Soledad Griffin – Elections Q&A (Part 2)

4) What do you believe the Board’s role should be in the area of fundraising in particular? What kinds of concrete acts should or shouldn’t Board members do with regards to fundraising planning and execution?

I do think that the Board should collaborate in setting the goals for fundraising, considering their fundamental role in planning out the OTW’s financial future. In terms of concrete acts, I believe that the best thing Board can do is support the committees that are in charge of those areas as well as support and spearhead efforts to expand our userbase for all projects (and, therefore, expanding our possible membership).

That said, while I believe that fundraising in fandom is best left to the people in charge of that – helping them when they need it – personally I think that the Board should look for alternatives for funding that are not fandom donations.

5) What kind of challenges, in your opinion, does the OTW face in the financial area? What do you think are our most pressing needs and flaws in that realm?

Our most pressing need is building sustainability, in general, and that also pertains to our financial reserves and how we approach our finances.

Our financial situation is nowhere near dire and our drives are greatly successful, so while it is important to budget in a smart way, that also means letting go of our fear of spending. Caution is important, but we need to start investing in our future growth.

This does not mean, of course, resorting to careless spending, but remaining open to the possibility of fixing certain ongoing problems with money, so to speak.

6) Would you be able to lay out your vision for OTW’s financial future? How do you intend to balance the committees’ different needs?

We need to be more efficient because better results for the same amount of money never hurt anybody’s finances, but also to ensure our donors trust us (and therefore to ensure they remain our donors).

More importantly, we need to learn how to spend. We are expanding continually, and that means more expenses, but we also have a reserve large enough that we can afford to invest in our growth. However, deciding which investments are useful at this particular time with this particular state of the OTW’s assets is a complex question. There are easier decisions to make, like ‘buying new servers’, but there are other questions – like whether hiring a contractor for any kind of work is a good idea at all – that are harder to answer.

In terms of how to balance committees’ different financial needs, in the case that fulfilling one committee’s need directly impacts our ability to fulfill another’s, there are several factors that would help me make that decision. The main one is urgency, but also what the organization’s priorities are at any given moment.

7) We’re currently projected to be operating at a financial loss this year. Do you have any concrete plans for how you’ll address issues of financial sustainability going forward?

One year at a financial loss is not ideal, but it is not unmanageable or that uncommon. We have a reserve that would keep us going for months and yes, we would not be able to expand on that reserve, but if we were not pulling enough income to cover our expenses, then expanding would not be a great idea anyway.

I do believe there are some goals that we could strive torward, like having clearer, better financial procedures, that would help our financial sustainability.

8) AO3’s continued survival currently depends on a small handful of volunteers doing massive amounts of unpaid work. If those people became unavailable, what would your plan be to keep the archive from going under? Do you have a sense of how much it would cost to hire external contractors to do that work?

Over 200 volunteers work at the AO3, and I am familiar with how much work they do, so I would rather focus on avoiding such a situation than consider the alternative.

In general terms, one of the most important things is to ensure the procedures are documented and that the knowledge necessary for the continued survival of the AO3 is stored where new volunteers can easily access it to continue that work.

However, if that situation came to pass and no other people with the relevant skills were willing to volunteer, I very much doubt that the OTW would be healthy enough to be pulling in the sort of income that a fully paid staff would need.

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Soledad Griffin – Elections Q&A (Part 1)

1) Being an OTW Board member is a time-consuming job. What do you think should be an average day in the life on an OTW Board member? How much time do you think you can dedicate to OTW Board work each day? Describe a handful of standard activities you believe you should do on a daily basis.

I should be able to dedicate around 30 hours per week to my Board work without interfering with my other responsibilities. Longer hours than that are not sustainable on a long term basis, let alone for several years, in my experience.

I do not believe that, given the nature of Board work and what I believe the Board’s job to be, there can be an ‘average’ day or ‘standard activities’ that are more specific than ‘reply to emails in a timely manner’.

