Over the OTW’s end-of-term break, two long-time Board members and volunteers for the OTW, Francesca Coppa and Naomi Novik, retired from the board, prompting the appointment of two new members, Cat Meier and Maia Bobrowicz.
The end of term period is traditionally a busy one for certain OTW groups, such as Board and our Volunteers & Recruitment Committee, even as it becomes a time of low-activity for others. This is because the end of term is a time when many people enter the organization, leave it, or change positions and committees. For Board members it is often a busy period of approving personnel changes, bringing new Board members up to speed, and assigning liaison duties or the positions previously held by those new members of Board.
Now that our new term has kicked off and the newly composed committees have had a chance to meet, we would like to individually introduce our new Board members. They have both created a manifesto, just as OTW Board candidates have done in the past, and will each have a post where they can answer questions by OTW members and users. Today, Cat Meier talks about plans for her time on the board, and her experience in the OTW.
Why did you decide to run for election to the Board?
I actually considered running in the last two elections and decided against it both times, because I was nervous about the time commitment I knew it would require, but ultimately, when asked, I found I couldn’t say no. The thing is, I love the OTW. I passionately, unabashedly love this organization. I think we already do a lot of amazing things, but I believe that we have the potential to do even more.
The OTW has grown rapidly in the past five years, but our organizational infrastructure has not kept pace with the vast growth of our projects and our volunteer base. We’re both over-working our volunteers and under-utilizing some of the strongest skills they bring to the organization. I’ve seen too many passionate and strong-willed fans burn themselves out working for the OTW and it breaks my heart. I believe we can do better. I know we can do better. And I believe I can be a valuable part of getting us to that place.
What skills and/or experience would you bring to the Board?
I’ve been involved in a variety of volunteer organizations my entire life, as a participant, as an organizer and as a leader. I know how to run a meeting, and how to work in groups to build consensus and encourage decision making. I’ve worked within the OTW since its founding, mostly on the Finance Committee, but also building relationships with other staff members, past and present.
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?
I think this is the time for the OTW to slow down and evaluate itself and its goals and projects. It’s time for us to look back on the last five years and see where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, what missteps and mistakes we’ve made, as well as what we’ve done well, and then use that information to make plans for the next five years and beyond. A lot of that is already happening, and it’s the Board’s job to encourage and support that process. We need to support the work of the Strategic Planning Committee, and when they complete their report we need to listen to them and use their recommendations to build a strong plan for the long-term future of the organization. We also need to support the currently ongoing effort within the organization to better document our processes and procedures. The new Code of Conduct is one step in that process, as are the Board Liaison Agreements, and the work a number of committees are doing this term on documenting their procedures and expanding our institutional knowledge.
I think this is also the time to really look at our institutional culture and internal communications and collaboration. We’ve had a real problem with volunteer retention and staff and Board burnout. Part of the process of preparing ourselves for the future of the organization is openly acknowledging that reality and talking to past and present volunteers, staffers, Committee Chairs and Board Members to get a frank and honest assessment of where we went wrong, and what we could have done better.
What is your experience of the org’s projects and how would you collaborate with the relevant committees to support and strengthen them? Please include AO3, TWC, Fanlore, our legal advocacy work and Open Doors, though feel free to emphasize particular areas of the org you’re interested in.
My primary experience within the Organization has been with the Finance Committee, although I also worked on the initial Elections Committee that designed our electoral process and spent a brief amount of time as a tag wrangler. I’m also currently working as an Abuse staffer, to broaden my experience within the organization.
I am an avid user of the AO3, primarily as a reader and reccer, and I’ve been delighted to see it become the primary source for my fannish reading. Recently I’ve found myself using Fanlore quite a bit as well, refreshing my memory and discovering anew the long, diverse histories of fandom. While I have not been personally involved in them, I am a strong believer in the importance of the fannish preservation work of Open Doors, the academic analysis of TWC, and the work our Legal Committee puts into advocating for the fair use copyright doctrine and for fair treatment of fans.
With so many diverse projects under the OTW umbrella, we run the risk of our committees feeling like they’re competing against each other for limited resources. As a Board Member, I feel that it’s my job to listen to and support the committees who work directly on our projects, and to serve as a conduit between them, and encourage collaboration across committee and project lines.
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?
Transparency to me means honesty and openness. Outwardly, that means honesty in our communications and openness about the workings of our committees and projects. It also means being as honest and clear as possible in acknowledging those areas where US law or organizational needs require confidentiality. Inwardly it means making the workings of the Board less opaque, and facilitating lines of communications between committees and individuals. One big part of this has been the expansion of the liaison system. Many of our committees who work closely together now have staff members who serve as liaisons directly between them, making it easier to collaborate on projects and communicate shared needs.
What does diversity 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?
I believe the OTW is only as strong as it is diverse. A diversity of opinions, experiences and points of view makes for stronger and better decision making. I’ve learned a lot since the formation of the OTW about the diversity of fandom and fannish experiences, and I value that information and the connections I’ve formed with fans who come from many backgrounds and live and play in many diverse corners of the internet.
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?
I think the biggest responsibility of the Board is to oversee the long-term health and welfare of the OTW. Our job is to support the staff and volunteers who do the day to day work on our projects, and to plan for and guide the future of the organization.
I actually love the language commonly used to describe the requirements of US-based nonprofit boards. We are enjoined to exercise the duty of care — to be thoughtful and informed in our decision-making and familiar with and active in the running of the organization; the duty of loyalty — to act at all times in good faith and in the best interests of the organization; and the duty of fidelity to purpose — to ensure that the organization stays true to its goals and objectives and conforms to the by-laws of the organization and the laws governing US-based nonprofits. Care, loyalty, fidelity of purpose. I think those are generally pretty good words to live by.
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 have been Co-Chair of the Finance Committee since the middle of last term and intend to stay on in that position. I’ve also chosen to take on another position within the org this term, serving as a staffer on the Abuse Committee. I felt that my biggest weakness as a Board Member was an unfamiliarity with most of the Archive-facing committees of the organization. While serving on the Abuse Committee will increase my commitments this term, I believe it will also improve my understanding of and familiarity with the workings of the organization.