The Board of Directors
Society for Creative Anachronism
I am writing to offer opinions on a number of issues currently facing you. I begin with the two broadest--decentralization and democratization.
Currently, the formal structure of the SCA and its real structure are very different. Formally, there is a single organization, run from the top; each kingdom seneschal is a vice president of the Corporation, each local seneschal an agent of the Corporation. When a shire sells a feast ticket for six dollars, that money is income of the Corporation and must be reported as such to the IRS. When the autocrat buys groceries, he is buying them for the Corporation.
But that is not what is really happening. When the autocrat holds down costs in order to produce a surplus, it is not because he wishes to enrich the SCA Inc. but because his local group wants to buy a Beverly shear or make their next event a more lavish one. When the autocrat was chosen, the decision was made not by an agent of the Executive Director of the SCA Inc. but by the representatives of a small group of people, the active members of the Shire, who know each other and are accustomed to work together. Information, loyalty and control exist mostly at the local level, to a smaller but still substantial degree at the kingdom level, and least of all at the Corporate level. Nominally the group's treasury belongs to the Corporation, but the group would be outraged if the Corporation actually took it, and the relevant Corporate officials would be astonished if the group sent them the bills for their feast.
I offer as evidence the history of the recent conflict between the Executive Director and the kingdoms of Ansteorra and Calontir. If the real structure of the Society matched its formal structure, the Executive Director would simply have gone over the heads of the Kings and Kingdom seneschals, given orders to the local seneschals who are supposed to be his agents, and had those orders obeyed. So far as I could tell, no such attempt was made, and if it had been made it would have failed. Whatever the local seneschals may be in the formal rules of the SCA Inc., in fact they are the servants of the members of their local groups and their Baron and King.
I suggest that it would be much easier for the SCA to function, especially as it grows, if its formal structure fitted better to its actual structure. That would mean recognizing that local groups are unincorporated (or incorporated) associations, owning and controlling their own income, choosing their own officers. The kingdoms are associations of such groups and the Corporation is an association of the Kingdoms.
One consequence of such a change would be to reduce the administrative burden at all levels. The Corporation would be responsible only for money that actually flowed through its hands, not for the accounts of the local groups. Large local groups would have to file their own tax returns--but would no longer have to provide exchequer reports to be passed up the hierarchy. Small local groups, as I understand the current IRS regulations, would have to operate as non-profits but would not have to file returns.
I have some evidence for the claim that such a change would greatly reduce costs. My wife's mother is currently the first vice president of the Midwestern Federation of Mineral Societies, which is itself a member of the American Federation of Mineral Societies (AFMS). The Gem and Mineral collecting hobby is structured in the fashion I have described. The members of the AFMS are the regional associations, the members of the regionals (aside from a few unaffiliated individuals, mostly in areas where there is no club) are local mineral clubs.
The total number of members involved is about twice ours--roughly fifty thousand. At the national level, there are two part time employees. Cost per member is fifty cents at the national level and $2.60 for national plus regional (in the Midwestern region). That includes the cost of insurance and the cost of providing two or three copies of the national and regional newsletters to each club; additional copies are available to members by subscription. By comparison, we currently charge $20/member with no newsletter, $35/member with T.I. and the kingdom newsletter.
If you wish more details on this particular real world example of an alternative way of organizing, I will be happy to provide them; I have already sent a copy to Eric Mohr, who expressed interest in it.
Given the generally conservative nature of our organization, it might be best to move towards decentralization by local option. Kingdoms that wished to maintain their present relationship to the Corporation would be permitted to do so. Kingdoms that wished to become legally independent groups, associated with the Corporation as members of an association rather than as subordinate organizations, would have that option. Kingdoms could, if they wished, follow a similar policy with regard to their local groups.
One consequence of the problems of the past six months has been to call the attention of the membership to the highly undemocratic nature of our corporate governance, and create a great deal of dissatisfaction therewith. If you wish, as I think prudent, to move to a more democratic structure, you might consider how best to combine stability with control by the membership.
One model which I believe is popular with non-profit organizations is a system in which the board and officers are effectively self-perpetuating as long as the membership is content, but can be replaced if there is serious dissatisfaction. Typically this means a nominating committee which nominates one candidate for each office. Candidates can also be nominated by a petition signed by a percent or two of the membership. Most of the time, only the official candidate is nominated--or, if someone else is nominated, only the official candidate has a real chance of election. But if those in control do things that make the membership seriously unhappy, they can all be replaced at the next election. The knowledge of that fact provides a substantial constraint on what those in control feel free to do.