Internally, the most important task is to keep track of committees’ work and to maintain diverse lines of communication with staffers and volunteers, so that they can bring up any matter that needs Board input. It is also important for the Board to be able to discuss the org’s wider goals.

I also think that communicating with other organizations and institutions that have goals in common with the OTW is part of Board’s purview, as well as looking for new possibilities for collaboration.

2) What does the org’s expectation of Board members’ respect for confidentiality mean to you? Where would you draw the line when talking about internal org matters with friends and acquaintances via IM, email, locked DW/Twitter/etc, anon memes, or in person?

The first, obvious line is mentioning names or identifying information, which is something I wouldn’t do, in any context. I wouldn’t mention specific situations or any projects that are not public yet either. However, I would continue to talk in general terms with my friends privately, because the OTW is an important part of my life.

In general, however, there needs to be more openness regarding internal org matters, and I would discuss my personal views of the OTW publically if it did not mention anything specific or confidential. I do not believe that encouraging a culture of silence is good for this organization. There can be reservations among volunteers regarding discussing org work, even when it doesn’t interfere with anybody’s privacy or disrespect confidentiality.

3) Since 2011, there have been no contested elections for OTW Board. The fact that an OTW Board position has at this point essentially become a “you want it, you got it” position undermines OTW’s legitimacy externally, and more importantly, Board’s legitimacy internally.

a) In light of this statistic, and the known fact of high director turnover, do you feel that the recent decision to expand OTW Board to 9 members is a good decision? If so, why?
That decision was made in light of how heavy the Board workload was, and I respect those who made it and their reasons for doing so. However, I do not think it was the right one, not when there are not enough candidates to fill those seats on a yearly basis. Smaller groups also have an easier time finding consensus and coordinating work.

Personally, I believe the answer was to reassess the Board’s workload. The high director turnover was a symptom of a Board that was not working the way it should and was not interacting with the org in a way that was productive, not of a Board that was too small.

This was meant to address the larger institutional problem of candidates not coming forward but it only worsened it.

b) How do you address concerns about the fact that Board is currently the ruling body of the OTW and is supposed to represent the Board as an entirety, considering the lack of a democratic voting process? Do you think this undermines your position?
I believe ‘the Board as an entirety’ was supposed to read ‘the membership as an entirety’, wasn’t it?

With that mind, it does undermine the Board’s legitimacy in some senses, but first, the issue of representation is larger than no contested elections. We are also representing the interests of people who cannot be members – those who cannot afford it and those that have no access to our payment options, yet are volunteers and users of the OTW – so the fact is that the Board election is never going to represent the entirety of our stakeholders because a large number of those stakeholders cannot vote in the elections.

It is a problem, not only because there are no contested elections that will give the candidates legitimacy with the membership, but also because the lack of candidates is a symptom of a larger problem, as I mentioned in the previous question.

However, there is more than one way of building legitimacy. I would do so with my work, proving that I am qualified for Board work.

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Jessica Steiner – Elections Q&A (Part 5)

16) How would you respond if you saw a fellow director speaking harshly to a volunteer in a public chat?

It may depend on the circumstances, but overall I don’t see any excuse for being harsh in a public space (or a private one) to anyone, let alone a Board director to a volunteer. I like to think that I’d tell them to knock it off, and then try to mediate the dispute in the moment as best I could. I’d also discuss the incident with the director in private to try to help them to figure out a better way to deal with their anger without creating a confrontation. If this was part of a pattern of behaviour, I’d discuss with other Board members whether such a person should remain on the Board at all. There’s a difference between disagreement and being disrespectful to people. Disagreement is fine, but we should always strive to be respectful, and someone who doesn’t think that’s important shouldn’t be in a position of power.

