OTW Board Reports on 2014 Retreat

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Along with the Strategic Planning committee and delegates from the Legal and Volunteers & Recruiting committees, the OTW Board of Directors had a productive and encouraging retreat in Silver Spring, Maryland this past weekend. We packed a lot of intense discussions into three days of meetings, and it was also a welcome opportunity to meet some of our colleagues in person. The Strategic Planning committee in particular put in a lot of work before and during the retreat, and we are very grateful for their efforts and for everyone’s participation.

The Board of Directors is disappointed to announce that Anna Genoese resigned her position with the OTW after the conclusion of the retreat. We would like to thank Anna for her service on the Board and to the OTW. Director Andrea Horbinski will be taking over Anna’s role as Secretary of the Board for the remainder of the 2014 term.

Minutes for the retreat are available on the OTW website. As is apparent from the minutes, the Board is developing some ambitious goals to improve the OTW’s policies and procedures over the next one to three years, and we look forward to implementing them with the assistance and input of our staff, volunteers, and members. We know that there have often been questions about the OTW’s long-term viability, but each and every one of the retreat participants left Maryland genuinely convinced that none of our goals exceed our grasp as an organization. We’re very excited for the future of the Organization for Transformative Works, and to build that future in cooperation with you.

In the short term, Strategic Planning and the Board are scheduling wrap-up meetings to take place in the next couple of weeks, after which preparation of the draft Strategic Plan will begin in earnest. Once that draft has been completed, it will be circulated to OTW personnel for comment and feedback before being finalized.

  1. mae commented:

    Wasn’t the retreat three days long? Where are the minutes for the third day?

    “Asks for money in a good way – many committees either don’t ask for money at all, or expect automatic approval without adequate information and/or explanation when they do ask”

    What a passive aggressive statement. I can see why some committees are apparently afraid to ask for money.

    Speaking of money, how much donor money was spent on this retreat? I imagine each person at least paid for their travel expense, but hotels and such were probably pretty expensive.

    • Jan commented:

      Are they using donor money to that? This doesn’t sound fair or make any sense.
      I pay so the AO3 stays up, not for some people to travel and meet when online could work perfectly fine. I don’t think I feel like donating after reading this. The meetings sounds like a complete waste of time. If people have time to waste good for them, but don’t do it with my money.

      • OTW Board commented:

        The Organization for Transformative Works is a 501(c)3 non-profit that oversees, but does not solely comprise, the Archive of Our Own; while we love the AO3, it is not all that we do.

        The following is from a message to OTW staff and volunteers about last year’s retreat:

        “Why does the Board need to meet in person?

        Annual retreats for Board members or other staff are common in the nonprofit and business worlds, even in organizations where everyone normally works in the same physical location. The value of occasionally breaking away from the normal routine and setting aside a special place and time for concentrated reflection and goal-setting is widely recognized. In most organizations, even workers who telecommute have usually had previous in-person experience with their coworkers and attend in-person meetings annually or more often.

        Organizations like the OTW, in which all communication happens online and most of the staff have never met in person, are very rare, and we believe that the unique communication challenges of an all-online organization make it even more important to connect in person. The opportunity for face-to-face dialogue in real time, unmediated by the use of computers, will allow for a more nuanced and faster-paced conversation. Being able to observe body language, tone, and inflection is an aspect of communication working online simply cannot duplicate.”

        Without the OTW, the AO3 will not exist, and these meetings were and are absolutely vital to ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of the OTW.

        • anon commented:

          This is a very nice and slick statement, but none of it actually explains why these particular people need to meet in person. Every OTW committee has succeeded for years now to get things done (including the entirety of the AO3) without meeting in person, without ‘more nuanced and faster-paced conversation’. I’m sure we all agree that it’s nice to not have to rely on computer communication, but we are from all over the world and it’s just not very feasible. I for one would prefer my money to be spent more productively and carefully.

