Gregory Pettigrew (etherial) wrote,
Gregory Pettigrew

It Is A State Of Mind

The Barony of Carolingia is many things to many people. Most relevantly to this post, it is a regional chapter of a 401(c)3 Educational Non-Profit, hereafter referred to as "The Barony", and it is a subset of a social club of people who like to hold theme parties dressed in funny clothes, hereafter referred to as "Carolingia".

jdulac has announced his impending retirement as Baron. This presents an interesting logistical problem and casts the differences between Carolingia and the Barony in stark contrast. The Coronet is an Office of the Barony, yet wields very little authority within it. However, the Coronet wields significant influence in Carolingia. Unlike most of the other offices of the Barony, which are generally selected via discussion in Council/appointment/everyone else taking a step back, the Coronet must be appointed via a polling of the paid members of the Barony. Officially, Carolingians who are not paid members, or who do not live within the strict confines of the Barony's geographical territory, have absolutely no say in the matter, and much discussion over the past several months has been in how to give Carolingia some influence in the selection of its Coronet.

Direct analogues to this particular case are actually hard to come by. Nobody really complains that New Hampshire residents don't get to vote in Mass. elections, despite the effect one can have on the other. Still, the requirement that you live within the geopraphic borders of your social club is elitist and capricious. It's somewhat akin to saying that all full-time college students living 10 blocks from your college get a vote in student elections -- even students of other colleges -- but not part-time or commuter students.

Much of the discussion involved coming up with some metric that could be passed by the higher ups who live in New Jersey and California and have authority over the Barony's polling, but don't really get Carolingia. Status Mentis Est -- It is a State of Mind, we say. But, as dreda pointed out, the more you try to define something as nebulous as "the people in your subgroup of the social club", the more contrived your definitions get. And it wouldn't begin to be satisfying to those higher ups, and it isn't particularly relevant to the process of deciding how to conduct the polling, which also needed to be discussed. We're expecting somewhere between 2 and 10 candidates (I'm guessing around six). Plurality voting, the system most Americans are familiar with, begins to fall apart with only 3 candidates.

A two-round system was proposed: A polling would be sent to all members of the Barony, but before that, a Town Hall meeting would be held to narrow the list of slates down to five, and in that meeting, anyone meeting at least one of the following criteria may cast a ballot:

  • paid members of the SCA living within the territorial boundaries of the Barony
  • anyone who has attended a Baronial event in the past year.
  • members of the Great Council of the Barony of Carolingia

This list attempts to ensure a ballot can be cast by each of the three main stakeholders in this election: the Barony, Carolingia, and the movers and shakers. herooftheage had proposed a much simpler alternate standard: give a ballot to anyone who says "I am a Carolingian". Now, that certainly does attempt to ensure that all Carolingians get to vote, but it is a) prone to abuse, and therefore b) going to get us in trouble with the higher ups, but also c) not necessarily accurate and d) not entirely the point. The purpose of the criteria above isn't to create a complete list of Carolingians. That feat is not just impractical, but impossible (nor is it necessary). That is the list of people the Barony is willing to hold the Coronet hostage over. It will no doubt suck for people who want a vote but don't meet any of these criteria, but a line has to be drawn somewhere, and this is frankly a lot more on Carolingia's side of things than I would have expected the higher ups to approve. It's not even clear how many people all this effort has empowered will actually vote.

I did my best to keep silent during the discussions on how to include Carolingia for one simple reason: I have a conflict of interest in the outcome of this discussion. I'm not entitled to a ballot in this polling. It is in my interest for the Barony to flout the Kingdom on behalf of Carolingia. Further, though I have been granted the right to a ballot, I'm still not sure that I should cast it. I'm an officer of a neighboring group, and I have plans for that group, and it's not necessarily appropriate for me to wield power just because the Barony grants it me.

Given the tools available, I think this is the best compromise that could be reached. It attempts to give power to all of the stakeholders in the process without opening itself up to (too much) abuse.

So, why bother?

In part, it's a matter of priorities. Does the Barony exist to serve Carolingia, or does Carolingia exist to serve the Barony? It is not a priori true that the legal entity exists to serve the social club. I remain involved in my college's Glee Club and my college's Science Fiction Society partly for my own enjoyment, but partly to serve the student organizations themselves in their never-ending quest for funding from the school. Certainly a more charity-oriented group would likely find that the social club and the legal entity take a backseat to the cause. But in this case, the legal entity exists entirely to serve the social club. In fact, our main conflict with the higher ups is that they seem to believe that the legal entity and the social club are one and the same, and we seem to believe that the legal entity exists solely to open a few doors and allow us to complain to them whenever they change the rules on us.

How does this apply to your org? First, acknowledge that your org is a venn diagram, not a circle. Even a corporation, which looks like a closed group from most perspectives, involves investors, customers, former employees, and business relationships. Knowing how your decisions affect these groups will enable you to maximize the size and/or market share of your org.

Second, identify your stakeholders. Who is emotionally and financially invested in your org? Who can damage your org through inaction?

Next, empower your stakeholders. You'll note that one of the subgroups of Carolingia consists of people who do live in the geographic boundaries of the org but aren't paid members of the SCA. At first blush, this seems exactly like the kind of person to ignore, but they generally come in three categories: new people who haven't committed yet, old people who have cut back due to emotional/temporal/financial cost, and old people who are protesting the way the Barony is being run (usually they're protesting the actions of the higher ups, but not always). In reality, none of these groups are safe to ignore, and all are sources of serious volunteer potential.

Last, repeat step 1. Recognize that your org will grow and change and the venn diagram will only grow more complicated over time. Some circles may have to be dropped or cannot (or should not) be empowered, but an org is an ever-changing thing. As it changes, you have to change how you run it, too.

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