTW still seems to have trouble connecting with large numbers of people outside of Western media fandoms, particularly anime/manga fandoms. Do you have any concrete ideas about how the OTW should improve outreach towards anime/manga fans?

[Question Three] for all candidates: what are their concrete plans for outreach to underrepresented sections of fandom?

These questions were the first batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 23:40/11:40pm UTC 26 October 2011; answers due before 23:40/11:40pm UTC 27 October 2011.

I am choosing to tackle all three questions in a single answer because of the overlap between them.

I think that with regard to reaching fandoms outside of Western media fandoms and anime/manga fandoms my role as a board member would be to leave the outreach to the committees that best know how to do it—International Outreach in conjunction with Volcom, Devmem, Translations, and AD&T, at minimum.

I’m aware that it may sound like I’m passing the buck on the questions, but my basic idea is rooted in believing the role of the board is to set the broadest of organizational goals, communicate those to our staff and volunteers, and then leave space to those who best know how to reach those goals—c2-our specialized committees—to do so while the board ensures they have the tools and resources they need to carry out that work.

To address the third question, I think that first we have to clarify what’s meant by underrepresented sections of fandom. The two previous questions ask specifically about communities outside of Western media fandom and particularly those in anime/manga fandom, but I do not believe they are the only sections of fandom that we have failed to significantly reach.

My personal concern is, and has been, with looking at the demographics of the fans we represent in the US, particularly in getting a read on how we’re doing in terms of reaching fans of color. To be perfectly honest, I spent a year in fandom before interacting with another fan who identified themselves as African American. I was seriously starting to wonder if I was the only one and feeling incredibly isolated in the fandom where I was active at the time. So the issue of under-representation is one that hits home for me, and one I very much want to look at in both broad and very specifics terms, and that I tend to frame for myself as a question of how do I facilitate OTW representing the interests of fans of color involved in Western and journal-based fandoms.

My plan for outreach would still resemble the ideal situation outlined in my answer to the first two questions; identifying the priority and delegating to the committees best suited to reach the fans with which we wish to form relationships, and providing support from the board level to facilitate conversations between committees and ensure that the committees have the tools needed to implement their plans. Each area of under-representation would require tweaks to that plan and greater or lesser involvement from a variety of committees but would still, to me, be an area where the entirety of OTW’s committees could and should weigh in and incorporate targeted outreach into their plans.

In all three cases, there is also an individual responsibility I feel to educate myself about the fandoms involved in the first two questions and to foster dialogue where I can (within OTW via the forums and with my current committee, as well as through my journals on DW and Livejournal and the communities of which I am a member, to start) with people who feel OTW does not adequately represent their interests as fans. In turn, it’s important that I relay what information I already have and gather in the future back to the leadership of OTW.

I don’t know how appropriate a question this is, but sanders was suggesting having monthly chair meetings and discussion posts manned by volunteers, and already in Systems we are finding it burdensome with our load to attend to some of the administrativa demanded of us, such as the two-hour org-wide. There were, at some point, chair meetings that were occurring that we found burdensome and, truthfully, irrelevant to us, and we were grateful when these dropped off. I don’t doubt the above would be helpful for transparency, but how would sanders propose to ameliorate the increased overhead to the various committees, some of which aren’t perhaps prepared for it?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

With regard to the monthly all-chairs meeting, I would strongly advocate for the meetings to be firmly capped at one hour, with a clear agenda provided ahead of time. My thought in suggesting the meetings was to provide a regular space for committee chairs to give a heads up to each other about any upcoming projects where other committees may need to become involved, to give quick personal check-ins as needed (i.e. if a chair were going to be taking time off and someone else would be serving as their committee point person for a time, or if someone had a big life event coming up), and also space to acknowledge if their committee is becoming overloaded or is free to take on more projects. I think, in the latter case, it’s perfectly appropriate for a chair to say to our peers that our committee needs a little breathing room or a little help, and it goes to my interest in all of us being able to name our limits and have them honored by others in the organization. While many of these things can be communicated from chairs to their board liaisons and then from liaison to liaison, direct chair to chair communication in a forum with a provided transcript would potentially help cut down on miscommunication.

To be perfectly honest, and perhaps even a bit impolitic, I find the org-wide meetings burdensome as well, and believe they would benefit from streamlining. Steps are already being taken in that direction, as well as to cut down the time required for them. I would like to see any all-chairs meetings kept as focused and quick-moving as possible, so as to be kept relevant and as painless as possible.