17) It’s been shared by past Directors that Board work is both incredibly time-consuming and stressful and this can sometimes bring out “the worst” in people and can lead to negative interactions within the organization that have a lasting impact. From your outside observations so far, what difficulties have you noticed? Do you have any ideas for how to combat this issue that you will try to implement either for yourself or others during your Board service and how might you encourage self-care for yourself, your fellow Directors, and OTW personnel at-large?

I have definitely been witness to some incidents like this, and I have already spoken privately with some people involved with such incidents in the past and given feedback about how I felt they went down.

In terms of prevention and healing, I’m hopeful that the Ombuds Team will be a big help in this area. I personally deal with incredible amounts of stress and strife in my day job – as you might imagine, given that most of my clients are fleeing abusive relationships or have had their children placed temporarily in foster care. The feedback I receive in my practice is that I’m patient and empathetic. I achieve this by doing my best to maintain my composure in the moment, focusing on problem solving and on the viewpoint of the person I’m dealing with as best I can, and having a strong support network to help deal with the emotions later on. I’m sure this same strategy will work with the OTW.

Not everyone can be perfectly nice all the time, though. Sometimes emotions get heated, and I’m as guilty of that at times as anyone. The most important thing, I think, when that does happen, is to have the maturity to recognize when you screwed up or that the other person was justified in their anger and to have the integrity to apologize and forgive.

18) How do you plan to avoid burnout as a director?

I recognize that I have a tendency to take a lot on and not want to let people down, and that’s something I continually try to work on. My intention is to do my best to recognize when things are getting overwhelming and take a step back. My wife is a huge support in this regard and also a gigantic emotional support. She also has the advantage of not being involved with the org in any capacity, though she is fannish. I have a large support network outside of the org, and I intend to lean on them greatly. I’m also excited by many of the proposed Board-related goals that will hopefully make their way into the strategic plan, and I think that implementation of those early ones will make a huge positive impact on the day-to-day experience of being a Board director.

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Jessica Steiner – Elections Q&A (Part 4)

12) There has been a lot of discussion and confusion both within and outside the OTW related to the concept of ‘transparency’ and what that means in relation to the work of the Board and the work of the organization as a whole. How would you define transparency in these contexts and what steps would you take both to ensure everyone is clear on what transparency means and to hold the Board and the organization accountable to that definition?

The issue of transparency has been a matter for a great deal of discussion during my time with Strategic Planning. My personal take is that the issue isn’t really a lack of transparency on the part of either the Board or the Committees. I’ve found that everyone is pretty much willing to be open and engage in communication about what they’re doing and why. The Board publishes minutes of their meetings and has taken specific steps to try to address the issue of transparency with regard to their own procedures, such as instituting office hours and open Board sessions. Certain aspects of what the Board does are by necessity confidential, and I hope that everyone can understand and recognize why that is. That doesn’t mean that the Board is not transparent. If there’s a specific area where people feel they are not being transparent, however, I’m more than open to being corrected.

I think the real issue here is a lack of trust that the Board (and perhaps some Chairs as well, to a lesser extent) is going to always act in accordance with the best interest of the OTW, and that they have the ability – the skills and level of judgment – necessary to make good decisions in furtherance of that goal. Some of the reasons for that lack of trust are historical, and some of it is due to the reality that there really is nothing about the process of selecting Board members that ensures that they’re any more qualified to make such decisions than anyone else in the org.

I hope that much of this mistrust can be alleviated over time as the Board demonstrates integrity and good leadership skills. Leadership and management training for the Board is critical in furtherance of this goal.

13) The OTW has had issues with regards to clashing perceptions of authority and hierarchy between the Board and committees. Staffers and volunteers vocally resist both steps that are perceived as attempts to verticalize the org’s structure and any Board decisions that are understood as top-down orders. What is your perspective on this issue?

On some level I can understand this (it goes back to the issue of trust I talked about in the last question), but to be honest I’m somewhat baffled by the resistance to any kind of hierarchy and decisions being made by the Board.

