If not DUFFers, won’t drown

Apologies for the Swallows and Amazons quotation at the top, but I just couldn’t resist!

It was recently announced, in a recent news post from File 770, that DUFF (the fan fund between North America and Australasia) is to have a race down under this year. The convention to which the fund will send a delegate, Continuum VIII (this year’s national Australian convention), is to be held 39 days from the announcement. This means that anyone who wishes to stand for DUFF has ten days to find five nominators, twenty days to campaign, and nine days to arrange an entire trip and make it from North America to Australia in time for the convention. If the candidate is feeling daring, then they might try to make it to unCONventional 2012 in New Zealand, which would give them pretty much no time whatsoever between the end-of-May deadline and the start-of-June convention.

What follows is not my opinion as the administrator of a fellow fan fund: that would be out of place, and so I’m not going to comment in an official capacity. This is my personal opinion, as a fan with an interest in fan funds. And, this is, to speak plainly, quite insane. I know for a fact that David Cake (the Australasian administrator) was not in favour of such a race as recently as mid-April; I agreed with him at the time, because I think the timescale is fundamentally flawed. David has since said:

I think that IF you think the timing on the race is overly rushed for a reasonable race and/or trip, then voting for Hold Over Funds is an appropriate way to express that opinion.

Certainly, that would be my recommendation, given the below considerations.

Let’s consider the prospect of time off. Getting time off with a month’s notice should be fine, if candidates arrange it as soon as the nominations period closes. Getting time off with a week’s notice is more tricky — candidates are, I think, going to have to book time off work before they know they’ve won. There’s also the thorny issue of how long you stay — booking more than two weeks off at a time can be tricky, without warning your employer in advance. Is two weeks long enough to do justice to a trip Down Under?

What about the cost of the flights? There are nine days (at maximum) between the close of voting and the start of the trip. The flight costs are not going to be kind, so close to the point of boarding: can a fund really afford to send someone at such notice? One thing is certain: The eventual delegate is going to have to raise a lot of money during their administration in order to offset the cost of flights. One of the ways to raise funds is traditionally through voting fees, but I’m unsure that that will be enough of a revenue stream to offset an extremely expensive trip, so the onus will be on whoever wins the race to set new records in terms of fundraising ability.1 There’s also the risk that fans concerned about the potential cost to the fund might vote to Hold Over Funds, which would be a great shame in many ways.

Then there’s the voting itself. If you have a voting period of twenty days, how is the fund going to attract a large number of voters in this race? If the extreme costs of the trip is married to an unusually low-revenue voting period with a low turnout from North American and Australasian fandom, then that’s even worse for the fund financially speaking. Although I’m sure DUFF has the money to weather the storm, it seems unwise to tempt fate by running a race that could be a financial disaster in multiple ways.

If I wanted to run a southward DUFF race before what seems likely to be a northward race to LoneStarCon 3, I’d run it in 20132, and race to the Australian Natcon in 2013, Conflux. This convention will be held in April, which means you could use publicity from the southward race to kickstart the northward one:

  • Southward nominations open — 2012.
  • Southward voting opens — start of January.
  • Southward delegate announced, northward nominations open — February.
  • Northward voting opens — March.
  • Southward trip begins. Delegate publicises northward race — April.
  • Northward delegate announced — May/June.
  • Northward trip begins — Summer.

In conclusion, I don’t see this as a sensible move. I think — whatever the logic behind this extremely small window of opportunity for potential candidates — this is ultimately going to cost DUFF. I think the likely situation on May 11th is that the race cannot go ahead as fewer than two candidates3 have been nominated, and that the whole affair will have just been an opportunity to court criticism and bafflement. And that’s the best case scenario, since the alternative is a delegate who has nowhere near enough time to put together a proper trip and ends up spending a lot of money on what will ultimately be a waste of everyone’s time.


  1. If there was ever a time for Chris for TAFF 2: Chris for DUFF, this could be it — Christopher J. Garcia was very good at fundraising and awareness boosting in his time as a TAFF administrator, and could well pull it off for DUFF, too. 
  2. So would Ulrika O’Brien, who suggested this. 
  3. The Big Three — TAFF, GUFF and DUFF — require two candidates to stand for a race to go ahead. 
  • Ulrika O’Brien

    I appreciate the name check, John. That’s a nice fleshing out of the calendar for running two races in 2013. I still think it’s the best response to the present circumstance, and I hope the DUFF administrator will consider it. If not, I would urge the pre-identified candidates to withdraw from the race and anyone else to refrain from standing, because this race is too potentially damaging to DUFF. If it comes down to voting, I will also be voting HOLD OVER FUNDS and hope others will do likewise.

  • Steven H. Silver

    My understanding is that there are already two candidates, for at least one of whom work isn’t an issue. Whether they can each drum up the nominators in the next ten days is another issue all together, but I imagine it isn’t insurmountable.

  • http://www.chickensinenvelopes.net/ John Coxon

    Ulrika: No problem! I’m torn over whether to vote or not; it would seem disingenuous given that I had no intention of doing so, but at the same time, I really do think HOLD OVER FUNDS is the only option that makes sense.

    Steven: If there are two sufficiently motivated candidates then I have no doubt they’ll be able to scrape together the roster of nominators required (especially with help from the administrators): I rather hope they choose not to, though, since I agree with Ulrika: This is a potentially damaging situation for the fund.

  • Christopher J Garcia

    I was wondering when the nomination phase would open and I’ve sent off my nom. I think the timeframe is VERY tight, but there is another option. Do a convention later in the year. I know that there’s a tradition of the NatCon, but going ith a later convention would make a lot of sense in this case. On the other hand, your sched looks like it would work too.
    9 days to plan a trip is rough, it can be done, but it isn’t fun.
    Chris
    And the official title is Chris for TAFF 2: This Time for DUFF (though not this time!)

  • Ulrika O’Brien

    Steven-
    I see several issues here. One is the appearance of bias — that the candidates who were identified before a race was even announced would be (rightly) perceived as having an unfair advantage in getting a candidacy and nominators pulled together. Another is fiscal damage to the fund — running a race in this way inflicts maximum cost against minimum income. A third is undermining the credibility of the fund — why hold a race “to” a convention the winner can’t plausibly expect to attend. A fourth is undermining the honor associated with a win — it’s hard to feel honored when both the race and the trip planning are going to be an unreasonable hassle to achieve. I just don’t see any part of this race as being of benefit to DUFF.

  • Ulrika O’Brien

    Chris – I think it’s more realistic to suppose that the amount of time the winner would have to plan a trip if they were to make it to Continuum is four days. Airline ticket prices tend to go up precipitously any time inside a two week window, and I think there’s a realistic concern that the winner would have to front that ticket price and get reimbursed later because four days is also a really short turn-around to get money transferred from the administrator who is not known for timeliness or tech-savviness. Of those four days, two fall on a weekend, which also cuts the odds of getting a wire transfer done during them. Can you really picture having to buy an airline ticket to Australia just two days before you fly, plus all the other prep that needs to be done?

  • Steve Green

    If the consensus is for “Hold Over Funds”, as seems likely, fans are essentially being asked to add to DUFF’s coffers in the full expectation of the trip never taking place. Far more honest and credible for there to be mirrored races next year.