Soledad Griffin – 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?

I believe the best course of action when the tone of the discussion is veering towards the aggressive is to first steer the conversation to a more productive subject and diffuse the conflict, independent of who is being harsh. When it is another Board member, there should be an apology on behalf of the Board and then a private discussion with the director. I would not chastise another director in front of staffers, volunteers, or the general public because it might do more harm than do. The Board is a collection of individuals, but it should act as one body in public.

This is what I hope would happen if I were to act aggressively or lose sight of my position as Board director, as well. We all lose control of our emotions sometimes, and it is important to take responsibility for that and to be held accountable.

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?

One of the things I noticed is a vicious circle – previous negative interactions with the Board as an entity means there’s a general distrust and lack of faith in it, aside from specific problems with the current Board make-up. It is also easy to tell when a Board member is stressed out and lashing out, losing patience more easily. The tenor of the conversations between the Board and the staffers can become very combative.

Another thing I have noticed is that the expectations for the Board are very muddled and alternately sky-high or non-existent. There are also many assumptions (by the Board and about the Board) that complicate the situation even further.

From an organizational standpoint, I would strive to make staffers and volunteers more comfortable with me by listening to them and asking honest questions to understand their point of view. Thanks to my meatspace volunteering background and my work in the org, I have a lot of experience in managing difficult conversations that have become very sensitive over time. With the combined power of open, honest conversations and more concrete actions in my Board work, I would hope that there would be more faith in what the Board can do in the future.

There are several key factors to avoiding burnout. The first one would be that volunteers and staffers feel capable and trained for the job they are doing, and that they also feel an ownership towards that work. Committed volunteers are responsible volunteers, after all. But the Board should make sure that work is recognised and that ownership is not only a feeling, but a reality. We all build this org together, after all.

But it is also important to take care of each other. One thing I have seen repeatedly in this org is a sense that, if you do not your job, nobody else will. That stress of having no backup can and often does lead to burnout. Knowing when to rest and when to walk away are important traits in a volunteer. The Board should try to stamp out this problem, ensuring that nobody is irreplaceable. Saying that may sound cruel, but we should be able to leave this org feeling that it will go on and be great without us, rather than leave because we believe it is a sinking ship.

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

To continue with my reasoning from the previous question, my really honest and quite terrible answer to this is that I know when to walk away. I love this org, and it has actually been rewarding to me over the years, but if it is better for me and for the org that I walk away, I will do so. I feel no guilt regarding this, and I have no delusion that I am indeed so great it will fall if I leave. However, I am a hard worker with ideas and relevant experience, so I hope I would make a good director.

My just as honest but less terrible answer is that I am used to stress in this organization. I know my limits because I learnt them by trial and error. I can recognise when I need to rest and when I need to delegate responsibility.

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Soledad Griffin – 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?

In terms of the Board and transparency, I would define it as decision making being as public as possible, when this does not interfere with confidential matters. The Board has a duty to make sure that the reasoning behind their decisions and the process that led to them is clear and public (even if it is after the fact and not during the decision-making process itself). The main challenge is making this information not just easily available, but also easy to understand.

In terms of the organization as a whole, there are more confidentiality conflicts that could arise, but whatever part of each committee’s work can be public and publicized should be.

The problem is that, many times, information that is already publicly available is either hard to find, not advertised, or difficult to understand for people who are not volunteers in the org. One of the steps I would take is to assess more ways to advertise what already is public and to develop guidelines to make sure we remember that what makes sense in an org context may not make much sense for the public.

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?

I do not want an org where the Board imposes their will on the rest of the volunteers and where there is no consensus or acceptance of the Board’s decisions, because conflict is not conducive to efficiency – it’s conducive to burnout.

But the organization has changed, and horizontality has its costs too. There are more than 400 people in the org now. How can we be sure everybody makes their voice heard and not only the loudest? How can we avoid the pitfalls of having no structure? For example, if committees have an absolute right to decide on their purview – what happens when they make a decision the rest of the org disagrees with? ‘Staffers and volunteers’ is not a monolith, no more than the Board is.

Basically, I believe that neither position is productive. The Board has a duty to make sure the reasons for their decisions are understood and that feedback is sought before making them, but the Board’s job is still to make those decisions.

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?

The Board should work as a representative and governing body, that works by seeking consensus and compromise. Board members should be open to changing their minds and open about receiving criticism and feedback. The Board should seek feedback as often as they possibly can.

Conflicts regarding the priorities of the org and just general Board decisions are bound to arise, but my plan would be, simply, to first and foremost explain my own reasoning behind my decisions and then listen to others’, trying to find where the disagreement stems from. Once that is done, my answer would be to find common ground and adjust my position to accommodate those objections if it is at all possible. However, some disagreements are simply impossible to solve. A Board member should not become angry at staffers who disagree, but it is important to note that, as the question itself stated, staffers themselves have differing views of the org – every decision will anger somebody.

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?

The main and unique challenge of a fully volunteer workforce is the fact that people will leave if the org isn’t a good fit for them. If they do not see the results of their work or if that work is not recognised, for example, they will feel disatisfied and likely leave. If the org’s atmosphere is hostile or uncomfortable, there will be more burnout as well. So the Board’s role, in regards to this, is to take steps towards improving our efficiency and recognising and facilitating the work that our volunteers do. The Board should also work to fix the org’s general atmosphere.

Another issue is that, even in the best of situations, volunteers leave on a more consistent basis – and more suddenly – than paid employees. It’s important to document how we work so that people can pick up where the previous volunteer left off, and it’s important to solve the issue of people simply vanishing, which happens a lot in the org.

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Soledad Griffin – 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?

Rather than growing a new structure, I believe we should clarify the structure we already have and correct some issues with it. We need to delineate official, clear, concrete communication lines. Information loss is an issue, even when committees are good at documentation (and the OTW, as a whole, is not good at documentation). The OTW, in many respects, still works like an organization that has a quarter of the volunteers we actually have.

From experience, a part of that infraestructure we need – infrastructure in a wide sense – is better training and mentoring for chairs so that they can better support their committees. We have some rather amazing chairs and chairs that are great at training and mentoring, but this is not official and more importantly, it is not codified. It leaves training up to chance.

It might be a more controversial point, but in order to do this, we should clarify what the Board’s role actually is. Personally, I do not think Board should be doing much executive work on a detailed level, but characterizing the Board as ‘advisory’ is not something I am convinced of either. The Board should be a guiding voice in the org, deciding on the org’s priorities and goals, instead of an advisor.

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?

I have mentioned some of them in the previous question. One of the most time consuming aspects of Board work is liasioning. Better communication and less information loss would mean that there would be absolutely no need to do that sort of close monitoring of committees – which many times does not get the desired results, after all. The clarification of the Board’s purview is another step that needs to be taken, as well as documenting the procedures (which has been a goal for several years already). Better support for chairs and committees in generals means that the organization would be working better, with no committees in critical condition.

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

I would pick a nice shade of purple for our colour scheme instead of the current one because I believe it’s a prettier colour.

My more serious answer is that the changes we need to see are not so concrete. There are changes and goals that I would like to see accomplished in a magical way that range from standard documentation across the org or having a pre-approved yearly budgets to a clearer procedure for important org-wide decisions. But more importantly, all these changes would be in the service of a bigger, less concrete and admittedly far more vague one – that is, a deep change in org culture. Or rather, the org admitting that many things have changed and making those changes explicit. We need to let go of certain ideas – that, for example, structurelessness is good or that this is primarily a fandom spaces doing things the fandom way – in order to move forward.

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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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