          • Zooey Glass commented:

            Agreed. The OTW has done loads of amazing work with online teams – it’s nice for people to meet face-to-face, of course, but I find it hard to believe that it’s essential. The comment below states that this retreat was the equivalent of ‘3 months work’ (although that doesn’t really seem to be reflected in the minutes posted so far – maybe the third set of minutes will contain something more substantial?). It seems to me, however, that simply setting aside three days solid for OTW work was probably a major factor in facilitating this. If Board members had just set aside three days to work together online they could have done the same kind of concentrated discussion (I know some people are in different timezones, but for a solid block of time it’s not that hard to just work on a different timezone, which you are effectively doing anyway by moving location.)

            I can see there is some value in meeting face-to-face (and it’s fun!) but at 8.4% of the org budget for the year the cost-benefit ratio just doesn’t justify itself.

          • sanders/OTW Board member & Treasurer commented:

            This wasn’t solely Board meeting, but also members of Legal, Volunteers & Recruiting, and all of Strategic Planning. Had it been a matter of coordinating the five of us on Board at the time to meet for several 10 hour days, it would have been an incredibly difficult struggle at best. With seventeen people involved, it would have proven impossible.

            Moving the strategic planning process forward is an essential need for the organization, as is the structural policy work we were able to accomplish during the meeting. Being able to accelerate that work and condense both the collaborative processes and approvals was the primary concern in initial discussions of holding a retreat of any kind, and in settling on the structure of this one.

        • Alex Tischer commented:

          these meetings were and are absolutely vital to ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of the OTW

          I seriously question that statement.
          But no matter what, even if they turn out to be, they will have to be without my donations from now on. Plain and simple.

    • OTW Board commented:

      The Board Secretary is currently working on minutes for the third day of the retreat, October 5; those will be posted to the website as soon as they are approved.

      Financial expenses for the retreat were reported in this week’s Open Board meeting and will be available in the minutes of that session, which will also be posted on the website. It is the policy of the OTW to cover travel costs for its staffers and volunteers attending these annual meetings in order to assure that everyone who needs to participate can do so, which is also standard non-profit policy.

    • sanders/OTW Board member & Treasurer commented:

      Since two of these run into finances, I’m answering as OTW’s Treasurer foremost, and member of the Board secondly.

      The day three minutes will be posted next week. We had one director ill, one on a trans-Pacific move, and another both ill and traveling in the week after the retreat.

      The committee in question that “asks for money in a good way” is one that always submits clear and concise requests, far ahead of the time of the expenditure. In other words, they make solid proposals. We have other committees who have, in the past, made requests without detailing the expenses and/or while making the requests on unnecessarily tight turnarounds. We have still others with whom it is like pulling teeth to get them to look for paid alternatives to the programs they need instead of settling for subpar free or cheap options (I’m saying nothing here that I haven’t said in public before, with members of those committees, because I spend a lot of time begging them to let me help them find alternatives instead of them losing weeks of sleep trying to patch tools into what’s needed).

      In either case, none of it is about fear of asking but a fear of spending because finances for OTW were so lean for so long. We’re in a position now to have and maintain a healthy reserve to keep the lights on for several months in case of emergencies, and to explore options for better and more efficient resources for all of our personnel to carry out their work. We are able to seriously consider the question of do we invest a significant amount now on a program that may have a few more bells and whistles and can grow with the org or continue making do with cheaper or free alternatives that may not fit all of our needs, but it all depends on the committees coming forward with proposals for those things.

      As for the retreat, travel, meals, and lodging were fully funded by the org, in line with Board’s principles that personal finances should never be a barrier to serving as OTW personnel. In our annual budget for 2014 of $221,900, we set aside $20,000 for the retreat and came in under that at $18,657 (8.4% of the operating budget, half of the amount allotted for general staff development and training), including an added insurance premium for liability coverage and the cost of the actual meeting space. 17 people attended the retreat from three committees and Board, with three traveling on international flights, and the rest on discounted domestic flights. A daily per diem for meals was issued using US federal guidelines for the area, and the unused portions of those disbursements have been/are being donated back to OTW. The average cost per attendee was $900, all-inclusive, to participate in three full formal meeting days and informal work between scheduled sessions at 10-12 hours of work each day, covering the equivalent of what I conservatively estimate to be 3 months of regular org work in that time.