In my view, the autonomy and incredible skill and dedication shown by our Committees needs to be respected. We have some very skilled Chairs and a huge number of staff and volunteers doing a great deal of amazing work. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need a hierarchy of some kind, even if it is quite flat compared to the average offline for-profit corporation of a similar size. In an organization composed of over 400 individuals, we cannot run by total consensus. Obviously if everyone agrees, that’s awesome! And the Board should not take decisions which are within the purview of a committee and impose their own view except in extreme circumstances. We need to trust the committees, just as the committees need to trust the Board. But even in an ideal situation, sometimes a decision needs to be made even if not every person agrees with it. Sometimes there is no one “right” decision and one “wrong” decision, yet someone has to pull the trigger and be the one to decide what happens next, after all of the discussion has happened and all the feedback has been gathered and listened to.

The Board should not be meddling in the day to day running of Committees. But there does need to be a group of someones (though ideally I would like that group to include the chairs in a more active way) whose job it is to focus on the bigger picture and the overall mission of the org. A body who has the ability and authority to identify gaps and fill those gaps, and ensure that, in a general sense, the individual working pieces of the org are forming a whole that moves us in a direction we want to go, rather than just working away in isolation and at cross-purposes. If the Board didn’t have the authority to act, then they couldn’t fill that role.

14) How do you see your role on the Board in relation to OTW staffers and volunteers and OTW members? How do you plan to reconcile different staffers’ visions for the org? How do you think a Board member should act when staffers disagree with decisions that are under Board purview?

I think to some degree I answered this question in my last response. I don’t think that a Board member is inherently better or more qualified than anyone else, and they should respect the opinion and listen with great care to the feedback being received from the rest of the org. That doesn’t mean, though, that every single decision made must be agreed with by every individual person in the org. I don’t think that any time disagreement is heard that it should be dismissed as a “vocal minority”. If there is disagreement, it could mean that something has been missed, and that should be considered overtly. As I said, though, people can disagree and yet both be right to some degree. No decision will satisfy every single person. Some level of trust needs to be built on the part of staffers and volunteers that, even though the Board might make a decision that one might personally disagree with,they are doing their best to make the best decision they can, and they are listening.

15) What do you think are the unique challenges in interacting with a staff comprised entirely of volunteers as opposed to paid staff? How do you plan to navigate this?

Volunteers are not employees. It’s critical to be aware at all times that a volunteer is donating their time out of their own passion and the goodness of their hearts. The staff are not getting a salary for this (and I would point out that neither am I) and have no incentive to stay or even to do satisfactory work, except for their own internal desire to do so. As a result, one must not have the same expectations of a volunteer compared to an employee.

This is one of the reasons I’ve talked so much about support in my responses. Each person in the org should feel that their work is valued and important, but also that they can take some time off to do what needs to be done in their real life if they need to. Real life jobs and school have to take precedence, because the org is never going to pay our rent, so systems need to be in place to make sure that our very important work continues no matter what any individual person needs to do to care for themselves. We should all care for and support one another and be prepared to take up slack if we can when it’s needed. We should also never take one another for granted.

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Jessica Steiner – Elections Q&A (Part 3)

9) All candidates’ manifestos mention the rapid growth of the OTW, and therefore the need to grow a better internal infrastructure. What kind of infrastructure are you aiming for? In addition to that, what do you think should be the future role of the OTW Board? Advisory? Executive? Something else?

I believe that every committee needs to form an internal structure that provides back-up for chairs and other important positions as well as having enough members to cover the work that needs to be done. What that looks like for each committee will be different, but I don’t think that any Board member, chair, staffer, or volunteer should feel that they can’t ever take time off or the committee (or entire OTW) will fall apart. I also feel that each chair should have a clear succession plan so that if they do need to leave unexpectedly, there is someone (or, ideally, more than one person) prepared to step into the role.

As for the OTW Board, I think that ultimately it would be best for us to have a body who fulfils the role of an advisory-style Board, doing promotion and networking. However, we will always have a need for an executive-style body. Whether both of those roles would be provided by the Board, or whether the Board would be split in two, or some other structure, I don’t know.

