Nicole Abraham 2020 Q&A: OTW Multiculturalism and Growth

[Note: In total, there will be 6 Q&A posts to cover all of the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. The candidates were limited to 300 words to answer each question, but they were allowed to rearrange and combine questions within a single post to more clearly express their thoughts. Candidate answers represent only the views of the individual candidate and are not endorsed by the OTW.

Due to a high volume of similar questions this year, many questions were merged and duplicate questions were left out. Other than this, questions appear in the form they were submitted. Questions represent only the views of the individual questioner and are not endorsed by the OTW.]

How would you deal with potential culture clashes as there are more and more fans from different cultural background? And how would you address the issues outside US?

The OTW is a large multicultural organisation, and there is always a chance that misunderstandings will occur. How would you work to prevent them, and what would you do if a volunteer disclosed that you offended them/made them feel uncomfortable?

As the OTW is an international and multicultural organization, we have volunteers, including members of the Board of Directors, who represent a very wide variety of cultural backgrounds. Every person has a different world view and can bring something valuable to any conversation, especially in such a large organization as the OTW. This is much more of a benefit than a potential cause of issues, as hearing a variety of opinions allows us to find the most beneficial outcome for the OTW and the international audience of fans it serves.

Ideally, we should do what we can to avoid potential misunderstandings. This can involve methods such as assuming good intent from fellow volunteers, and asking for clarification when unsure how to interpret what someone is trying to say. In cases where misunderstandings do happen, the most important thing to do is listen to what others are saying, try to understand where they’re coming from, and take steps to change the behavior in question. Many problems can be solved through open and honest communication, but for that to work, each person actively listening to and considering opinions other than their own is key.

It appears externally that even the small things take a long time for the organization to make decisions on and then take action. Do you see this as a problem, and do you think this is something that can be improved on?

Good, well-thought-out decisions take time to make. I would rather the OTW give each decision the time it needs than make a quick decision without considering possible implications. That said, there are issues that we could improve upon in order to increase the speed at which these decisions can be implemented, and how we relay any relevant information to the public.

Perhaps the most pressing issue, which I’ve discussed more extensively on my platform and in the previous Q&A, is the amount of work volunteers in key positions have. We all frequently have to plan volunteer work around other commitments which limits the number of things any one person can reasonably do, especially when the regular work required to keep the OTW’s projects running takes precedence over implementing new features or policies. Improving volunteer retention and encouraging those with time and interest to help lessen the task load of some of these key volunteers would allow more time for thoroughly addressing these important decisions. Ensuring volunteers have the time to have these discussions and to implement anything decided upon should go a long way in helping the OTW work more efficiently.

Another issue that may be contributing to this image is the lack of clear, easy-to-find information on what the OTW has been doing. Expanding upon the monthly newsletter and making it more visible to fans will allow non-volunteers to have a more transparent view of how exactly the OTW works.

How would you balance the OTW’s need for funding with the membership amount being prohibitive for a lot of users (especially those outside the USA and/or with low minimum wages) therefore leaving decision-making only to those who can afford it?

The requirement of a membership donation is important not just for the OTW’s continued funding and financial health, but also because connecting each donation to a unique donor is essential in preventing voter fraud during elections. However, we may be able to create a more flexible membership system to help create a better balance between providing membership access to as many users as possible and ensuring the OTW has the funding needed to support future endeavors. One avenue to look into could be allowing donors to put their donations towards saving up for a membership within a year, so that donors are able to give as they are able while still gaining the benefits of a membership.

Although membership donations remain a necessity, it is still important to make sure those who are not currently in a situation to donate can make their voices heard. A great way to get involved, for those who have the time and energy, is to volunteer. Volunteers are the backbone of the OTW, and without everyone’s hard work we wouldn’t be where we are today. If volunteering is unfeasible and you still want to make your voice heard, several committees, including the Board of Directors, are always available via our contact form. The ideas and feedback received is, and should always be, recorded and valued; for example, Support tracks the various feature requests they receive, regardless of whether their implementation would make sense with upcoming plans for AO3 at the time of submission. Making sure non-members have alternative ways to influence decision making allows a more diverse set of voices to be heard, something that can only make the OTW stronger.

Do the candidates believe the org needs employees? If so, how should OTW avoid disincentivizing volunteers who may feel upset? What roles would they prioritize for employees? How would you fund employees and how would you decide how much an employee should be paid? [merged question]

Hiring full-time employees, paid at a fair market wage for their role, is an important step in ensuring the sustainability of the OTW. Focus will need to be placed on hiring employees who have needed skill sets that are difficult to find volunteers for or who could complete regular tasks that are increasingly time consuming, such as in the Systems committee.

Although we are not yet at a point where we can hire employees, we occasionally contract work on a case by case basis to support the work done by volunteers. We can use these experiences and lessons learned to help determine the best way to balance paid and volunteer work while maintaining a happy and balanced workplace.

Before hiring employees is a feasible option, we need to ensure that we have systems in place for hiring and supporting employees. This includes creating proper management and reporting structures and making sure that payroll and taxation considerations have been taken into account.. We also need to make sure that the amount of donations we receive remains steadily at an amount that could reasonably support an employee. Although the OTW does have some savings, the cost of hiring an employee with the knowledge and experience required would eat through these reserves quickly. Additionally, we need to diversify our funding sources by looking into additional revenue streams, such as applying for grants or cultivating relationships with larger donors, as well as further researching potential investment avenues to put what we do have in reserve towards providing a more stable net for the future. As a board member, I plan to ensure all involved committees have all the resources they need to ensure the future stability of the organization, which would allow us to reliably support employees.

ETA July 15, 2020: The note at the top of each Q&A post was updated per a recommendation by the OTW Legal Committee.