An alternative, or additional, approach to giving the members more control over the Board would be to amend the rules for impeachment to put some real teeth in them. That would require at least two changes. The first is to eliminate the Board's current ability to neutralize an impeachment petition by simply acquitting the impeached Board member--a member impeached by a petition signed by the necessary number of members would be off the Board. The second is to provide for some other body to appoint the successor to an impeached member. That might be the Interkingdom Advisory Council, assuming the Board does not end up with control over who is on it, or the Sovereigns, or perhaps some other reasonably neutral party.
According to the information recently released by the Executive Director, the Corporation in 1993 ran an accounting profit of $17,580 and a cash flow surplus ("Net increase in cash & cash equiv.") of $39,310. At the beginning of 1994, the Board of directors raised the price of membership by about 40% and announced that it was imposing compulsory membership. Subsequently it cancelled compulsory membership, retained the price increase, and imposed a $3/non-member surcharge, justified on grounds of financial necessity.
On the face of it, these facts are extraordinary. They imply that an organization which ran in the black in 1993 was not only in financial trouble in 1994, but in such deep financial trouble that a 40% price increase was inadequate to balance the books. To this date, no adequate explanation for that situation has been offered by the Corporation.
No evidence has been offered of any large unexpected expenses. Official explanations have alternated between implying that the changes were planned in advance for the good of the Society (the Board letter and attachments) and implying that they were a response to a sudden financial emergency (the account in the Spring T.I.)--with no explanation of where the emergency came from. The situation is made even more puzzling by the fact that the Corporation has been simultaneously justifying unpopular decisions on the basis of urgent financial need and going to court in order to avoid opening its books to the membership.
Under these circumstances, I believe the first step must be for the Corporation to clearly explain what the situation is. If the January actions were a panic-stricken response to an imaginary emergency, you should say so and reverse them. If they were the result of bad planning by a Board of Directors that voted expensive new policies without providing the money to pay for them, you should admit that--and open the question of whether to reverse the policies or retain the price increase. If they were a response to some legitimate new financial problem, you should tell the rest of us about it. Until you provide the membership with the necessary information, the membership cannot help you decide what to do and has no reason to trust the decisions that you make without their help.
Over a period of many years, the Corporation has gradually expanded the range of activities for which membership is required. So far as I can tell, this change was due to a general feeling that requiring membership was a good thing--a feeling that seems to have been held by a majority of the Board but a minority, probably a small minority, of the membership.
The underlying arguments have been thrashed out at great length. In my view, it is in large part a debate about symbolism. Supporters of required membership see it as requiring those who play any important role in the Society to demonstrate their commitment and bear their share of the load by being members. Opponents reply that sending cash to the Corporation is only one way, and not the most important way, of contributing to the Society. The non-member who washes dishes at every event makes more of a contribution, and should (and will) have more of a voice in the Society, than the member who attends every event as a spectator. For them too required membership is a symbol--a symbol that converts a social net of friends providing mutual assistance for love and honor into a corporation measuring contribution by dollars paid into its coffers.
As is no doubt obvious from these remarks (and my previous letters) I am one of the opponents. Rather than try to argue the general issue further here, I would like to comment on one particular issue--requiring membership for fighters.
The chief argument used to justify this policy was the need to have waivers on file. It is possible that having waivers on file is useful--but if so, it can be accomplished without compulsory membership. The Corporation can simply require all fighters to have a waiver card, certifying that they have sent in a waiver. A charge of a dollar or two--once, not annually--should cover the cost of sending out the cards and keeping the waivers.
A second argument I have heard in favor of requiring fighters to be members, although not (I think) from the Board, is the claim that fighters are particularly responsible for the costs of the Corporation, and therefore have a special obligation to bear the burdens. This claim seems to me wrong twice over. I have so far seen no evidence that our insurance or legal costs would be substantially lower if we had no fighters. The legal disputes that I know of in the history of the Society had nothing to do with combat. Further, as you know, insurance is a very small part of the cost of membership--less than six percent of the Corporation's budget for 1992 and 1993.