As for the discussion posts, I would like to see space for people who are interested and have the time and energy to host these posts. I know that it isn’t everyone’s preferred activity or where their passions lie. On the other hand, there are people who would love the opportunity to engage in this way, and I believe we can find solutions to offering that ability without overly burdening Systems, or any other committee. The most immediate concern I could see for Systems, and I could be mistaken on this, so please do feel free to let me know, would be where the discussion posts would take place. Internally, we do have the forums in place and encouraging their use would be one possibility. Externally-facing, we could use a journaling platform to begin, with something like an otw_discussion account cross-posted between LJ and DW. This would, of course, take a dedicated workgroup to monitor discussions, moderate, and post topics, and I believe we already have volunteers who would willingly and happily take on those roles. This also would buy us time to consider, carefully and intentionally, how to further integrate these kinds of discussion forums into the websites we directly design and host.

Finally, in the interest of complete disclosure, I am now—thanks to this question—mulling over how we might retool the org-wide meetings to combine them with the idea for the all-chairs meeting while still keeping them short and relevant. I haven’t a concrete plan on how that might happen, but it’s something I’d like to open discussion about and will be continuing to think over.

Earlier this year the servers were named in a problem-filled poll, and the way it was handled and the outcome upset many people. This situation brings up questions about the OTW’s priorities, fandom diversity, and transparency. (Take a pause to appreciate my Oxford comma.) If you were involved in this discussion, what was your input and how did you encourage the board to vote? If you were not, what would have been your input and vote as a board member? What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again? (Please be specific in regards to fandom diversity and transparency.) Are you in favor of voting transparency, and therefore accountability, for the board?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

\o/ Oxford comma.

I was not involved in the discussion at any level. If memory serves, I did vote in the public naming vote, but I won’t swear to it. The subsequent discussion and debate around the naming process passed me by, largely because, as part of Fincom, I was just relieved we’d finally made the purchase and I pretty quickly got involved in the process of making payments to ensure the servers were set up and exchanging emails with the physical center where the servers live.

As such, I can only assess the situation in hindsight and, without access to the full discussion, I can only make suppositions about where I would have liked to have stood. This is a position that makes me intensely uncomfortable.

My retrospective take on the vote leads me to think that I would have encouraged the board, as some members of the board and of the organization did, to take into account the need for diversity in the names in terms of gender, race, ability, sex, and source fandom. I would like to think that from the outset, I would have suggested that we break down the possible names differently, using given categories for each machine to guarantee one machine would be named from an anime/manga fandom, one from a Western fandom, one from a list of female characters, etc. As we acquire more servers in the future, that’s a method I would like to see instituted and will push for. I also would have liked to have seen a limit to one representative name from any given source fandom; I believe it is highly problematic to have three from a single fandom as we stand now, although I do understand that Spock and Kirk were presented as a pairing to cover two machines. In the future, I think we have to prioritize balancing the representation of Western fandoms with non-Western ones, and possibly, for a time, bar consideration of Western fandom names for any subsequent servers.

I do not think there is a way to absolutely guarantee a similar situation won’t arise, not to a one hundred percent certainty. I think I can only work to try to avert such a situation, and then to minimize the damage should it happen. From the outset of any project in which I engage, in OTW and my life away from the organization and fandom, I question what kind of representation we need; who is already present? What voices are missing and how do we bring them in? What will this project ultimately look like as it’s currently laid out and how can we improve it in the planning and implementation stages to better represent all of us? Posing those questions means also working to find answers to them, both individually and as part of a team. In order to do that, first, the entire planning team, whoever they may be, has to be aware of the potential problems. That means me speaking up about them as I see them, and identifying others who are also seeing the same problems and are willing to work with me on them, as well as being open to hearing others’ concerns. In some instances, moving forward will mean settling things internally, within a committee. In others, that will mean going to a wider forum to solicit input from the whole organization, and likely using a variety of means to do that, from emails to our Basecamp system to public posts with commenting enabled.

I am of the opinion that any decision that affects the entirety of the organization should be able to be questioned. Further, decisions that affect only small segments should also be open for explanation. If we can’t provide a valid and reasoned argument for proceeding in a certain way, and are unwilling to defend or discuss that decision, then we have a problem and likely should revisit the issue at hand. As an organization funded by donations, we should be able to provide clear documentation about any decision making process to our members and be willing to engage in dialogue about how we reached various outcomes.

I also believe that an accounting of any vote taken by the board should be available, including, but not limited to, a breakdown of who voted in favor of a given issue and who voted against. The blunt reality is that no matter what decision is made, there will be disagreement. Someone’s needs will not be met, and we will not get everything we desire in the way we desire it, but we should be able to know who has stood with us or in opposition on a given issue, and have the option of engaging in additional dialogue.

If I’m elected to the board, I fully expect to be held accountable for my actions by the other members of OTW and by potential members. I try to operate with that view in my personal life, that I should not act without consideration and certainty, and that any action I take which impacts another should be one I am willing to have open to scrutiny.

