Did You Want A Grown-Up Nonprofit?

The SCA distributed a Harassment and Bullying Policy this week. Opinions are flying on the internet as to whether this is a good thing and what it means to the SCA. I know one thing that it means – the SCA is showing signs of growing up, and that’s a good thing. Nitpick the details of the policy if you want, but the fact that this policy now exists is an important step forward.

Sentimentality about what the SCA used to be and idealistic views of how it should be are not how you run a nonprofit. What you do as an individual in the SCA is your hobby and be wistful if you want. However, the SCA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that supports your hobby. There is a big difference, and it’s something that many people in the SCA do not want to recognize. They like to think about the SCA as if it’s still a party among friends without the need for rules or an organizational structure. It hasn’t been that party for a long time, and people need to stop thinking it is. It’s harmful to the organization’s health and needlessly disillusions individuals.

Even an organization based on chivalry and largely volunteer labor cannot thrive without some of the standard things required by a membership based nonprofit that relies on earned income. They include:
– Timely and comprehensive communication with its members
– Responsive feedback mechanisms
– A method of reviewing the effectiveness of the staff and management
– Support for its regional officers.

The SCA is still struggling with the first three for many reasons that aren’t what this post is discussing. This is about support for its regional officers. Harassment and bullying cannot be tolerated in an organization if it is to be welcoming and successful. In an organization as odd, full of personalities, and hierarchical as the SCA is, this is particularly challenging. I’ve been one of those regional officers. They need real tools that they can use to solve this kind of problem. Sending a peer to talk to a person who is repeatedly inappropriate isn’t a solution. Peer pressure isn’t one either. A policy that backs up an officer is a real tool that they can use no matter who they are or where they live.

Change is a scary thing for many people, but look at it this way. I’ve included two photos of fighters from the beginning of the SCA and now. Imagine someone has been actively fighting for all those fifty years. Their armor has changed due to research, improved skills, and increased expectations. You know what else has changed that you can’t see? Probably their jock strap and cup. If you’re following my analogy here, yes I am comparing the corporation and its policies to a jock strap and cup. They are the not so pretty underthings that support the SCA. What individuals and groups do is the pretty armor.

The resources available to and expectations of a nonprofit have changed, and the SCA is not the same size we were fifty years ago. Time to change the documents that support us and take advantage of modern materials. It’s a lot better than taking a shot to a fifty-year-old cup that’s being held together by duct tape.

10 thoughts on “Did You Want A Grown-Up Nonprofit?

  1. There’s been a fair amount of all-or-nothing thinking about the policy since it was announced a couple of days ago; I’ve seen a good deal of, “Bullying is serious, so everything about this policy is Absolutely Necessary”, “Nonsense! We don’t need these stinking rules!” and “OMG, the sky is falling”. Personally, I find all of these responses over-wrought.

    IMO, the *problem* is quite serious and real, and as an organization we’ve tended to sweep it under the rug. We’re rather behind the times on recognizing that: a number of the other groups I’m involved with started addressing it some years ago. I don’t actually disagree with much in the meat of the policy. (Some possible quibbles with the details, but it looks roughly right.)

    That said, I think the *implementation* of the current policy is somewhat ham-handed.

    Requiring that it be posted at every event — that’s a bit heavyweight, and I *suspect* is going to lead to *big* signs at the door eventually. This isn’t an idle concern: Arisia’s version of this stuff has wound up printed on sheets that are something like 30″ x 20″, because the policy has gotten a lot more elaborate over time; I see little reason to believe the SCA won’t eventually wind up in a similar place.

    But fair enough: reminding people periodically about the policy isn’t a terrible idea. And events happen at a fair interval for “periodically”.

    Requiring that it go into flyers, and be posted at every *practice*, though, I begin to get into “Oh, come *on*” territory. That’s overkill by any reasonable interpretation. There is absolutely no legal basis for needing this, it’s a considerable hassle (literally an order of magnitude more work overall), and it’s frankly such a pointless nuisance that it breeds disrespect for the rules.

