Dons Trust election: questions and answers

A supporter on the Womble Underground Press guestbook asked me three questions. As that site strips paragraph breaks and my answers are quite long, I thought it might be better to post my answers here and link to them from that site.

1. How long do you plan to serve and what are your views on term limits?

In my head I’ve mulled over the idea of serving for four years – if elected, of course. That would hopefully be enough time to make a difference, not just by setting up some new channels for communication but also by demonstrating a more consultative and engaging approach to being on the board. That would hopefully help breed a vibrant trust in the long term.

I’m instinctively in favour of term limits, although it would need careful thought in order to avoid perpetual churn, which might risk the board having to ‘go back to square one’ after every round of elections. Maybe a six-year limit? That’s still over half a decade!

One risk is that people won’t step forward to replace those people who reach their limit – we’ve had numerous uncontested elections in recent years. But I’d hope that term limits would actually help counter that: going up against ‘long-established names’ can be seen as a barrier to standing, preventing the Trust from benefitting from fresh ideas and perspectives. There need be no reason why people couldn’t stand again after having had a ‘sabbatical’.

Regardless of my views, I’d want it to be discussed by members before the board came forward with any concrete proposals.

2. How would you deal with a situation where the rest of the Dons Trust Board seem to nod through a proposal with little consideration?

This is a really difficult question to answer: so much would depend on the specifics of the situation and how ‘severe’ I perceive the consequences to be. So I’ve tried to think of different scenarios and how I might react to them.

First, let’s assume that the board, including myself, is instinctively in agreement that the proposal is sound and should be carried forward without delay. This is the most dangerous scenario: this is when someone needs to step back and challenge the ‘group think’. Has the proposal been properly challenged? Has it been properly thought through? What will be the reaction to this? Do we need to put a brake on it and give it more consideration, either as a board or, ideally, through the membership? This scenario is why the board needs to constantly engage and communicate with the fans, so that it instinctively remains a board that represents the supporters rather than representing itself.

Second, let’s assume that I am a lone voice against the proposal, feeling that the remainder of the board is rubberstamping it in a hurry. Perhaps I feel that my views represent a noticeable portion of the fanbase and that we’re being sidelined. If the proposal was later going to go to the membership for consultation, then fair enough: sometimes in a democratic organisation you have to accept that your view is the minority view, no matter how strongly you personally hold it.

But what if the rest of the board, in the process of rubberstamping it, was also saying that it was such a blindingly obvious proposal that they wouldn’t put it out for debate and consultation. This is where things get much more subjective and I’d have to judge the severity of the consequences.

If the consequences seem mild, I’d ask for the board’s vote to be minuted so that my point of view was clear. While I’d then be content to explain the board’s collective view and the thinking behind it, I’d also set out my own stance and explain my thinking. I don’t think there’s any harm in admitting to members that the board contains different points of view; in fact, I’m sure most would find it reassuring. The reaction of members would then give us all a good indication of which approach was the most widely supported and could guide our actions.

But what if the consequences seemed to me to be more severe, more ‘wrong’? If the board continued to block the proposal from going to discussion by the members and I judged the issue to be severe enough, then I think in those circumstances I’d feel obliged to resign and argue my case from outside the board.

Thankfully, my observations from sitting in on board meetings when I was part of the secretariat suggest that other board members would listen to my point of view – if things ever got as far as that last scenario, then something would have gone drastically wrong!

Want to set me another scenario and see how I react? Add a comment at the bottom of this article.

3. What do you think of current communications to members and how would you improve them?

The thing about communication is you can never do too much of it. The perception I get currently is that the Trust (and the club, to some extent) sometimes thinks, “We’ve said that once in one place, so we don’t need to say it again.” But the message will only reach its maximum audience if it’s repeated through multiple channels, and it’ll only achieve penetration if it is repeated as often as necessary.

Every member, every fan has their own preferred way of communicating and we need to try and reach all of them.

The Trust could do more on social media. Twitter should be more or less instant and engaging, but the Trust’s account is run by non-board volunteers. They do a great job, but if the account receives a detailed question then the response has to be run past the relevant board member, which takes time and ruins the immediacy. Maybe the account should be run by a board member with the authority to respond immediately on behalf of the board. The Trust would also benefit from having a Facebook page and/or group.

The Trust’s website has very low visitor numbers, but they peak whenever an article is linked to from the club website. That tells us where the audience is. We need to explore ways of integrating the Trust’s presence more into the club’s website. And the club has recently launched a much-improved weekly email, updating people about what is happening at Kingsmeadow. Can we promote the Trust through that?

Some years ago there was talk of the club appointing a marketing and communications director once planning permission for the new stadium was achieved. I would like to know what happened to that proposal and explore reviving it, with the director working not just on the club side of things but drawing in messages about the Trust and other entities such as the AFC Wimbledon Foundation, which seems to have great stories that sadly currently often don’t get told to a wide audience.

The current version of the Trust Webjam is very clunky but I understand the board’s communications and engagement working group is already looking at options for ‘version 2’. It must be more user friendly and link in with the club’s CRM database so that members find it much easier to sign up. While the Trust should reach out to the whole fanbase, I think there is also merit to having a secure ‘members only’ forum.

In the offline world, some supporters have suggested a free newspaper handed out every now and again at matches. I like the idea of that, although I suspect the volunteers who tidy up after every match might not appreciate it quite so much! We definitely need to remember that not all supporters are online so printed media in one format or another remains essential, but it also needs to be accessible in some manner by people who rarely attend matches.

The best form of communication and engagement is by two-way spoken conversations, which allow subtleties and meanings to be explored and clarified. I welcome the Trust’s experiment with less formal meetings; I hope tomorrow’s is taken as the starting point that can be adjusted depending on feedback, rather than as something that is instantly judged either a success or a failure, given that it is taking place at short notice and on Halloween.

And perhaps we could explore online ‘surgeries’ so that people who are further away from Wimbledon can take part in two-way conversations with board members.

Ultimately, though, the best communication is delivered in the way that supporters want. So how do you think the Trust board could communicate more effectively with you?