Michelle Schroeder 2018 Q&A: Group 1

[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]

1. What do you hope to learn in your time on Board?

What don’t I hope to learn in my time on Board? In all seriousness, though, I’d love to learn more about all the committees I don’t volunteer with or get to work with as part of my volunteering. I like having a big-picture view of things, and hopefully by learning as much as I can about each committee and the organization as a whole, I’ll be in a better position to help the committees with whatever they need from me and the Board.

2. [Platform follow-up] Where would you like to see the OTW in five to ten years? What are three steps that you’d like to take in your three-year term towards that future?

I’d like to see us continue to grow and prosper! For that, we’ll need to improve our resources, including our volunteer base. I’d also like to work towards making our tools available for everyone, whether that means sharing more documentation or making internal and external areas more accessible for all users and volunteers.

One step I’d like to take is looking into volunteer retention and burnout, which I’ll discuss more in the fourth question. It’s a complicated issue, and I don’t expect it to be fully solved, but I’d like to see it further addressed on both an organization and committee level.

Another step is one I’ve mentioned in my platform: increased documentation, especially internally. Having documentation available for a committee not only helps with training new volunteers, retaining knowledge, and increasing sustainability, but also to break down barriers between committees and help volunteers feel more invested in the OTW as a whole. When I joined the OTW, I didn’t expect to branch out at all. As I browsed other committees’ documentation, however, I developed a lot of interest in what they were doing, which led to me volunteering in other roles as well.

As for a third step, I’d like to talk to the relevant committees about ways to increase our accessibility, both internally and externally. As a member of AO3 Documentation, I have a lot of experience in accessibility. I’ve changed documents I’ve written in small ways like making sure references to color are paired with other descriptors for colorblind users, and in larger ways like making sure link text is accessible to users who access the Archive’s FAQs with a screen reader or other assistive technology. I’d also love to help the other OTW projects with increasing their accessibility.

3. Can you share some ways that you’ve dealt with stressful communication situations (e.g. handling difficult emails, fraught phone calls, complex meetings)?

One of the advantages to an exclusively online volunteering role is that I have the ability to step away from the computer for a minute or two, grab a drink of water, and collect my thoughts before replying.

I don’t always have that advantage in my day job, where I’m the manager on duty when I’m working. When I need to deal with a stressful phone call or an angry customer at work, I try to keep things calm and collect all the information I need before dealing with a problem. I think it’s important not to let emotions flare up too much when situations get stressful. If they do start to affect things, it means it’s time to take a step back and either come back to the issue later, or hand it off to someone better equipped to handle it.

As far as OTW work goes, a lot of my difficult situations are part of my work for the Support committee. What helps me when we get an aggressive or complicated issue in Support is that replies aren’t immediately sent—we draft our reply and then another volunteer checks that draft. That means once I write something, not only do I have to let it sit for a bit, but I also get someone else’s perspective on my tone and word choice. Following this system has taught me a lot about the value of taking a step back to clear my head when necessary.

4. What do you think is the most urgent structural change that the OTW needs to make in order to be a better and more sustainable organization? Why?

I think one change we need to look at more urgently is volunteer retention. Even among volunteers designated as staff members, the turnover rates can be exceedingly high. For example, in one of my committees, more than half the staff members we recruited in our last recruitment round have since retired. This affects the volunteers who choose to stay with the OTW, increasing their workload and leading to potential burnout and more retirements, which isn’t ideal.

Ideally, I’d like to help put more check-in procedures in place for committees so they can catch and fix problems before they become big enough to lead to retirement. In some cases, outside factors will be the biggest issue and there will be nothing we can do from the OTW side, but in others, that might be enough to pull people back in and keep them as valued volunteers.

Check-ins could take many forms—perhaps the chairs of a smaller committee could do one-on-one chats with their volunteers. Group meetings could work in larger committees, but still run the risk of quieter volunteers attending the meetings but not participating. To take some pressure off chairs, something like a mentor system could work, so that more experienced volunteers could be available for questions.

Each committee will likely have to have their own procedures that will work for them, since there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for everyone. Volunteer retention and burnout is a complicated issue, and I don’t promise to have a neatly packaged solution ready to go, but it’s something I’d like to help committees work towards, if they’d like Board assistance.