      • Kat commented:

        we set aside $20,000 for the retreat and came in under that at $18,657

        I hope we all get an extra hour in the ball pit for that.

        Seriously though, this will be the last time I donated to OTW. Other committees manage perfectly fine without needing a “special place and time for concentrated reflection”. I’m expecting to fund things this organization actually needs, not a therapist to sit in board meetings and a retreat to “observe body language, tone, and inflection”.

      • Jan commented:

        3 times 12 hours is how much work Board manage in 3 months? that is like 3 hours week. Most staff position that open up in this same site has more hours requirement than that. Maybe everyone should take a big step back and consider if they can actually put in the work before joining the board. Hint: If you can’t dedicate more than half a hour/day, you shouldn’t. How board get select this days anyway? We don’t have any election for so long. Don’t they have a minimal workload required?

        • sanders/OTW Board member & Treasurer commented:

          Believe me, Board work is far more than three hours a week. Closer to 30 in a good, easy week.

          To give a concrete example of how the workflow was condensed in the retreat: Five separate, detailed policy sets were worked on with VolCom, Legal, Strategic Planning, and Board in the room, actively collaborating. Those policies, with attendant procedures and groundwork for implementation, were determined in roughly six hours over three days. In order to do that online or via A/V meetings, it would have translated to a week of whenisgood polling and doc prep. Holding at least two meetings at separate times to accommodate time zones for 17 people, neither running longer than two hours at most, followed by at least 24-48 hours for revisions to be distributed, read, and given feedback; then scheduling another meeting with a week of time polling. Two more separate meetings would follow, with another day or two for revisions. An email thread for follow up would necessarily follow, and likely run for a week before all input was given. Another round of revisions would take place, and then coordinating all three groups to vote on the docs would require at least three days. So what took about six hours of the retreat over three days would have translated to roughly six weeks of A/V meetings and emailing, without considering the possibility of anyone having scheduling conflicts or delayed response times.

          This also doesn’t take into account that for Legal, Volunteers and Recruiting, and Board our focuses are often split to manage a dozen different projects in a week under our individual committee purview and several more that require singular attention from each person. In the course of the retreat, we were able to focus exclusively on strategic planning and the long-term, broad view of OTW in a way we just aren’t able to do in the course of a normal week.

          • CrimsonTyphoon commented:

            I have to butt in here. I don’t think anyone is saying that a meet-up is a bad thing. What is being said (and rightfully so, in my opinion) is that the cost of this retreat is way too high. Setting aside almost 10% in the yearly budget for a meetup is astronomical in my opinion.

            You say that to accomodate for A/V meetups you would have to prep for a week with whenisgood polls etc and there would be issues in follow-up, which would drag out the process, and there would be other distractions so you can’t exclusively focus on certain issues. To which I just have to ask: why not? What honestly is stopping anyone from taking the days off, since they have to do that anyway due to travel etc, and focusing entirely on these meetings.
            Regarding the preparation, it’s not like the time away for the retreat didn’t have to be planned either, I don’t think that’s a particularly good reason not to have it online.

            You mention time-zone issues, well you said yourself that 14 of the 17 attendees came from domestic flights, meaning that the time-zones are very close together. And even with 3 people coming in from international time-zones, if you add in things like jet-lag etc, I don’t think staying up 3 nights is much worse.

            I feel very frustrated that you (board in this instance) have just decided that you want to set aside US$20k (who knows if that’s going to stay that way, maybe it’ll become even more) for a retreat with a few comittees, with input from anyone else, with no oversight. That you seem to categorically refuse any and all alternatives, because they ‘don’t work’, when it doesn’t even seem like you’ve tried. You have, again and again, ignored all critical voices from org-staff.

