Board of Directors Nominee for Appointment: Anna Genoese

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The OTW Board is pleased to introduce Anna Genoese as a nominee to the board. The final vote to decide Anna’s appointment will happen by December 21, allowing the nominee, if the vote passes, to take office at the beginning of the term in 2014. If you’d like to ask Anna questions, just leave them here on this post.

Anna Genoese is a lifelong fan and professional editor/author who currently works full time for an international nonprofit focused on youth development. While working as a professional editor, Anna published the original fiction of several fanfic writers. Using a pseudonym, Anna has written fanfic and performed podfic in a number of fandoms, which can be found at the AO3. Anna has worked with the Strategic Planning Committee of the OTW since January 2012, and has been the chair of the committee since August 2012. Anna is also a volunteer tag wrangler.

Q&A with the nominee

Why did you decide to accept nomination to the Board?

I truly believe my skills and talents will lend themselves to helping the OTW improve, grow, and strengthen.

Can you list for your prior experience in the OTW and in Non-Profit work?

  • 2003 – 2004 – Demos (public policy org) – Freelancer (website design, editing)
  • 1/2012 – 8/2012 – OTW, Strategic Planning Workgroup/Committee staffer (participated in the identification of stakeholders, gathering information)
  • 9/2012 – current – OTW, Strategic Planning Committee chair (led staff through the process of identifying stakeholders, gathering information from them, and creating a strategic plan)
  • 4/2012 – current – OTW, Tag Wrangling volunteer (metadata)
  • 2013 – current, 4-H – Development Coordinator (organizing data, working with fundraisers)

What other skills and/or experience would you bring to the Board?

I have a tremendous amount of experience in leadership and people management, in mentoring, and in working with teams toward a complex, complicated goal. (For example, at my last job I managed a department of 8-10 people; from 2001-2007 I worked for a publishing company where, amongst other things, I published my own imprint and also ran the internship program.)

What is your vision for the direction of the organization over the next year and how do you see working with your fellow board members to accomplish it?

My big vision for the OTW is very focused on internal changes. My goal for my tenure on Board would be to bring together the staff and help make the inner workings of the organization more smooth and inclusive. After working with the Strategic Planning Committee for so long, I have a great amount of insight into the internal troubles of the OTW, and I would love to be able to use that knowledge to focus on helping to heal the cracks in the organization from the inside out. This is something that absolutely requires the entire Board to work together and be on the same page. I know that a healthy, whole organization is something the whole Board wants, but someone has to be the point person to organize everything and bring everyone together, synthesize the information, come up with plans, and make sure those plans get implemented. As someone with a huge amount of energy and dedication to the OTW, I feel that I can be that person.

What is your experience of the OTW’s projects and how would you collaborate with the relevant committees to support and strengthen them?

I would love to be able to use my experiences in Strategic Planning to help the org become more matrixed — that is, to help the org chart of the organization become less silo’d so that all the teams can work together more easily. So many of the teams replicate each other’s work because they aren’t communicating (through no fault of their own!), so I would hope to work with Board and chairs to put a structure into place that allows teams to have an easier flow of information. For example, bringing back a Grants Committee and allowing for grants to be written to bring in more money that could help DevMem’s needs for more/different merchandise, Systems’ need for more databases, the AO3’s need for full-time coders, etc. Allowing the organization’s staff to have a better understanding of the inner workings of other committees is really one of the keys of having a healthier organization.

From a different perspective, I think so many of the OTW teams are incredibly talented and would love to see them given more of an ability to work together in order to provide each other with more support. Fanlore working with the AO3, Open Doors working with DevMem; the field is wide open for collaboration to create amazing opportunities!

What does transparency mean to you personally, both inside the organization and between projects and between the organization and fandom? How do you value it and how would you make it a part of your service?

This is a huge question! I value transparency tremendously because it’s through transparency that accountability for commitments is created. The OTW needs transparency on every level. This doesn’t mean breaking confidentiality — in fact, the opposite. Transparency and accountability allow for confidentiality and allow for an environment where people can and do feel comfortable because the organization has espoused and is seen to follow a code of ethics and a code of conduct. Appropriate ethics that are aligned with the goals of the organization create an environment where people can be more productive.

For myself, transparency means being open and honest about my successes and failures. As chair of the Strategic Planning Committee – as in all things I do – I strive to create a culture for my staff where we are open with each other, and where critique comes from a place of compassion and a desire to enhance a coworker’s performance. When we’re honest about our motivations and adhere to the code of ethics we’ve set for ourselves, our environment becomes a place where people aren’t afraid to make mistakes and therefore aren’t afraid to make suggestions, to be creative, to reach out and learn and do new things.

