Spotlight on Board: Kristen Murphy on Personal and Professional Development

Spotlight on Board: In this general bi-monthly series, individual OTW Board members will talk about their work, goals, and ideas from a more personal perspective. Today’s post is by Kristen Murphy.

What drew you to become involved in the OTW?

I followed the early discussions when the OTW was being formed, and I knew right away that it was something I wanted to be involved with. Here were a bunch of fans who were unashamed to assert the value of fannish creativity and willing to back up that assertion with a great deal of hard work. That was tremendously exciting to me, and it still is.

I was also particularly drawn to the legal side of the OTW’s mission. When I was new to fandom, in 1996, I was part of a letter-writing campaign to save a website that had received a cease-and-desist letter. That was my first exposure to the concept of fair use, and it was a formative experience for me as a young fan. When I learned about the OTW, I immediately loved the idea of speaking out for the legitimacy of fannish activities in a more organized way.

OTW’s legal work is exciting to me not only because it’s had a real impact on U.S. public policy, but because of its effects at the individual level. It has really changed the way I think and speak about fandom. Back during that letter-writing campaign, I knew in my heart that there was nothing wrong with writing fanfiction or building a website devoted to a favorite TV show, but I didn’t know how to express that in a way that would be persuasive to people outside of fandom. Now I have a better mental toolkit for those conversations. The OTW has helped me become more confident and articulate about fandom, whether I’m talking to the New York Times or my own mother.

2013 will be the third and final year of your term as a Board member. At this point in your Board service, what are your top priorities?

At this stage in the OTW’s existence, I believe sustainable staffing — and especially, the continual cultivation of new leaders — should be our most critical priority. It’s important to foster an environment in which people who come in as new staff or volunteers can gradually take on more responsibility, and in which people who have a lot of responsibility and don’t want it anymore can choose to scale back their involvement without worrying that it’ll create too much hardship for the organization. One way to accomplish this is by encouraging chairs to delegate as much as possible and to groom potential successors. Many people in the OTW are conscious of how important this is, and there are some efforts already underway — for example, Volunteers & Recruiting recently reached out to all chairs to ask them about their succession plans, and to prompt them to think about it if they haven’t yet. In previous years, individual Board liaisons might talk with their chairs about succession planning, but it wasn’t approached in a systematic, organization-wide way. What I most want to see in the next year is the continuation and expansion of such efforts.

My personal experience this year has been an object lesson in how important this is. For most of the year I was chairing two committees, plus the Board, which is way too much for any one person. I could barely keep up, much less perform at the level I expected of myself. That was a direct result of inadequate succession planning, and I don’t want anyone to have to go through it again. (Happily, I was recently able to hand one of my positions over to a new chair, which was a huge relief for me and is already having a positive effect on the committee.)

Helping staff and volunteers develop into future chairs and Board members is one of those things that’s easy to talk about in theory but really difficult to put into practice. I think many people — myself included — need specific support and resources in order to do it well. For example, delegation does not come naturally to me at all; it’s something I have to be very mindful about, and I don’t always succeed. I think we need to do more to build attention to sustainability into the organizational culture as a basic expectation. We also need to acknowledge that cultivating human resources requires a major investment of time and effort, and help chairs feel like it’s okay to slow down a little in order to make that investment.

Are there lessons or experiences from OTW work that you find yourself drawing on in other contexts, or vice versa?

I’m at an early stage in my professional career, so right now my OTW work is actually much more challenging than my paying job. Managing staff and volunteers, making and presenting decisions on complex issues, and experiencing what it feels like to be in a position of public trust — with the attendant public, private, and self-criticism — are all experiences that I’ve had primarily through OTW, and I think those experiences will be tremendously beneficial in my professional life.

I’m also a part-time graduate student, and I find myself applying a lot of what I’m learning in class to my OTW work. This summer I took an elective course on human resource management in nonprofits, which provided a lot of concrete advice about the kinds of sustainability issues I mentioned above. I chose that course specifically because I thought it would be useful in my Board role. Another course had to do with group dynamics, and I’m currently taking one on counseling and communication skills. When the Board was debating an issue that was deeply entwined with diversity, I sat down with the professor from my diversity class to talk through the issues before deciding how I would vote. So my academic, professional, and OTW roles definitely influence one another.

What’s the most rewarding thing about working for the OTW?

Two things. One is that I’ve gotten to work with so many talented, dedicated, generous, interesting people over the years. They’ve expanded my fannish horizons and helped me learn new skills, and I’ve made some really good friends here.

The other great reward is just to look around at everything the OTW has achieved in the last five years — at all our projects, at the fanworks and history we’ve preserved, at the scholarship we’ve helped to foster and the legal inroads we’ve made — and realize that I helped make it happen. It’s humbling and amazing. I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished together. ♥