            I don’t feel comfortable giving you any donations like this, so I won’t participate in the drive this year, and I will caution anyone I know to do the same.

          • CrimsonTyphoon commented:

            *’without input from anyone else’ of course. Stupid typos.

          • Staff on the Org commented:

            I still waiting any concrete result from last year retreat, where there was a decision of documenting board work, there is no documentation in place after one year. And this year is going the same way.
            The minutes are vague and no concrete voting or decision are reached (beside a paid committee so board can talk to each other).
            There is no minutes to the final day, the only concrete things in those so far is criticism and passive aggressive comments about staff.
            You call it now a Strategic Planning retreat, after months and making it very clear it was a board retreat and everyone else was guests.
            I do not believe this is worth 20k of donors money, this is not board money to spend as they please.
            Or that this goals and decisions couldn’t be reached any other way, we have all worke and keep everything up and running for years trought online tools while board fighted and got in the way and was dangerous incompetent.
            We all would love to go spend a weekend with our fellow staff all expenses paid by the org, we don’t do it because this shouldn’t be the org priority. This shouldn’t be the destiny for this money.
            Making people that attended feel good about their work is not enough of a justification to keep this up, specially while make all other staff feel hopeless and like they are talking to a wall.
            I will not donate to this drive, or divulgue this drive, and I urge everyone else to do the same.

  2. elz commented:

    Are there any plans to release minutes for the third day of the retreat? It sounds like that included a lot of the strategic planning discussion, so I’d be particularly interested in reading those.

    • OTW Board commented:

      The Board Secretary is currently working on minutes for the third day of the retreat, October 5; those will be posted to the website as soon as they are approved by Board.

  3. Zooey Glass commented:

    Will any further statement be released about Anna Genoese’s resignation? It seems rather concerning that after a three day meeting which seems to have largely focused on strategies for the Board to work well together, one Board member seems to have felt that she could no longer work with the Board at all.

    • sanders/OTW Board member & Treasurer commented:

      Anna’s intention, dating from much earlier in the year, had always been to resign at some point after the retreat and before the end of the year. Having talked to Anna at length, and as a friend, about her decision prior to the retreat, I feel safe in saying the events of the retreat had little impact on her resignation. The timing was unfortunate and difficult for many of us who’ve worked with Anna (and for Anna herself), but ultimately the best decision at the time.

      • CrimsonTyphoon commented:

        Anna has specifically said that she found the work in the board incredibly exhausting, not because of the work itself, but because of board members. The fact that she did speed up her resignation DIRECTLY AFTER retreat shows throws an incredibly dark light on retreat in my opinion, so I hope you understand why I still find this extremely dubious.

        • sanders/OTW Board member & Treasurer commented:

          Anna stayed through the retreat in part because some of us begged her to hold out to be there and out of wanting to see the work SP was doing through the weekend as far as I know from her. Again, her decision to resign was already made and the timing decided as some point after the retreat. How soon was always up to her, and the retreat allowed her to conclude or pass on all of the projects she had open for the Board, as well as see through the work she started with SP in 2012 to its next phase. There’s really no mountain to be made of this particular molehill, or any undisclosed secrets behind it.

        • annagenoese commented:

          Anna Genoese speaking.

          First, I understand that visiting my intentions is exciting, and I retired at a poor time. However, I retired when I needed to for my personal reasons.

          I think the retreat was absolutely necessary; I worked closely with sanders to plan it, and I first chaired Strategic Planning and then worked closely with them while on Board. The strategic plan information and all the “OTW-benefit” that came out of the retreat and all of the things OTW staff and volunteers will be hearing from the Strategic Planning Committee directly is not only worth $20,000 but worth a hell of a lot more than that (and trust me: hiring an outside company to do this work costs a lot more than 20k USD).

