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Long Stewardship

by
Hilary of Serendip

©2004, Hilary Powers


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T.I. #91, Summer ’89. Still worth reading, if only for historical interest. See “VALEDICTIONS” for the column discussing what wound up happening to the job.... The current policy on officer travel is somewhat more liberal than the one described here—not a lot more liberal, but the Society will often send its officers on worthwhile trips now even if they expect to be able to enjoy themselves.

PUT YOURSELF IN MY SHOES....

My cousins, my warrant expires next summer, and while I have not as I write decided about applying for a third term (nor discussed it with the Board), it’s time to let potential candidates see what they might be getting into. And even if you don’t want to try for the job, you help pay the salary, so you may find the description interesting. The short version is that the Steward is Seneschal of the Known World and President of the SCA, Inc.—that is, admin officer, spokesman, long-range planner, and general dogsbody for the Society. Here’s what the job involves:

1. Administration. The Steward coordinates the Kingdom Seneschals, providing a sounding-board for ideas and a source of background on SCA history and policy. In addition to their letters and reports, the Steward reads the kingdom newsletters and laws closely, and advises on problems and opportunities. The Steward also directs branch development—the Seneschals manage the establish­ment of shires and cantons, following the Steward’s guidelines, but other branch status changes have to go to the Steward for review and either approval or referral to the Board.
     Steward’s deputies produce the InterKingdom Directo­ry, which lists the corporate staff and the Crowns, Senes­chals, and Chroniclers of the kingdoms, and the Branch Directory, which lists the locations, start-up dates, and Seneschals of all the Society’s branches. In 1988, a deputy set up an information exchange for hospitality officers, to promote the welcome and orientation of new members, and this year the Board authorized me to find another deputy to provide a similar exchange for site-security officers. These activities require relatively little from the Steward, except to watch them and make sure they proceed in an orderly manner.
     At the corporate level, the Steward coordinates the other officers, which normally means no more than reading their reports, newsletters and policy statements to see whether they are taking care of their jobs. The Steward does advise when asked, and also encourages the corporate officers to work with each other when they get into matters affecting more than one specialty. If an officer burns out, or departs without finding a successor, the Steward has to make sure the essential parts of the job get done, while assisting the ombudsman in the recruiting process.
     The President takes care of the administration of the SCA as it relates to the outside world. This involves filing reports with the government agencies that monitor us (except the tax returns, which the Treasurer files and the President merely awaits anxiously), keeping track of Registered Legal Agents, and establishing the SCA as a corporation in those states where it is necessary or desirable to register. The President is also the Insurance Coordinator, negotiating policies with the broker and arranging insurance certificates for events that need them. (When I start handing off to my successor, that’ll be one of the first tasks to go!)

2. Communications. Although administration is the center of the job, communications take up most of the Steward’s time. Administration IS by and large communi­cation—endless letters, calls, and meetings designed to get someone to do something, or to find out whether they’ve done it. In addition, the Steward speaks for the SCA, both to the membership and to the outside world—often spontaneously. The phone rings, and the Steward is on stage: usually the audience is a member with a query, or someone looking for a local branch (probably to join it or arrange a demo; maybe to investigate it), but I’ve had to deal with reporters chasing rumors, people tracing friends and relatives, ad agencies hunting props and extras, authors doing historical research.... The Steward’s number (in the Encyclopedia of Associations) is in almost every public library in the country, so this isn’t a job for some­one who can’t abide the phone! Every call could enhance the name of the SCA or wreck it, and the Steward has to be able to speak comfortably, confidently and helpfully whilst editing every statement to avoid anything that could be misinterpreted to the detriment of the Society.
     The mailbox is full of the same kinds of queries, and more. In the course of the year, the Steward can expect to hear from government agencies ranging from the IRS to the Census Bureau, from students and teachers all over the country (we’re listed in one of the major 6th-grade social studies teachers’ guides), and from people with questions about how the SCA works, proposals for changing the rules, or requests for other forms of help. Much of the mail is indescribable and some of it is downright rude, and the Steward has to be able to answer it all courteously and constructively, without responding to the tone of the incoming letters.
     Besides answering queries, the Steward spends a lot of time writing about the SCA—articles like this one, reports to the Seneschals on news of the Known World, updates to “Welcome to the Current Middle Ages” and other publicity materials. There are few assignments except the regular reports to the Board; the Steward simply keeps an eye out for things to say and audiences to reach.