The copyright (fair use) advocacy issues that the OTW works on and the TWC journal are two of the aspects of OTW’s mission that are near and dear to my heart and a significant part of the reason why I have volunteered for and donated to the OTW. How do you think the OTW board as a whole can continue to support and further encourage these and similar projects? What about these projects do you personally value and what relevant skills/interests/experiences will you bring to your term on the Board that can help in this area?

This question was in the second batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 00:30/12:30am UTC 27 October 2011; answers due before 00:30/12:30am UTC 28 October 2011.

I’m going to start with the question of experience, because it frames my thoughts on our advocacy issues and TWC. I come from an academic background that includes an undergrad degree in Sociology and Anthropology, where I extensively examined issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and the intersections of those identities. Alongside being a So/An major, I also spent most of high school, college, and the first several years post-college working for agencies that advocated for civil rights and workers’ rights on local, national and international levels. My experience of fandom came as a sort of simultaneous awareness of fanfic and meta, sharing both with my partner at the time, and engaging in some pretty spirited and academic debates about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the racial and gender implications of the show. I also became aware pretty quickly of the issues surrounding copyright and the ability of a network to shut down websites with cease and desist orders when some of my favorite BTVS fansites vanished overnight. All of these things set me on my path to joining online fandom and to eventually joining OTW.

From an academic standpoint, I absolutely love that we have TWC and the symposium because they provide a formal space for framing critical questions about fandom from the source materials to who, collectively, we are as fans. My inner sociologist finds it absolutely fascinating and, frankly, reassuring that there are other people watching and reading canon with a gaze similar to mine. Finding company in fandom is a huge part of the fun to me, and finding others who are ready to take apart a show, book, or piece of music that we collectively love to see how it works and how it can be read in terms of broader society is an opportunity TWC provides and that I feel is invaluable.p>

With regards to our advocacy work, I value our place in providing a voice for fans in the process. Honestly, we’re easy to dismiss, to lump together as a single monolithic group, and place under a given stereotype of weirdos who just don’t matter in broader society. OTW gets to say that, in fact, we do matter and we are not who you think we are. We are a group of diverse individuals who will fight for our right to creating transformative works, to engage and challenge canon materials, and to fully participate in any discussion about those rights. I value any organizational work that empowers under- and/or mis-represented people to define themselves and their interests, and our Legal committee in particular has provided a means for many fans to do that.

I think the board can best and most simply support these two areas by enabling the stellar people we already have working on them to continue leading that work. Our role as a board, as I see it, is to get our committees the resources they need, whether it’s materials, people, or funding. We also have a responsibility to make sure these two key projects are represented equally with our others in any official materials, and that the interests of those involved are given fair consideration in decisions by the board. Additionally, we have a responsibility to give serious consideration to and provide pathways for submission of any proposals of expanding our existing advocacy work and the journal, and to proposals of new projects in those areas. Beyond these things, I think we also have to be proactive in asking our staff and volunteers engaged in advocacy work and work on TWC (and all of our other projects) what they need, rather than possibly waiting for them to make needs known or simply not asking.

A current known challenge of the organization seems to be volunteer retention and burnout. For example, the majority of the Archive of Our Own’s coding is done by a small number of developers. For all candidates–what practices would you change in the committees you work with to bring in more volunteers and empower them to become long-term, regular contributors? How would you use a board position to do the same org-wide?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

Finance actually hasn’t had much of a problem with retention or burnout related to the committee’s work. We currently still have three of our five original staff (one having left for personal reasons, and another who left after suffering burnout from her time on the board combined with forming and chairing Fincom). Another of our members has been with us for two years, a fifth joined us at the start of the current term, and we have one new member who joined us over the summer, all of whom are committed to serving through at least the next year. We also have at least one possible new member for next term.

I think we’ve been able to manage our numbers in relation to our workload because of how we distribute the workload. Our current chair has been more than willing to delegate tasks, and as a committee we’ve made a point of breaking down any given project into manageable pieces. We’re also a very vocal group about when we have time conflicts, low energy, or just aren’t interested in something. Because Cat, Sheila and I have been around for a while, we have a solid idea of what an average term looks like and have been able to tell our new members what to expect. Also, because of our history in working together and who we are as people, we tend toward the sort of touchy-feely style of managing things, doing regular check-ins, starting meetings by asking about everyone’s week since our last meeting, and generally keeping the committee atmosphere casual. We want the work to be fun, not draining, and I think we’ve managed that over the years.