For the organization as a whole, I actually think we need to do more to educate people about what transparency truly is, so that when people demand transparency and accountability from us, they really know what they’re saying. For example, there’s a big difference between a closed-door meeting and not telling people anything about what your team is working on; there are easy ways to construct minutes for a closed-door meeting that gets across what you’ve done without breaking any confidentiality. That is something I train my staff to do so that Strategic Planning’s meeting minutes are always comprehensive for people who want to know what’s going on with us. In the last few years, the OTW has been so much better about transparency as a whole; the problem is that the stakeholders (both internal and external) have been almost traumatized by the lack of transparency of the first few years of this organization’s life. It’s not just that the org now needs to continue with its efforts in transparency and accountability both, it’s also a matter of overcoming that bad press and getting people on board. This is difficult work!

What does inclusiveness mean to you personally, both inside the organization and between projects and between the organization and fandom? How do you value it and how would you make it a part of your service?

Organizationally, to me inclusivity refers mostly to the idea of “cultural competency” (a common phrase used in nonprofits); it’s the understanding that diversity makes organizations stronger. I cannot emphasize enough how strongly I believe in this. A diverse community that can come together to create something has a much better perspective, and that leads to a better chance of sustainability as well as more creativity in pursuits and a better chance of serving the entire population, rather than just a select group.

Personally, inclusivity means much the same thing, but includes a level of sensitivity to the cultures and norms of others that needs to be respected. However, respect is a thing the entire organization needs. When people respect each other (it can’t just go one way!), then there can be collaboration and compassionate professionalism.

I have brought this with me to my service with the OTW to date; it’s incredibly important to me to embrace the diversity fandom brings, and also to note the places where there aren’t voices, and try to bring those voices into the organization. This includes types of fanwork and diverse fan populations as well as cultural and ability diversity.

What do you think the key responsibilities of a/the board are? Are you familiar with the legal requirements for a US-based nonprofit board of directors?

In general, it is the job of a board of directors for a nonprofit to create the mission and purpose for the organization, guide, excite, and support the organization’s members, staff, and volunteers, make sure the organization is financially stable and secure, handle both long-term and short-term planning, serve as monitors of the organization’s programs, and be strong role models for the entire org’s ethics.

While the legal requirements for a US-based nonprofit board of directors vary, in general I understand that legally a director is held to the responsibilities of obedience to a charitable purpose, due care, and loyalty.

How would you balance your Board work with other roles in the org, or how do you plan to hand over your current roles to focus on Board work?

I plan to step down from the Strategic Planning Committee, but I will continue to volunteer as a tag wrangler. Since I don’t hold any other org positions, I’ll be able to fully focus on Board work.

  1. Susan commented:

    What’s your stance on commissioning fanfic for money in regards to copyrights and fair use?

    • anna commented:

      I would never speak on this on behalf of the OTW without consulting all of the incredibly smart and talented lawyers on Legal. The OTW’s stance on something affecting fair use depends on the legal interpretation of the thing, and the official OTW opinions given by Board and various staffers would flow from that and not be affected by our personal opinions.

      Personally, not speaking for the OTW, I do not support commissioning fanworks for money in a commercial setting, because I consider the fanwork community to be a “gift” economy and value that very highly.

      I do support the trade of fanworks for donations to raise money to help disaster relief, underserved populations, etc., because I think that’s in keeping with a gift economy and a great way to bring eyes to need.

  2. FeiFen commented:

    There’s been some strong evidence in the Strategic Planning reports and commentary elsewhere about the OTW environment being described as “toxic”, volunteers feeling bullied out of the organization by Board members, and people feeling generally unsupported in the OTW. How would you attempt to address this as a new member of the Board – both in terms of working through the past damage that’s been done and moving forward to the future as well as recognizing that you will be joining a Board that has continued this behavior and contributed to this environment in some significant ways? What ideas do you have for holding Board members accountable for their words, actions, and behaviors? My understanding is that right now Board members aren’t accountable to anyone else and staff and volunteers have no recourse for addressing their conduct, which seems like a huge liability for an organization of the OTW’s size and structure. How would you work to foster and promote the ideas of professionalism in a Board that has had a difficult time with that concept and in an organization that has not has that as part of its leadership model for some time?

    • anna commented:

      Let me get this out of the way first: the Board and its directors must be held accountable for actions and statements. I believe that, and I’ll work toward making it happen. But these are two different things. There’s the Board as a whole being accountable for the goals of the organization, and then individuals being accountable for their behavior.

      To address the second issue first: The entire leadership of the OTW (directors as well as chairs) must adhere to the same Code of Conduct, and be subject to the same disciplinary measures. Additionally (in my opinion), Board members need to adhere to a much higher standard because they are where the buck stops in terms of leadership role models. As much as I would personally love for the org to adopt a more matrixed model, right now the org is very top-down; that means leadership modeling needs to come from the top down. It’s a heavy responsibility that people should take seriously.