10) If it were up to you alone, what steps and structural changes would you suggest to transition the Board out of doing day-to-day work?

Both the Board and Chairs need some administrative staff, in my opinion. For example, I would recommend the Board have a few staffers associated with them who can handle their calendar, answer emails, and take minutes, etc. Chairs should also have people with these skills who work in a support capacity. I think this alone would relieve a lot of the burden and allow both Board and Chairs to focus on other things. I also believe that the Board’s purview should be more clearly defined, which would help ensure things that they shouldn’t be doing can be more easily identified and delegated to the appropriate people.

11) If you could make one concrete change in the OTW tomorrow, what would you do?

I would send all Chairs and Board members to intensive people and project management training.

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Jessica Steiner – Elections Q&A (Part 2)

4) What do you believe the Board’s role should be in the area of fundraising in particular? What kinds of concrete acts should or shouldn’t Board members do with regards to fundraising planning and execution?

I honestly don’t have any experience with fundraising, and it is really not an area of interest to me. That being said, I’m willing to do what needs to be done to support the OTW’s financial stability, and if that means getting out and promoting the OTW, then that’s what I’ll do. It’s my understanding that most Boards of non-profits spend most of their time fundraising and building contacts with people who have money to generate patronage. The people who comprise those Boards have such networks available to them and usually have a lot of money themselves, and they don’t get involved with any actual running of the corporation they support. That’s not really the kind of Board we have right now, though I think we should work towards having something more like that in the future.

5) What kind of challenges, in your opinion, does the OTW face in the financial area? What do you think are our most pressing needs and flaws in that realm?

From discussions I’ve seen, it appears that the biggest challenge in the financial arena is ensuring that the AO3 has the server capacity it needs to remain running as we continue to grow. It concerns me that we don’t seem to have anyone covering our finances who is a fully accredited accountant – no offense meant to sanders in the least, whom I believe does know what she’s doing and is doing the best job she can – but I do think (and I believe she agrees with me) that a CPA should be looking at this. DevMem has also had some upheavals in leadership in the past year, and that concerns me as well. They are a hugely important committee and need to be fully functional and stable.

6) Would you be able to lay out your vision for OTW’s financial future? How do you intend to balance the committees’ different needs?

My vision is an OTW with enough regular and stable donations, supplemented by income from other streams, to sustain its current needs and projected growth. I think we need to ensure that DevMem is a stable and functional committee with more people who have real experience and an interest in fundraising and finances. Finances and budgeting are an area I know very little about, and I have to defer to the people who know more about the current financial situation and the committees’ financial needs.

7) We’re currently projected to be operating at a financial loss this year. Do you have any concrete plans for how you’ll address issues of financial sustainability going forward?

I know that we do have a surplus, to help cover the necessary expenses, but we should continue to work on promotion and develop other stable income streams. To me, ensuring that DevMem has the resources it needs to be a sustainable and functional committee is the best means for ensuring our financial stability. That means providing Dan with support, and may mean recruiting for more people, possibly a new co-chair, but I’m honestly speculating on exactly what their needs are. Ultimately, I would defer to Dan, as the chair of DevMem, and sanders, as the Treasurer, to have a far better idea of what needs to be done than I do.

8) AO3’s continued survival currently depends on a small handful of volunteers doing massive amounts of unpaid work. If those people became unavailable, what would your plan be to keep the archive from going under? Do you have a sense of how much it would cost to hire external contractors to do that work?

The situation is a serious one, I agree. I don’t believe it’s that likely that every one of those lynchpins would suddenly become unavailable at the same time, but I think recruitment of people with duplicate skills to help spread the load and cover if people become unavailable is of paramount importance. I honestly don’t know how much it would cost to duplicate those skills with external contractors, but I’m certain our budget doesn’t allow it. Luckily, there are tonnes of skilled people in fandom.

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