I think it also worth noting that fighters, as a group, make a very large contribution to the Society--at their own cost. Our fighting is the central element of many of our events and easily the most visible thing we do. Its substantial cost in equipment is born entirely by the individual fighters, who are thus paying for a benefit received by many others. It seems to me quite unfair that they should also be required to pay the cost of membershi even if they do not wish to be members.
The Grand Council
I assume that the Council, at least for its first eighteen months or so, will primarily function as a conversation rather than either a legislature or a poll. On that assumption, members ought to be chosen with an eye to having representation for every significant point of view--every group within the Society that is likely to have its own particular views and interests with regard to the structure of the Society. The desideratum is not proportional representation of groups--which would be virtually impossible anyway--but for each viewpoint to be represented by at least one articulate spokesman. Examples:
There should be at least one Nordmarker; William de Corbie and Morgan are obvious possibilities.
There should be at least one member from Australia or New Zealand.
There should be several Canadians
There should be several people heavily involved in fighting. Being a knight is not an adequate qualification. I, for example, still fight, but it is not what most of my time and energy go into, and I am not competent to represent the views of the sizable part of our population for which wars, tournies, and preparation for the same are the main interest of the Society.
There should be at least one heavily involved archer, and one fencer.
There should be at least one, and perhaps several, "makers"--people doing serious medieval recreation (cook, jeweler, armorer, potter, ...)
There should be someone whose main involvement is merchanting.
There should be an ex-board member.
There should be at least one, and perhaps several, long-term supporters of required membership. There should be at least one, and probably several, long-term opponents of required membership.
There should be at least one supporter of the "professionalization" policy that the Board has followed over the last few years.
There should be at least one supporter of decentralization.
There should be at least one supporter of outsourcing--probably Bertram, who has done a lot of work on investigating that option.
There should be at least one duke or duchess.
There should be at least one active and able person who has no significant rank, status, or office--but does things.
There should be at least one ex-corporate or kingdom great officer.
There should be at least one long term Baron (or ex-Baron) of a large, independant, Barony. Patri and Talanque are obvious examples.
This is not, of course, an exhaustive list. I thought it worth going into so much detail in order to emphasize the number of different dimensions on which views may well vary and ought to be represented.
The events of the past six months have done a lot to undermine trust between the membership and the Corporation, and among members. I would like to suggest some steps that you could take to try to undo that damage.
1. Whether or not you attempt to retry the legal issue of the writ of Mandamus, you should immediately open the Corporation's books to the membership, as required by the bylaws. No reason has been offered for not doing so--indeed, the Executive Director, in a press release sent out in your name, claimed (falsely) that the Corporation was complying with the relevant bylaw. The refusal to open the books has been a major, and (so far as I know) wholly unnecessary, factor in generating distrust of the Board within the active membership. It has produced all sorts of wild speculations due to attempts to explain why the Corporation was willing, in the middle of a financial crisis, to spend money going to court in order to avoid complying with the plain language of its own bylaws. It also produced a good deal of bad feeling, since it meant that members who wanted to exercise rights provided in the bylaws had to spend thousands of dollars of their own money in order to do so.
2. In filling the two empty Board seats, you should avoid candidates who will be perceived as representing the Board orthodoxy of the past few years. That means choosing either candidates who have never been on the Board and are not strongly identified with its position or ex Board members who have been openly opposed to the recent actions of the Board. I can only think of one example in the second category.
3. You should restore the Board minutes under a different name. That is to say, you should make available, by subscription, a timely and reasonably detailed but unofficial account of what happens at each Board meeting.
And One Extra Suggestion, Having Little to Do With the Current Crisis
An unfortunate development I have observed over the past few years is the gradual shift of both T.I. and the kingdom newsletters towards being house organs for their respective bureaucracies. It seems that each officer feels he has a page or two to fill each issue--whether or not he has something to say that is important to a significant fraction of the readers. Thus kingdom officers use kingdom newsletters as a replacement for direct communication to their local equivalents, and kingdom and Corporate officers use the newsletters to preach their particular gospel of what the Society ought to be to the general membership--a task for which most of them are not notably qualified.
I therefore propose that the Corporation ought to commit itself to use a maximum of 16 pages of T.I. a year for its announcements, and enforce the limit on the Corporate officers. If they have more than that to say, they can use small print. Hopefully the kingdoms would follow the example.
(Cariadoc of the Bow)
4919 S. Dorchester
Chicago, IL 60615
cc: Board Members, Joseph Radding, Sandra Dodd