          I personally have 100% faith in Hana, Jess, MJ, Niko, Elliot, and Gryph — the strategic planning work I’ve seen from them has been top-notch. Combined with the work Legal and VolCom did at the retreat… yes. Yes it was worth $20k of the org’s money to get those people in a room working together at high speed for three days.


          –anna genoese

          • Zooey Glass commented:

            Thank you for providing some additional information. It’s not really the case that visiting your intentions is exciting; rather that some context for the decision is beneficial in understanding the current position of the Board.

          • CrimsonTyphoon commented:

            Thank you for your comments. As Zooey said it is less the excitement and having proper context, so I appreciate you providing such.

            I don’t think I will agree with you on the worth of the expenditure, though. I don’t think anyone is saying that the retreat, as a way for both Board and certain comittees to focus on certain problems is a bad idea. I maintain the stance that there could have been other viable alternatives, as stated above in another thread, and as another comment says, the worry that there might not much to come out of this, because of bad precedent.

            But thank you again, for providing some context.

  4. facetofcathy commented:

    For almost $20k that third day had better have been releasing final plans for the view this story in live action 3d porno-vision button for the AO3.

  5. Becky Roush commented:

    I would like to speak up as a veteran of for profit and not for profit organizations. Retreats like the board took are absolutely essential for the continued growth of OTW. As an outsider it can certainly look like a perk. The name retreat is deceiving. These environments are where visions are made, passionate disagreement worked out and connections that will help the not in person communication be more effective. If OTW’s primary mission was to keep AO3 up and strong a retreat wouldn’t make sense. But OTW has a mission beyond keeping our favorite reading free and accessible not to mention without advertisements, without legal encroachment. OTW is the keeper of the flame and if we can support volunteers doing that more effectively, amen. It may seem like a large percentage of OTW’s budget. However, without those people OTW does not even exist. Join me in increasing my pledge this year because the people that hold the vision and lead the movement deserve our support.

    • Erin commented:

      “The keeper of the flame”? Are you for real?

      You are talking like if the OTW board doesn’t get their $20,000 retreats, fandom as a whole will collapse. OTW does not in any sense own the “vision” of fandom, nor are they the leaders of fandom. Fandom has grown and thrived for decades before OTW existed, and if OTW disintegrated tomorrow, fandom would continue thriving and AO3 would be just another archive that went dead.

      Is there any way to justify the cost of this retreat and the fact that donor money was used for it, without resorting to wildly exaggerating the importance of OTW?

  6. Becky Roush commented:

    I would like to speak up as a veteran of for profit and not for profit organizations. Retreats like the board took are absolutely essential for the continued growth of OTW. As an outsider it can certainly look like a perk. The name retreat is deceiving. These environments are where visions are made, passionate disagreement worked out and connections that will help the not in person communication be more effective. If OTW’s primary mission was to keep AO3 up and strong a retreat wouldn’t make sense. But OTW has a mission beyond keeping our favorite reading free and accessible not to mention without advertisements, without legal encroachment. OTW is the keeper of the flame and if we can support volunteers doing that more effectively, amen. It may seem like a large percentage of OTW’s budget. However, without those people OTW does not even exist. Join me in increasing my pledge this year because the people that hold the vision and lead the movement deserve our support.

  7. Zoe Icebreg commented:

    As another veteran of non-profits and for profits, I’d like to say that the idea that “retreats” are “essential” to a non-profit is hilarious – especially a retreat that costs almost $20,000. Most of us simply cannot justify such a cost because we are morally and ethically obligated to our donors to spend our money more wisely.

    We do these things called “meetings.” If the people on your board are unwilling to compromise enough to have them, but are willing enough to waste the donors’ money to meet up for a retreat, then you have bad board members. Period.

    This money was a waste, and has guaranteed that I will not donate. I will strongly caution those I know not to donate, too.

