In 2015, a couple of years after entering LibraryLand, I applied and became a board member at one of my favourite network activist groups, Open Media. Last week, just shy of three years later, I stepped down from the board. It has been a great learning experience for me. While I have worked as a staff member to support a board before, I’d only ever been on a couple of “advisory boards” previously, so this was new to me.
Maybe my biggest learning was around what effective boards need. I applied because Open Media’s mission resonated strongly with me. Over my years working online, in education and then in libraries, I came to believe strongly that all of the work on copyright reform, open education and other means of creating collective intelligence would be for naught if we allowed governments and corporate interests to control free expression and access to an increasingly surveilled environment. I recall first hearing and meeting OM’s founder, Steve Anderson, at Northern Voice (in either 2010 or 11, my memory is unreliable on this) and rushing up, dressed in my self-made Pirate Party t-shirt, to thank him for his vision in creating a group to fight for these freedoms. It was inspiring then as it is now.
But what I learned is that passion for, and alignment with, mission is the minimum requirement to be on a board. It’s definitely important, but ultimately a board, especially one for a small non-profit, has its own set of needs. These days I do IT operations, and career-wise I’ve done a few different things. Boards need skills with fundraising, communications, governance, HR, finance… I did my best to learn on some of these fronts (and turns out I am ok at governance stuff and have some experience with HR) but at the end of the day I’m no expert at any of these.
One of the reasons I feel good about stepping down is that we did another round of board renewal last year and were very intentional as a board about what we were looking for. And the search brought in a lawyer, a couple of fundraisers and an accountant to the new board, to complement its already strong leadership. So it feels like a decent time to leave and let the new board kick into action.
It was an interesting period to be on this particular board – I was there to see and help with the transition from the founder to a new ED, something every young organization eventually has to go through. That was gratifying and super relevant to other parts of my working life. During my time on the board OM continued to fight the good fight, whether it be on Bill C51, net neutrality in the US, or the most recent attempts by telcos and big media in Canada to circumvent due process with their own version of SOPA. I leave the richer for the experience and will always be a supporter of OM’s work. If you don’t already, I would urge you to donate, especially in the form of a monthly recurring donation – even a small amount helps guarantee more stability and ongoing work that ultimately benefits us all. – SWL