Dan Lamson 2015 Q&A: Committee Management

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

Many committees in the OTW, particularly those associated with the Archive, struggle with huge amounts of work combined with difficulties retaining active staff. What do you think is the Board’s role in remedying this problem?

That is a good question, and one that all committees face with the OTW’s high turnover rate. I think the best thing that the board can do is being opening and accepting of all staffers and do their utmost to make volunteers feel both welcome and at home in the org. Board shouldn’t be an active participant in committee recruitment or retention directly, that is something best left to the committees who know much better about the day-to-day operations under their purview. However, it is the duty of the board to make sure the organization is a comfortable space for all staffers, and to encourage their personal growth and daily endeavors.

If a committee needs help from board in this manner, then they could surely ask for it, and if it is possible then the board should step in to help. I am not sure how this could work in practice though, because generally the staffers who leave (in my experience) seem to just ignore emails and meetings for a few weeks, the chair pokes them and they say they are too busy to continue on as staff and resign. (Or they don’t respond at all.) I imagine a lot of this activity comes from the fact that actually being on staff is different from their expectations and they don’t like it. There’s not really a way to prevent that from a board perspective, but as a board member and committee chair, if someone found a way, I’d certainly help them implement it.

If an OTW committee fell apart and the chair, now alone, asked you for advice on how to rebuild it, what would you tell them?

This is a very open question and we have a 300 word limit. Committees, unfortunately, fall apart from time to time. There are various reasons for why and how it happens. As a board member, I would step up to help them in any way I could. There are certainly areas I have no experience in and may not be helpful in the essential running of certain committees. However, I would work with them as they rebuild the committee, helping them recruit from (at first) current staffers who may be interested and experienced, and then open recruiting. Recruitment at the org is a very large and time consuming experience, however it allows us to work with many amazing volunteers. I couldn’t imagine doing it alone, so I would make sure that the surviving chair has all the help they need. Basically, I’d be there to support the chair anyway I could. Since these situations are all different, it’s very hard to give specifics.

A number of you have expressed a desire to support the OTW’s committees and ensure they have the resources they need. However, the OTW is a volunteer-run and donation-funded organisation, and resources are finite. Please help me understand what factors you would take into account when prioritising the allocation of resources.

The OTW is very lucky to have amazing donors and supporters. When the org first started it was tiny, like make organizations. The resources there were truly stretched thin and everything was run on a shoestring budget. As we’ve grown, so have our resources. As an organization, we have more funds on hand these days and can deal with things with more liberal applications of cash.

That said, prioritization is always important. If there is an emergency and funding is needs or a project could be forced to shut down, that would be a high priority. If there was something time sensitive that if not addressed quickly would cause a major inconvenience that would also be near the top. If an expense would fix a major problem that the committee has, and would make their lives better or easier, that would be a priority.

Generally, I would like to increase the speed at which board responds to all issues, yea or nay. There’s not much worse than waiting for an answer from the board on an issue, it’s that uncertainty that always bugs me personally. I’d rather have a nope then a really long wait. Basically, if a committee said they needed something, and it seemed reasonable and not excessive, and we had the money (which we often do, these days) I don’t see a reason why I’d not support it. The Committees know what they need and I trust the other chairs’ judgment in these things.