    That’s not a minor issue: the reason to keep rules focused on what matters is that, if we have too many rules that are perceived as dumb, folks get into the habit of viewing the rules as a *whole* as dumb and useless. Most of the response I’ve seen to the practice requirement is eye-rolling, and that is *not* what we want to be inspiring.

    So yes, I agree that the club needs to grow up. But that applies to the top level and its procedures, not just the way the members play. The rollout of this policy was typical: it reads like a first draft, published in more of a rush than it needed to be, without sufficient outside commentary, thought, and refinement. As a result, as so often with our rule changes, it’s counter-productive overkill, that buries the underlying good idea in arguments about the problems with the implementation.

    That’s immature from a process point of view, and if we *are* going to think of ourselves as a serious 501(c)3, we need our top-line processes to grow up, too. The SCA still *operates* like a little club of friends, run solely from the top in a way that no other club I know does, and the top of the organization has for decades vigorously resisted all attempts to change to a structure more appropriate for a large and diverse club. That’s every bit as important and necessary to address as the harassment problem.

    In short: I agree with you. But that argument cuts both ways…

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    1. Garry Hurley

      I am going to agree with the practice part of your statement because, as an authorized fighter, I can think of other places to print the policy – like on the authorization form, to which I affix my signature in front of two witnesses (marshals) and on the warrants for officers, both of which need to be renewed periodically. Hey, then you have not only given a policy, but you have a SIGNED acknowledgement of the acceptance of the policy. That is why you have to sign that you received your employee handbook at your job.

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  2. Laird Seanne Alansyn, esq.

    I have been involved with the SCA on and off for over 30 years. I have enjoyed friendships and camaraderie on and off the field (Both armored and fencing), in 4 different kingdoms and with countless fighters, Knights, peers and others. This policy is a good step in the right direction. It may even influence some forms of combat training, (aka hit them till they learn).

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  3. Badger Bagbane

    I applaud the move. Unfortunately we live in a world where laws like this are needed to protect the fun. It’s not just SCA but the SciFi/Fantasy community that has to do this.

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  4. I would like to add/point out that the consequences of violating this policy affect solely those individuals who are actual members of the society. There are no consequences for non-members written into this policy except where sanctions may apply. I applaud the signage and the support for individuals. Let us hope that this will be a positive step towards inclusiveness.

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  5. Pingback: Did You Want A Grown-Up Nonprofit? | Adalyde's Musing

  6. The policy as written is short and sort of weird. Unless there’s ANOTHER policy that I haven’t seen? I guess bullying is mentioned in the Code of Conduct, and that’s more extensive. For the Youth, it would make more sense to just have them on video at all times (see below) instead of having every single person who interacts with Youth (the Minister of Minors, anyone who teaches a class even if no Youths are in the class initially) go through a background check. We didn’t have a Minister of Minors for years, and now everyone has to go through the “same process as a boy scout leader.”

    Heh, I was that Minister for a year, and got no support. One kid almost got run over in the parking lot because she wandered off and nobody was watching out. People in the barony kept telling me that I should ignore the kids when my planned activity time was up, but also that I would get sued if anything happened to the kids. First thing I did was paperwork, then I went through the activity box and fished out everything that was a tetanus risk. It was surreal.

    I wish that instead of:

    the display of explicit images (drawn or photographic) depicting an individual in an inappropriate manner;
    photographing or recording individuals inappropriately to abuse or harass the individual;

    they had said something about when there is an expectation of privacy in the SCA. If, for you, it is the Secret Society of Creative Anachronism then it would be entirely more practical to disguise yourself when in public (say, the battlefield?) rather than sue because of harassment that happened later. Once released onto the internet, photos and videos stay around forever. And good luck stopping everyone who wants to take pictures. That won’t fly. The inference is that it’s pornographic pictures, but that’s not what it says. “Inappropriate”? Drunk? In a state of semi-nudity? Saying something that is highly offensive when taken out of context? Ugh.

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