      My understanding is that right now the Board is working on documents to guide director behavior — including (1) a corrective action procedure and a conflict of interest and (2) a confidentiality policy. They’re in the draft stages, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

      To address the issue of holding the Board accountable to the as a whole: One of the major things I hope to bring to the Board is the push for the OTW to adopt more standardized nonprofit practices. Yes, the OTW is unique in that we’re an online-only nonprofit, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the best practices of nonprofits that have been around for years. There is no reason to entirely reinvent the wheel.

      Which is all to say: one of my goals for bringing the organization together is to work with the Board members to educate ourselves and the rest of the organization about best practices, and to engage with the Strategic Planning team to respond to the critiques of each team within the organization. Additionally, I would work with the individual directors to bring the Board to a higher standard of professionalism — through mentoring, through professional development workshops, and through reading books and essays on best practices and other nonprofit case studies.

      I also think it’s important to institute policies other nonprofits have found useful to allow the organization to call for the retirement of a director if the organization itself finds the director is no longer promoting the organization’s best interests in line with the U.S. standards (obedience to a charitable purpose, due care, and loyalty).

  3. Curtis commented:

    The previous commenter asks some good questions, but I’d like to build on it with a specific scenario that’s been observed several times when it comes to the OTW Board, past and present.

    A staff member or volunteer comes to you with concerns regarding one of your fellow Board members. They feel the Board member has engaged in harassing or bullying behavior, either directed at an individual or a group within the organization. They provide chat transcripts and/or e-mail strings that show the comments that were made and, in your opinion, the complaint has merit. When you ask the Board member about it, they respond by saying it was a misunderstanding, that the complainant is being oversensitive, and they refuse to acknowledge the impact of their conduct or to accept any responsibility for the situation. What would you do to try to address the issue when the staff member or volunteer now feels targeted by the Board or a Board member, but you have a colleague who believes there is nothing wrong with their conduct and refuses to cooperate with the process of mediating the conflict or attempting to rebuild a professional working relations with the staff member or volunteer? Further, how would you handle the situation when the staff member or volunteer reports further issues with the Board member following their complaint, demonstrating either an continually escalating problem or evidence of retaliation?

    • anna commented:

      A Board member who behaves in the manner in which you are describing should be dismissed from service, but the fact that a situation would even allowed to get this far is ridiculous and unprofessional and does not speak well of the health of the organization as a whole.

      The OTW did recently establish a Code of Coduct — and it states the Board is not exempt. The organization does also need easily accessible documents to guide volunteers, staff, and directors through the suggested procedures for reporting problems, guidelines and/or training materials to help chairs support their staffers if the chairs are looped in, and disciplinary actions and enforcement procedures. A Code of Conduct is great, but without any kind of enforcement, it’s lip service.

      As I said in response to the above question, there are best practices for nonprofits — and best practices for Human Resources issues. Directors who are acting with the best interest of their organization at heart would not allow one of their colleagues to behave in such a fashion more than once without corrective action; if a pattern or escalating problem exists, the directors should take action and involve Human Resources (or a facsimile thereof; e.g., VolCom) at this point, and the director should be removed from service posthaste.

      • Curtis commented:

        Thanks you. This leads me to a more rhetorical question as I know situations like this have happened and the Board members continued/continue to serve. Does the Board have the ability to remove its own members? The bylaws only mention removing a Director by a vote of the OTW membership (which is essentially impossible to organize from outside the Board). I think as long as that is the status quo, there is no incentive for a Board member to feel like they have any standards to which they need to be accountable whether they’re written down or not (aside from – one would hope – just being professional) and that contributes to the environment in which the Board is seen as “above the rules” both from inside and outside of the Board. Not that I’m advocating for an environment where Board members have to fear their colleagues ousting them, but it would likely help to have an actual process by which someone who is a detriment to the Board and organization can be removed by a vote of the Board.

        I also think, having just discussed a situation with the past Board President of a different nonprofit, that as long as the Board lacks these sorts of procedures, it’s difficult to improve on the organizational environment as a whole. Until there are clear procedures for how complaints about Board members are handled, established standards for Board conduct, and defined protections against retaliation, any attempt to develop a system for handling complaints throughout the rest of the organization are ineffective at best. And they are because, at the end of it all, you have a Board that is not accountable and can interfere or choose not to act based on the established procedures. (And then there’s the added challenge of Board members who are also staff or chairs, which can throw some conflict of interest into the whole process.) Until those at the top are held to standards, trying to effectively hold everyone else to them is beyond challenging.

        Sorry for rambling a bit, this is just something about which I’m passionate and have been recently working with another nonprofit that has addressed these sorts of issues quite well. I’m glad to hear you see it as a priority for your potential work on the Board.