In addition to the social culture of Fincom, we’ve also instituted a policy of tackling projects, or segments of projects, in pairs. What that looks like has depended on the pairing, but for me, that’s meant doing the Delaware state filing with Sheila (who had previously done the filing with our prior chair, Susan) by splitting the preparation tasks and then meeting in our Campfire chat room while I filed in the document and Sheila answered any questions I ran into. More recently, when compiling a complete list of tasks Sheila’s been responsible for as Treasurer and committee chair in preparation for the end of term turnover, and during the process of Sheila moving houses, it meant getting on the phone with her while she commuted between work and home, and taking notes while she talked through the list. To bring it back to Fincom, I typed up the list, distributed it to the committee, and now we’re in the process again of dividing up the tasks to make sure someone with experience in the area is mentoring someone with less experience.

So, to sum up the wordy answer that’s wordy so far, delegation, mentoring, and social support have been key in keeping Fincom staff engaged, as well as being open to taking some creative approaches to the time crunch we can all experience. Those are all things I would bring with me to the board. I’ve already been engaged in a number of conversations to get a better idea of what to expect in terms of workload as a board member, and with other committee chairs and staff to get a clearer view of what some of the committees will have on their plates going into next term. Having those one-c2-on-c2-one conversations have been invaluable to me and it’s a practice I would encourage other board members and chairs undertake, because it’s given me a clearer understanding of where assistance from the board or from me as an incoming committee chair/Fincom member will be needed or could be offered.

I am aware that the way I approach my committee work isn’t a solution that will fit every committee. We all have different needs based on our areas of specialization and being short-staffed is a huge concern, particularly for our more technical committees. In these areas, I think being mindful of what can be realistically accomplished in a given timeframe is important, and giving each committee the means to, as Fincom does, identify and articulate their limits will be vital as we continue to grow.

None of us wants to let anyone down, and we want to do the very best work possible, and that means being able to take a step back when needed to take care of ourselves without fear of negative repercussions. Knowing when you’ve hit your limit of energy isn’t a weakness, as an individual or as a committee, but all too often, when the stakes seem high, it can be treated as one. Being honest about those moments, being able to say, “I am worn out. I need a break,” and taking responsibility for our own self-care is something I want to build into our organizational culture, and to do so without it turning into a situation of resenting or blaming our colleagues for our failure to identify our own limits.

To reach that point, however, we need to model it for our new(er) volunteers and staff, from the board level, from chairs, from senior staffers. We can best do that by delegating tasks when we can, planning early for projects, asking for help and training when we need it, and giving reasonable advance notice of times we know we will not be able to participate fully in the work. We also must be mindful of how much we are asking people to take on and whether they have the tools and knowledge they need to complete the work, as well as whether we ourselves have the ability to take the time to train those who need it and if we are willing to ask for the training we need to grow in our positions.

I’ve been hearing a lot of interesting ideas from the candidates, but at the same time, some of these ideas make me worry. For example, the suggestion to open up the wiki to the public: something like that is not at all simple and is absolutely extra work and a matter of extreme effort; it would require, as an absolutely key part of the whole proposal, volunteers across multiple committees to review the entire wiki. When I hear this and other suggestions tossed out right next to statements about volunteer sustainability and burnout, saying we don’t have enough people for various tasks, this is really troubling to me and I fear that a lot of these great ideas create more work that results in losing more people. As a candidate, how do you plan to balance these needs? I’m hearing a lot of ideas, but how do you plan to incorporate these into an approach that helps our sustainability?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

My quick and dirty answer is to compile all the ideas, evaluate them, and then prioritize implementation. My longer answer is that we need to look carefully at each proposed project and weigh them in terms of time commitment, staffing needs and availability, anticipated benefit, and how/if they advance our mission and/or our internal goals. As I said above, we have to be mindful of what we’re asking of our volunteers and staff, and of what we can realistically accomplish in a given timeframe.

There are some projects, such as taking the wiki public, that would require a tremendous amount of backend work, and the payoff value in the short term and compared to that work, may not be worth it. Other projects, like developing an emeritus board of former board members and committee chairs to serve as mentors to the acting board and chairs, would take less time overall, require fewer organizational resources, and provide more immediate benefits. As a board member, and as a regular staffer, I would want to see detailed proposals on both ideas, and any others, before we committed to act on of them.

The demand, real or perceived, for a project can often exceed our ability to take on that project, and we are in a position now that we must be more intentional in how we grow OTW as an organization and each of our individual projects. In addition to detailed proposals for all of the ideas brought forth during the election process, I would like to see a general survey of all of our committees to determine what the real needs are and where the strongest interests in new projects lie. It’s easy to make assumptions from the outside about what a committee or group needs based on what you can provide, such as Naomi’s idea of automation for Volcom systems or mine of all-chairs meetings, but it does no good to act on creating a solution the people involved may not actually desire or find useful.

There’s been some discussion since the first chat about the time commitment required for serving on the Board, and what that means for Board Members who also have other roles within the OTW. How will you balance your role as a Board Member and committee liaison with your other commitments within the organization?