3. Planning. The SCA has never gone in much for planning—mostly we just grow and react to the world as it changes around us and we change within it. However, the Steward has to look far enough ahead to avoid getting drowned. For example, the hospitality exchange was inspired by a series of complaints from people who said they’d been members for a whole year without figuring out how to attend an event. The first few looked like isolated problems, but it finally filtered through that we can’t go on assuming everyone learns how the SCA works before deciding to join it. There are doubtless other things beginning to happen that the SCA should be getting ready to meet, and it’s up to the Steward to find them before they overwhelm us. (Write if you’ve spotted anything!)
     Being Steward gives you a great deal of influence over the SCA, because you can interpret the rules from day to day, and can count on the Board’s close attention if you decide to propose changes. Thus far in my tenure, I’ve written or rewritten handbooks for the Kingdom Senes­chals, the Corporate Officers, and the Board, and drafted and coordinated the new edition of Corpora and the By-Laws, and although they were all thoroughly reviewed and approved, it’s safe to say there’s a fair amount that’s in those books because I put it there. You also get a chance to comment on anything anyone else proposes, because you see everything that goes to the Board and have a seat at the table and a voice—though not a vote—at all Board meetings. However, the extent of this influence actually makes it difficult to promote your own ideas, because you have to be careful to avoid any appearance of abusing your authority. It’s not a job for King Stork....

4. Odd Jobs. The Steward does a lot of staff work, digging up precedents and preparing background papers. I like lists and tables, and can fill any idle hour by putting together something like the membership-type history that appeared in the Fall ’88 issue of T.I. But not all the odd jobs are entirely voluntary—the maxim about Seneschals and unfilled offices applies at the corporate level, too: when the T.I. Art Director went back to school in late ’86, I pasted up the winter issue, and when the Corporate Secretary left for a conference right after the Summer ’88 meeting, I drafted the 24-page Board minutes. It’s a matter of priorities; whatever needs doing, the Steward by definition has time to do it.

5. Travel. The Steward should travel a great deal, to see the life of the SCA in progress and to be seen—and talked to—by people who wouldn’t take the initiative to write. You’re always “on duty” at an event—any time you stop moving (say, on line at the inn or the privy) someone with a problem will find you—but the SCA can’t afford to pay your fare on that account. On the other hand, these encounters are doubly rewarding. You get to meet the people you’re helping, and you get to work on problems before they become dreadful enough to inspire letters, so the effort is well worth while. You do get reimbursed for some travel, but it often costs you more in blood than you save in money. You go to Board meetings away from your home at SCA expense, and on the odd urgent mission for the Board or one of the kingdoms or branches. The Board sent me to Pennsic XVII, for example, so I could gather info for the next month’s special meeting. The chore took three to eight hours every day for a week, and I’d much rather have paid my own way and not had it to do!

6. Logistics. The Stewardship is a job as well as an office. You’re on your own, so it’s easy to find an hour or a day to take off, but you have to get through all the work, reliably, punctually, and correctly, no matter how much of it there is. When the Known World is calm and you have no special projects, it may require no more than writing half a dozen letters and answering perhaps twice as many phone calls in a whole week. However, things are rarely that calm—I’ve gotten as many as a hundred letters in a week on a single problem, and there are often several trouble-spots working at once—and it’s part of the job to look for projects to take on. It’s easiest to estimate the amount of work by considering how long it would take you to get through the supplies the office eats—rarely less than a roll of stamps a month, and sometimes more than two, over two thousand envelopes a year, a couple of reams of stationery and four or five reams of blank paper....
     The SCA pays office expenses, plus a salary of about $18,000 a year—enough to live on but by no means what a qualified person could command in the outside world, and there are no paid benefits. It’s possible to take on other projects to bring in extra income, as long as they can be set aside fairly easily, but you have to be prepared to put the Society’s interests first—in essence, you’re the SCA’s watchman, and you get paid for the time you spend on the premises, not the time you spend “chasing thieves” and “putting out fires.”
     The Steward has to provide a place to work, and to store the files and supplies. There are two four-drawer and two two-drawer file cabinets, plus the equivalent of two more file drawers in active-file boxes. There are also 22 in-boxes, which help you stay organized but take up a lot of shelf space, even with the boxes piled five and six deep. Rules and references take a few more feet of shelves, and there are several storage boxes that need to find a home. I have my own computer, but you don’t necessarily need one to apply—the Society could afford to get one for the office. However, you must be willing and able to use a word processor, at least—I wouldn’t recom­mend the Board gamble on anyone without that qualifica­tion, because of the volume and quality of paperwork the job demands.

7. Intangibles. The Steward’s most important role is to radiate confidence, and to believe that things will go well, that people will remember their better natures and be kinder to each other than they may strictly deserve, and that exploration of the culture and technology of the Middle Ages and Renaissance will occupy more of the members’ attention than the lesser delights of tearing each other to shreds. The Steward has to stay out of personal trouble and local conflicts, and be accessible, calm and confident and a little bored, when anything goes wrong for anyone else. The thing to bear in mind is that no problem is ever as bad as it seems, and no problem is ever as bad as it could get. You can always make things worse, and most of the Situations that reach you as Steward are at the last door to disaster already.

     Am I crying in my beer? Probably. This column has been suspiciously pleasant to write.... Anyway, if you think you could stand the job, and the SCA would prosper in your care, get in touch with me—whether or not I retire next year, I won’t last forever, and the Board and I need to know who might be able to take over.


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