The OTW Board, Past and Future Pt. 1

Banner by Erin of a spotlight on an OTW logo with the words 'Spotlight on Board'

As the OTW is about to celebrate its 7th anniversary, our Board of Directors would like to inform our members and supporters about plans for the coming years. Today, we’ll be discussing why the OTW’s governing structure looks the way it does, and tomorrow we’ll be posting about proposed changes to better accommodate the OTW’s needs as it grows.

In the beginning, there was radical growth

In the beginning, the OTW was one of the first ever nonprofits to be entirely online. The all-volunteer nonprofit model had been seen before — but entirely online? That was very new. Even now, most online-only volunteer opportunities do not look like the OTW.

Many of the challenges originally posed by the OTW’s unique model remain with us today. These aren’t just challenges faced by the OTW alone, but challenges faced by all organizations that want to take advantage of the masses of people online who’d love to volunteer but can’t figure how to make it work from a world away.

We have been — and are still — making it work. We just need to make it work better.

Additionally, we need to keep in mind that OTW was not created to be what it is today. It was not set up to support this many personnel. It was not set up to support this many projects.

No organization, whether it is online or offline, is created to scale up the way the OTW has had to scale up in the last seven years. We haven’t just doubled or tripled in size. In 2007, when we ended our first year, we had $6,636 in cash assets. We estimate that at the end of 2014, we’ll have $250,000 in cash assets. That’s nearly fifty times the money in seven years.

By the end of 2007, the OTW had about sixty volunteers (including the Board). Right now, in the middle of 2014, our personnel count is 482 — a 703% growth from 2007.

This kind of growth is unusual and unexpected for any organization, online or not.

Yet we still don’t have enough people to support the level of growth we see in our projects, the demand we have for the Archive of Our Own, Transformative Works and Cultures, Open Doors, Fanlore… to name a few! Due to our infrastructure, we can barely support enough growth to allow the OTW to function day to day, much less handle special projects and emergencies — much less grow more.

From the perspective of the Board, this means we do not just act as Board of Directors. In fact, we do not act as Board of Directors at all most of the time. We act as Executive Board, executive staff, senior staff, and we plug every hole. We mediate, we mentor, we facilitate inter-committee projects; we’re trying to document processes and positions that should have been documented five years ago; we liaise with every committee.

What should a Board of Directors do?

A Board of Directors at a nonprofit, in general, will do the following:

Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards

  • Determine mission and purpose.
  • Select the chief executive.
  • Support and evaluate the chief executive.
  • Ensure effective planning.
  • Monitor and strengthen programs and services. The board’s responsibility is to determine which programs are consistent with the organization’s mission and monitor their effectiveness.
  • Ensure adequate financial resources.
  • Protect assets and provide proper financial oversight.
  • Build a competent board.
  • Ensure legal and ethical integrity.
  • Enhance the organization’s public standing.

In short, a Board of Directors is responsible for the overall governance of an organization.

Hey, what’s a chief executive?

You’ll notice the OTW is missing a Chief Executive Officer, or an Executive Director. The Executive Director of an organization runs an executive team, and they do things like liaise with committees/teams, act as the leadership and management for the whole organization, and train and mentor the senior staff.

A good Executive Director also does things like guide communication and expansion, work with fundraising to build opportunities into new markets, sit on the Board and help guide the organization’s strategic plan, then put it into practice with each team working within the organization…

Right now, the Board is doing a lot of Executive Director work—and scrambling to do it, because the OTW isn’t set up to allow the Executive Director work to be done quickly, easily, or, in some cases, at all.


More tomorrow on the OTW’s plans for the future.