This question was in the third batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 01:15/1:15am UTC 29 October 2011; answers due before 01:15/1:15am UTC 30 October 2011.

I anticipate serving as a board member, liaison, Fincom chair, and the treasurer next year, particularly given I’m currently the only candidate (and would be the only board member) qualified for the last and am already committed to chairing Fincom. It’s a lot of work to take on, and I expect to be the liaison for Fincom and one other committee at minimum. To be honest, it’s already been a lot of work to go through the beginning of the election process on the heels of just tracking the membership drive while preparing for committee chair transition and trying to pack in as many one-c2-on-c2-ones with other staff as possible alongside keeping up with my regular life. Scheduling things in advance, as much as possible, has been highly important. Keeping fairly detailed notes about commitments, ideas, and conversations has been another major step. In the bulk of my work with Fincom, and with other staff over the past several weeks, I’ve made a point of being clear about when I will be able to respond to emails and phone calls (sometimes immediately, sometimes needing more time to consider a response), and I’ve been mindful about deadlines that impact other people and tried to meet them in advance when possible. I’ve also regularly made a point of setting aside a limited timeframe to handle OTW work that doesn’t require immediate action or response in each day; generally two to four hours, which I spend answering any lingering emails, reading documents, working on proposals, checking in with other staff, etc. All of these things are habits I’ll continue in my myriad roles next term.

I’ve talked openly in my Dreamwidth and Livejournal accounts (sanders and sandersyager, respectively) about my previous struggles with maintaining balance in my life, particularly when working with a non-profit agency. Having been through the crash and burn of taking on too much, too fast, and lacking support, it’s not an experience I have any interest in repeating or creating for anyone else. So far, I’ve been able to avoid doing so with OTW because I have found a strong support system in my fellow Fincom members, and I’ve intentionally been reaching out to current board members, other candidates, and other staff to lay the groundwork for the kinds of relationships that will allow us to lean on each other when its needed and to be open about our successes and frustrations as we move forward. I’m also starting from a place of being as genuine and honest about who I am—strengths, limitations, neuroses and all—and working to create spaces for my colleagues in OTW to do the same.

Hi again, I wanted to pose a question that is similar to one that was asked previously: can the candidates talk about the specific things they have done while working in the OTW over the past year that have promoted organizational sustainability? I’m interested particularly in something I’ve seen in OTW materials before: “We’re building the builders.” How have the candidates carried that out recently as applied to volunteers and future leaders of the organization? I’d be especially interested if they could talk about both technical and non-technical roles, and about how they expect to “build” future board members once they join the board.

This question was in the fourth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:30/4:30pm UTC 31 October 2011; answers due before 16:30/4:30pm UTC 1 November 2011.

No response by deadline. Response received 1 November 2011 4:38pm UTC.

In the past year, my focus has been small-scale in promoting sustainability, contained within the Finance committee and gradually expanding to network with other staff and volunteers. With my fellow committee members, I’ve worked on instituting committee policy that has us delegating, or breaking down, tasks into small chunks and then working in tandem to complete them. As I’ve said elsewhere, we’ve tried to pair someone with experience with someone learning the new skill so there are always and will always be at least one person on the committee capable of carrying out a task and ready to pass on that knowledge to another. We were also able to identify early who would be taking on Sheila’s role as committee chair in the next term, initially planning to have a co-chair structure to keep the responsibilities of the position manageable and to allow for either chair to take breaks as needed. By knowing that Cat Meier, currently on hiatus, and I would be co-chairing, I have been able to ask for and receive more in-depth mentoring for the position from Sheila and foster discussions with the committee about what to expect in the next term as well as begin planning for new projects and continuity in our existing workload.

I’m realizing now that I’ve talked a lot about how much I adore and value my committee and how we, as a group, work. It’s hard, because we do have a good team dynamic, to separate my own work from the whole. I think this is actually one of the strengths I can bring to “building the builders” and building a sustainable organization, lacking an ego about the work I take on and having a strong preference for working collaboratively.

The process in which I am currently independently engaged may be a better example of how I have been able to and intend to support emerging leaders in the organization. Over the past month, I have reached out to and been contacted by a number of staff and volunteers from a variety of committees and project areas to discuss their experiences as part of OTW. A large part of each of these conversations has focused on anticipated, current, and desired projects. I have tried, when ideas have overlapped, to act as a conduit for those interested to identify and contact each other for further discussion and brainstorming.

When I have a bit of breathing space from the election process, I will be compiling online resources related to some of the new ideas I’ve heard and needs that have been expressed. I believe that sharing knowledge is an essential part of building sustainability in an organization and in empowering staff and volunteers to take on greater roles and responsibilities. One concrete example of how I will be moving forward is that questions have come to me as part of Fincom about standard practices for general non-profit financial management. I have a wealth of information in tangible paper form and will be working to scan and make available those resources, as well as providing links to online sources. I’ve also emailed a fair bit with Megan Westerby, the current DevMem chair, about future fundraising plans, and again have paper resources, training materials and online resources collected through my professional life that I will be sharing with her and the committee. Conversely, when I’ve encountered areas where I lack experience, I have asked for recommendations of background and reference materials, and will continue to do so.

