Talk:Executive Director

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Issues

Issues that may affect how we-the-board spec and recruit the position:

  • Desire to avoid "volunteer indifference" of the kind which affected WebCom so directly when Daniel was chairing it:
 - ED would have a facilitator/support/mentor role, not 'manager' role
  • Desire to avoid causing "member envy"; ED is a perception-of-kudos role, even if the reality is mostly gruntwork and overcommunication
 - We need to be transparent, accountable (which to me implies
   keeping as much of this public as we can)
 - ED ditto - totally open process, reporting, timesheeting, whatever.
  • Desire to avoid "request overload" / bottlenecking for ED - they would wind up dealing with all manner of member and user support issues
 - ED's priorities should be 'sandboxed'
 - but we can't predict this upfront - depends on a person's skills
   and on the foundation's emerging needs and short/medium term focus
  • Desire to make position self-sustaining - it's a really significant financial commitment. I wonder whether after the first year it would be viable to say 'okay we guarantee you half-time+benefits and the rest you have to raise for yourself through participation in grantwriting / admin / etc for project directed sponsorship through OSGeo'

Gestural outline plan for getting stuff done about this

  • 1/ the Board reaches *consensus* on the need for an ED
  • 2/ if 1/ holds, turn the wiki page into a real job spec and agree on it - this should have a stoppage time to focus minds?
  • 3/ if 2/ holds, make a public posting of position - needs a window of probably 2 weeks for applications
  • 4/ if 3/ succeeds, have a window of 1 week for us to decide - which means it has to be a time when no board members are unavailable...

What other foundations do

Eclipse and Mozilla both have a full time ED - Mozilla also has 2 part time 2 day/week people - don't know who Eclipse hires fulltime apart from ED.

Justin Erenkrantz, the Apache Software Foundation's treasurer, had these words to share on the subject of an ED role and why ASF had tried to avoid doing this in the past (though it looks like they're slowly cracking ;) ):

Let me give you the Apache take on an ED: our members are generally philosophically opposed to having a 'leader' in the way that that Mozilla and Eclipse has. We've always operated by consensus. If you hire an ED, the critical concern has always been who is in the driver's seat: the ED or the Board or the Members? Having busy unpaid volunteers oversee a full-time ED is troublesome unless you're also willing to cede control over what to do to the ED. That's fine for Mozilla and Eclipse, but not within Apache's culture.

Even if we hired an ED, that person would have a hell of a time dealing with our culture: every member has an opinion on what to do - and this is very different than Eclipse or Mozilla - our developers are our members and they are responsible for electing the Board. So, they have the right and responsibility to see how the Foundation should go - but it also means we have a cast of 200+ folks who chime in on every minor decision we make. Mozilla or Eclipse doesn't have that sense of enfranchisement. It's a blessing and a curse.  ;-)

Good EDs are also typically very very expensive: unless you have a lot of finances in reserve, you have to bet your entire finances on one year's salary for an ED. So, then it turns into a dual job: the ED needs to do all of the stuff the volunteers don't do as well as raising enough income to offset their own expenses. We didn't have enough money to make this bet with a clear conscience: we realized that it's a one-shot deal - if it doesn't work, we're crippled financially.

In the ASF, the point we've reached as a Foundation is that we're willing to hire support staff: a full-time system administrator and part-time secretarial service. But, we're still relying on volunteers to do everything else. It does create a strong tension (boy does it ever!), but generally the things that need to get done get done. The stuff that doesn't really need to get done doesn't. Only the really hairy bits gets outsourced and only when it's demonstrated that volunteers just won't do it - and that's a very recent development for us: only within the past six months have we gotten around to that view.


In response to all this, the ED of Eclipse now had this to say:

Part of the problem is the expectations that go with the title. If some unfortunate soul was to carry such a title, they would be expected by a myriad of outsiders to be the leader and spokesperson. Failing to meet those expectations results in press articles about "disorganization" and "confusion". Meeting those expectations results in community flames about "egomania" and the like.

Like I have said many times before. Each of our communities is captive to its own history and culture. What works for one community does not necessarily work for another. Vive la difference!

As for Jo's original question, I think that in most cases it is very hard to avoid "volunteer envy" once you start adding full-time staff. It has worked well at Mozilla and Eclipse, but only because of our somewhat long and winding roads of history.



A board member of the GNOME foundation shared these points of advice for "doing it right" as they have found the experience:

  • clear goals, ways of measuring progress towards those goals, and

ways of setting new ones when the first batch are achieved.

  • clear rules about the interaction of the ED and the community.
  • a sub-set of the board responsible for management of the ED- ideally

one person, in our experience, but perhaps a sub-committee

  • clear board policy on decision making