What’s Up at OFS?
by China Star
What’s Up with the Olympia Film Society?
When was the last time you attended an event at the Capitol Theater in downtown Olympia? Was it a film? A musical event? A festival? Something at the Backstage?
Now ask yourself, how would you feel if we didn’t have this resource anymore? What if the Olympia Film Society, which owns and operates the theater, ceased to exist?
Recent budget reports show a steady increase in financial losses for the organization, including about $49,000 in 2011. Portions of the deficit can be attributed to the state of our economy, refinancing costs (which will eventually save OFS on monthly expenses as it stretches its mortgage out over a longer period), overtime payroll costs, and not enough fundraising. While ticket sales for films and events are keeping the theater running for now, the deficit has the staff and board worried and members calling for immediate action.
So, what do you do when you are responsible for the survival of an organization? You make a plan.
In early 2011, the OFS Board began planning a capital campaign. The money to be raised would be dedicated to the $500,000 of restoration needs of the historic Capitol Theater, the long standing home purchased by the member based society of film, music and performance enthusiasts back in 2010. A second campaign could also be launched for the $60,000-$80,000 needed to convert to a Digital Cinema Server (necessary to run any first run films). The capital campaigns remain in the planning stages, still un-launched.
Soon after, the staff (on their own time, unpaid) and volunteers developed a marketing strategy to raise the visibility, attendance, and fundraising of the theater. However, after months of work by both board and staff, the board did not adopt the strategy, and in August of 2011, the long-standing Development Director left. Though soon replaced, the new employee also left after only two months. The staff requested immediate action to fill the development position, but was now told that the board had another plan. In the interim, the staff as a whole worked together, putting in additional time and effort to pick up the slack. Historically, the staff at OFS has worked together as a staff collective whose function, as delegated by the OFS by-laws, is to act together as the Executive Director for the organization.
Other issues have complicated the relationship between the board and staff. Initially, staff were not receiving overtime pay, but in the fall of 2011, the OFS Board, worried about compliance with labor law (including the possibility that boardmembers would be held personally liable), sought legal advice and eventually issued back payments for overtime. Some staff actually have not cashed the checks, based on concern about the organization’s finances, a different understanding of labor law, and some sense that the payments were a form of buyout. Also, the staff representative who usually attended board meetings was asked to leave while the redistribution of staff duties was discussed, though by-laws require a staff member only to stand aside from voting when a matter concerns their own employment.
The board then spent months deliberating and strategizing about how to increase volunteer involvement (OFS currently has around 150 active volunteers) and eliminate overtime amongst the staff. The result was a new comprehensive staffing plan intended to alleviate overtime by eliminating the two currently unfilled positions, Volunteer Coordinator and Development Director, and converting various salaried positions into three independent contractor positions and three full-time exempt positions, one of which would be the newly established Executive Director. The plan states that the tasks usually done by the eliminated positions would be divided up and integrated into the new exempt job descriptions and that the Executive Director position would enable the board to reduce its involvement in operations and concentrate its energies on fundraising and strategic planning. The staff was given a timeline of one week to respond to the board with questions, changes and a decision to adopt the plan or quit the job. The more the staff delved into the Staffing Plan, the more overwhelming it seemed to them. (To read the plan, visit bit.ly/IvVNHI.)
At this point, two concerned volunteers petitioned the board for more transparency and a chance for members to participate in the process. Their petition raised concerns about proposed “cultural and structural” staff changes, dismantling of the staff collective model, elimination of personnel and film fest committees, “shrinking” of live events, exclusion of the staff representative from the board meeting, and board retention, among other issues.
The petition was quickly signed by the required 10% of the membership, and a special meeting was set for April 14. At the meeting, the members were scheduled to vote on three initiatives: first, whether or not to hire an Executive Director or simply rehire for the recently vacated Development Director position; second, whether to add the Staff Collective body to the by-laws as a permanent structure; and third, when to hold the annual meeting.
The meeting was attended by members of the board and staff, a third party facilitator, both petition writers, and a double handful of voting members. Staff announced at the meeting that a document had already been formed through a partnership of the staff and board to remove the hierarchal functions of the executive director and to make clear divisions between the delegated tasks of the executive director and the staff collective as a whole. The board also announced that the hiring process for the executive director had already begun. There was talk of the budget and the dire place that the current reserves have left the theater.
The first question from the membership was, “What is the board’s plan for fundraising?” The response: “Start Fundraising!”
When asked by the membership what the staff would like to see as far as hiring, the floor was silent. As the facilitator opened up the floor to more unanswered questions, it became clear to the membership that there were still missing pieces to the puzzle.
In the end, the membership decided to vote only on the second initiative, which led to approval of the Staff Collective’s place in the OFS by-laws (the language for which has yet to be written), a minor win for petitioners and staff. This decision left in place the board’s plan for hiring an Executive Director, and left the annual meeting on May 26.
Many issues raised in conversations with board members and staff, but not addressed at the meeting, included a desire for a new infusion of professionals to the board (including suggestions for grant writers, CPAs, human resource directors, human development directors, architects, homeowners, small business owners, and people serving organizations that have made it through the same growing pains), transparency from the current board, a dire need for fundraising, repairs to the building, and the digital conversion.
So where does OFS go from here? First, there are upcoming board elections. Half of the OFS Board will be elected, with applications due April 20 (visit www.olympiafilmsociety.org for application details), and the other half will be appointed by the newly-elected members. Professionals with interest in preserving OFS are urged to consider volunteering. In addition to the 8-12 board members, there are numerous committees to join; each is comprised of at least one staff member, one OFS member, and one board member, though you need not be a member to volunteer.
If expendable time isn’t an option, but money is, consider renewing your membership or upping your contribution. If you appreciate the Capitol Theater and all of what OFS offers to the community, (entertainment, rental space for events, and educational resources), send any amount you can afford to OP&L Readers Love OFS, c/o Olympia Film Society, 416 Washington St. SE #208, Olympia, WA 98501.