As a member of the board, I would like to continue the process of one-c2-on-c2-one conversations by email, IM, and phone, and encourage my colleagues on the board to do the same, both for purposes of generally checking in with individual members and to ascertain if there might be support we can offer outside of the existing organizational resources. Basically I’ve started every encounter with four questions in mind: Who are you (meaning what experiences and skills do you have from across the life you’ve lived)? What are you interested in? What do you need to do it? How can I help? I think these are things we need to continually ask of ourselves, with the latter being a question of who else can provide assistance, and things we need to actively ask of our colleagues across OTW. More than that, we need to listen to the answers and let them inform how we work together.

Another thing I am committed to seeing happen are the all-chairs meetings. As I said in answering an earlier overflow question, I am still thinking over how to structure these meetings to keep them useful and do them in a way that doesn’t create additional stress for staff already feeling over-burdened. I do know that I would seek to use the meetings as a means of connecting committees and new chairs who may not be aware of overlap between projects, and to open communication between committees who may not have direct contact. I think the latter would help in building a feeling of greater cohesion within the organization, and that both actions will help in building stronger interpersonal relationships between staff and volunteers that can only benefit our work.

Overall, I want to help foster a philosophy and environment that allows us as volunteers and staff to feel we’re working in a space where leadership says, simply, “You can,” and that new ideas and energy are welcomed and encouraged. I want all of us to have people we can readily reach out to as mentors, and colleagues we can call on for support whether it be in relation to organizational work or more personal issues.

What do you see as the role of the Board in soliciting user, member, staff and volunteer feedback? How will you prioritize this during your term as a Board Member?

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

This is a tricky question because I see it two ways. I think the board as a whole absolutely *must* seek input from users, members, staff, and volunteers in making decisions, and has a responsibility to ask for and respond to both positive and negative feedback given directly to the board. However, there are times when it isn’t appropriate for the board to have a hand in the process of gathering or responding to feedback because it’s better delegated to a given committee. The role of the board in this second instance is to back up the committee and allow the committee members or chair to take the lead.

As for how I will prioritize soliciting feedback, I think keeping lines of communication open between myself and the committee(s) to which I serve as liaison will be a hugely important factor. I intend to do that with a regularly scheduled check in over email, IM or phone as is preferred and possible, with the committee chair, and I also would like to be able to attend committee meetings as an observer if the committee is open to it so the committee chair isn’t my sole point of contact.

In reaching other parts of the org, I plan to make it clear from the beginning of my service as a board member that I, personally, welcome feedback and want to be in conversation with people about OTW. I’ve tried to do that throughout the election process so far, by the means mentioned above and by engaging in relevant comment threads, as well as by opening a post on my journals for people to ask questions and leave comments.

I think the board as a whole will have to take a proactive stance in making users, members, staff, and volunteers aware of what issues we’re handling and when. Publicly posting agendas before meetings and notes after the meetings, both with an appointed contact person for that meeting date, would be one step in doing so.

Julia and Jenny both mention sustainability as one of their priorities for the Board in their candidate statements, and I’ve seen the term also mentioned in other discussions of the election by both members and staff. My question for all the candidates is what do you see as the biggest challenge to sustainability within the OTW, and how will you work towards ensuring a sustainable future for the org during your time on the Board.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

The biggest challenge to sustainability I see is time. First, there’s relative time, meaning that we are a young organization in the grand scheme of advocacy organizations and fan-run projects. However, we function nearly entirely online, and internet time works differently than regular time. Everything is more immediate in a virtual environment, and situations can completely reverse course in the time it takes to grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen. I think we sometimes struggle to balance those two pieces; the speed at which we need to get things done to keep up with an online membership base and the speed at which we as an organization, with certain policies and regulations we must follow, can reasonably move.

Secondly, there’s personal time. No one in OTW gets paid for the work we’re doing, which means most of us have jobs or school to attend to. Some people have children and/or partners at home or other family obligations, others have illnesses that limit the organizational work they can do in a day, and we all have plain old bad days from time to time. All of those things impact our ability to work on OTW projects. They also cut down the time we have to mentor other people in the organization, and when combined with the relative internet time, it makes the work of keeping OTW going from day to day a pretty large task.

The single biggest thing I can think to do individually is to be realistic in what I set out to accomplish in comparison to the time I have, and to encourage and enable others to do the same. We also have to be willing and able to make time to take a good, hard look at where we are in our work for OTW and where we want to be in the future. As an organization, I think we have to do the same things on a bigger scale; recognize where we are, identify where we want to go, and be honest with ourselves about how long or short a time it may take to get there.