  8. Annie Nonnymous commented:

    Dear OTW,

    I find it rather telling that following this retreat, you’ve sent out an immediate fundraising notification needing to raise $70,000 (US) to keep the organization afloat. Funny, how the total might have been only $50,000 had you not wasted the time on an $20,000 in-person retreat that accomplished basically nothing. I’m Okay, You’re Okay went out with the ’70s.

    After reading through the minutes of the first two days (and still waiting for the minutes of the third day), and reading your fundraising letter. My response to OTW/AO3’s request for funds, unfortunately, is “no”.

    That a fan-run/fan-supported organization should waste nearly $20,000 on a three day retreat that, based on the minutes, accomplished absolutely nothing. Empathy is a difficult emotion to handle? Gee, no kidding. How many people in their day-to-day lives had ever needed a facilitator to explain that one to them? Professionals should behave in a professional manner? Anyone with any sort of work experience knows the answer to that question, and didn’t need a three-day retreat to arrive at that conclusion. So, once again the board has little to show for their time spent.

    As a NNF in extremely teeny-tiny fandoms, OTW and AO3 have made it abundantly clear from the get-go that I’m not the type of fan they’re interested in having. There’s been little to no outreach within older and less popular fandoms — just look at the Fanlore pages for them! — (and most fans within those fandoms have no idea what either the organization or the archive is, which proves how little outreach has been done in the seven years since the organization’s existence).

    If I feel motivated to donate to OTW/AO3, it will be on my own time; I do not need a “do not reply e-mail” begging for funds — especially after you’re dropped $20,000 on a retreat that likely could have been handled on line. And please don’t answer that attempting to get people from all over the world in the same room/same time presented logistic problems. If they could get to Silver Springs, Maryland for three days, they could have cleared their schedules in their own regions to allow for the same amount of time in an online discussion. It’s not 1998, after all.

    Perhaps if I was brave enough, I’d have signed this with my online name and email address. But frankly, I’m not that brave, and do not feel like being harassed by your supporters (who, IMO, are welcome to continue to support you should they wish — but this time, it just won’t be me).

    I wish you luck in your endeavors, but would prefer not receiving email blast about fundraising — there is such a thing as having a little bit of discretion — especially after you’ve dropped $20,000 on what appears to be a three day ego pat session.

  9. Disappointed commented:

    Whatever respect I might have had for you, is completely gone. I’d also like to not receive any further emails about any of your donation drives, knowing that you’ve pissed away 20000 USD (!) on some completely nonsensical vacation. Frankly, I’m thoroughly disgusted.

  10. Ruby Washington commented:

    After reading these many comments, I am shocked. I had no idea there was a retreat and that 20,000 was spent just for a 3 day discussion. Also there doesn’t seem to be any clear documents about what actually occurred and what was accomplished. I’m starting to regret that I donated before looking into what the money was being used for. I guess I was just in a giving mood when I first found out about this fund-raiser. I wish I could take it back now. I received an e-mail begging for me to donate although I had already donated, and the goal has already been met. That’s what made me want to investigate. I assumed that once a goal was met, the fundraiser should end, but the goal was increased by 30,000. Was it decided that the previous goal wasn’t enough. Why is so much money needed? Are there no documents that will clearly state where the money will be spent?

  11. Kelly commented:

    You know, part of me thinks $20K for a retreat? That’s a pretty good perk.

    BUT…we have this amazing archive. These people work their ASSES off…and they work for free. We have this incredible fandom resource here. A03 is what I use most and I remember the fragmented days before it: if I wanted to find a particular fic for a fandom I was no longer in, it was so hard. If something caught my interest, I wouldn’t know where to look.

    So … you know, I don’t mind that these people treated themselves. Face to face contact is SO USEFUL. It leads to empathy and a better functioning board. And hey, maybe the kinda deserve some love for a change.

    (Disclosure: I don’t know anyone on the board, I have never volunteered for A03, but I use it frequently and therefore I am thankful it exists.)