I’ve already been working toward those goals by having conversations with board, staff, volunteers and members about their current involvement and what they would like to see themselves and the organization doing in the next few years. I’ve indicated in other answers that I intend to continue those conversations and, hopefully, introduce a more formalized space for committee chairs to engage similar dialogue. It’s a priority for me to keep building connections on an individual basis and to be able to make introductions between people who have shared interests in areas of OTW work so no one has to take on a project in isolation and so no idea is discarded based solely on a fear of a lack of support.

I also understand that Internationalization & Outreach is working on a survey that will give us a better idea of what interests and ideas there are about the future of OTW, and I have already had several conversations with Julia about how those results can form the foundation for a strategic plan for the organization. The strategic plan itself would serve as a road map for the next several years, identifying organizational goals and objectives from every committee with input from current and past members, staff, volunteers, board members, and those actively engaging our projects like TWC and AO3. Having a clear and fully articulated idea of where we’re going will let us better set priorities and make use of the time and volunteers we have, and hopefully minimize the amount of burn out people experience. I am completely committed to seeing this happen during my time on the board, or to, at the very least, have the process well underway.

Many candidates are talking about transparency and the need for better communication. I am a casual user of the AO3 and have no idea what these buzzwords mean in a ‘real world’ context, why they’re important to someone like me, and what the candidates are actually planning to change.

This question was in the fifth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 1 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011.

I really appreciate this question because I’ve been where you are, and I continue to be in a number of contexts. One of the struggles of both non-profit work and participating in fandom is that both seem to require a whole new set of language skills and shorthand, and once you’ve got it down, you don’t notice you’re using it all the time.

To me, transparency breaks down to operating openly and simply, and better communication means making information available to anyone who seeks it, insofar as is possible without compromising confidentiality. Transparency also means being able to explain and provide rationale for making a particular decision or the way a given issue has been handled. Having written policies and procedures that are widely known and shared will help with that, but we also have to have a means of questioning and/or commenting on those decisions. That’s where better communication comes in, by making it clear who to contact about a given issue to start, and making every effort to respond with as much information as is reasonable.

Basically, I want other people to be able to easily see and understand how we’re working as an organization and on our various projects, why we’re doing things a certain way, and who is involved. If they can’t, they should be able to easily ask those questions, know they will reach the right person/people to give an answer, and receive a prompt and clear response. I would like to make sure we are documenting everything we should be, making that documentation available in appropriate locations, weeding out materials that are no longer useful, and updating things as needed. I would also like to see us be direct and concise in how we talk about the organization and our projects, without getting bogged down in specialized language that can act more as a barrier to participation than an aid to it.

For you and other casual users of AO3, or any of our other projects, all of this means OTW having the internal structure it needs to keep those projects going, even if lead staff on a project leave, take vacations, or catch flu. It also means making it easier for volunteers to participate, donors to give, and feedback to reach the right eyes and ears, giving us the means to improve the projects you value.

I’ve been hearing a lot about volunteer retention and burnout, but I have a question about the flip side of the sustainability issue. It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing the OTW right now is lowering the barriers to casual participation, to the small, bite-sized things people can do to help sustain the org. Right now, submitting a bit of code or wrangling a tag requires a whole process for anyone who just wants to help a tiny bit, as they can (by contrast, contributing to Fanlore is significantly easier, and I know that committee has done a lot of work to lower barriers). Some OTW projects don’t seem like they would lend themselves as well to casual participation, but it seems like a lot of our work could benefit from this, and I feel like I’m not seeing enough focus on this from the org as a whole. I feel like we’d have less burnout if we had more people to spread the burden, in bits and pieces. What do you, as a Board candidate, think of barriers to participation in the org right now? Do you think they need to be lowered? If so, what concrete, specific plans do you plan to pursue to do this? How do you plan to acknowledge and reward casual participation without devaluing the work of the more “official” volunteers? How do you plan to balance the needs of casual contributors, volunteers, and staff?

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

I believe that, yes, there are barriers to participation for voluntary staff (by which I mean anyone who chooses to get involved, not only those with Staff designation). The process of joining through Volcom is a necessary one, and not something I would characterize as a barrier. It’s a step we have to take as a formal organization for reasons of accountability. We need to know, and be able to report, our general staffing numbers. We also need to be able to identify who has been responsible for a given bit of work, both in the event a problem arises and to give praise for the successes.

What I do see as challenges to bringing in greater participation are things like not having a centralized public listing of volunteer openings on various projects; not having a clear list of goals and needs from every committee, or even a general work plan that’s widely available; and a lack of clear communication internally and externally with regard to what each committee does. I think we’re also stunted in our attempts to reach volunteers of any kind by not having a clear and consistent communications plan. All of these things make it harder to see where help is needed and how to give it. I absolutely think this is something we need to address.

At this moment, I only have a few concrete plans, and they are, admittedly, more wet concrete than anything. The first is to look at where I, personally, can promote OTW and opportunities for participation, and then do so. I think that’s a small bit of work we all can do, to build a general pool of voluntary staff. The second is to work with Volcom to get a better sense of what they need from the rest of us. I know that the Still Willing To Serve survey gives them information on who will be returning and who won’t, and this year the survey has been retooled to give better information on why someone might choose to stay or leave, and what projects they would like to pursue. Closely associated to SWTS is a request that goes to each committee chair about staffing & volunteer needs, asking chairs to give an idea of whether they need new people and how many. I would like to support Volcom in getting responses to both the survey and the committee chair requests. The third thing I see that I could do to help in lowering the barriers for participation would be to assist with an org-wide assessment of which projects are suited for casual contributors and support chairs and project leads in drafting calls for service for smaller projects.

I believe we need to work on better rewarding and acknowledging everyone who participates in OTW. Members get a note thanking them for joining, and Volcom thanks us for signing up and continuing to serve, but not a single time in my years with OTW have I seen the board pass on praise or gratitude or any kind of reward to my committee or any of us individually as a full body. I cannot say if this is true of every committee or not, only what I personally have seen. I’ve also seen projects that take a ton of underlying volunteer and staff work be accredited to single people. I’ve seen the whole organization dismissed that way, and it’s something I think we need to fix.

I would like to see more public acknowledgement of the people behind the work. I like the model Dreamwidth has set with their newsletters, naming the specific people involved in projects, from large to small. I think, once we get it together on the communications front, that’s something we could easily do, and should be doing in the newsletter we have now. Recognizing contributors in the org-wide meetings would be another important step. As for other incentives and forms of recognition, I’m not sure. I think it depends on what staff, volunteers, and casual contributors want, and I can only speak for myself, where a simple ‘Thanks for your work,’ would go a very long way.

Balancing the needs of three levels of staff, as well as non-contributing members, will be difficult. It is already difficult. From a board position, I think the largest piece of the work will be actively asking voluntary staff what they need and being responsive to it, whether they’re long term staff or someone coming into work for an hour. Gathering and listening to feedback, and addressing critical staffing issues as they’re brought to the board is a central responsibility of board members, and one OTW has struggled with since its founding. For myself, I want to continue working in a way that asks people what they want to do, what they need to do it, and how I can support them, and I would like to see other staff commit to doing the same, without privileging staff over volunteers over casual contributors.

I would like to ask both Betsy and Naomi why they seem to think their respective committees are so particularly special that they require representation on the Board – why shouldn’t that also be true just as much for, say, DevMem or Wiki or Support? Or rather, untrue for all: I assume that healthy board-chairs relationships would solve the issue of representation.

This question was in the sixth batch of overflow from the second candidate chat.
Questions submitted to candidates at 16:05/4:05pm UTC 2 November 2011; answers due before 16:05/4:05pm UTC 3 November 2011.

Even though I’m not required to answer this question, it’s one I’ve given a lot of thought to. To be perfectly honest, I was perturbed to have two candidates approaching the election with a sense of entitlement based solely on their committee membership when any one of the six of us could have legitimately made the same claim. Only two of us did, and I think that’s telling when it’s the core response when asked why they’re running for the board. The implied expectation of being held to lesser and different standards than other staff or committees seems to run counter to serving the best interests of all of us.

I don’t think, however, it’s untrue for every committee. Fincom and Devmem together would have a reasonable claim to a board spot because the role of Treasurer is tied to the board in our by-laws and, ideally, requires a financial management background. The thing is, neither committee has asserted that claim, in this or any of the prior elections. It’s something I’ve shied away from this time because I would rather be elected to the board based on voters feeling I could represent the best interests of the entire organization, not only one segment of it. I found the idea of campaigning largely on the fact that we won’t have a qualified, experienced Treasurer with a relationship to Fincom unless I’m elected distasteful and disingenuous –I’m cringing to even say it now– when there are far more qualities and experiences that a board member should have than a single, specialized area of interest.

In most cases, I do think that healthy board-chair relationships would solve the issue. In the instances where a committee feels their liaison is insufficient in representing their interests, perhaps lobbying to serve as an appointed, rather than elected, board member with limited involvement in decision making would be a better solution. There is also, I believe, the option to request a different board liaison should the relationship fail to meet the needs of the committee. Barring those options, direct communication from a committee to the whole of the board has always been available via email. In other words, there are many ways for a committee to have their interests represented other than by having a seat on the board.