The election process for the GNOME Foundation Board of Directors is currently underway. Three positions are up for election this year, and Foundation members are able to nominate themselves until May 31st.
I’ve been sitting on the board since 2015, and have been acting as chair for the past two years. In this post, I’m going to talk a bit about how the board has evolved in the past year, and what sitting on the board involves.
As I’ve talked about previously, the GNOME Foundation Board has been evolving over recent years. When I first joined the board in 2015 we had a staff of one and a half, and the board was busy keeping the organisation running. We approved conference proposals, helped to organise events, dealt with legal issues when they arose, and attempted to manage our staff.
Nowadays we thankfully don’t have to do these things, because we have an Executive Director and their staff to do them for us. This has allowed the board to increasing move into the role that a board is supposed to have: that is, governance and oversight.
This is of vital importance since, to have a successful Foundation, we need to have a group which is responsible for taking a hard look at its strategy, plans and organisational health. This iisn’t something that a board that is focused on day-to-day operations is able to do.
Over the past year, the evolution of the Foundation Board has continued, and the board has undergone a number of organisational changes.
First, we switched from having weekly one-hour meetings to monthly two-hour meetings. This has given the board the capacity to have more in-depth discussions. It has also allowed us to structure our year around key board functions. Each meeting now has a particular focus, and there’s a schedule for the year, with quarterly sessions on strategy and finance.
The second major change is that we have created three new board committees, which are primarily made up of directors. These are:
Executive Committee: this monitors operations and meets more frequently than the board. It has executive power and can therefore act on behalf of the board at short notice, should it be required. This committee is traditionally staffed by the Executive Director (or CEO) and board president. It is currently made up of Neil (Executive Director), Rob (President) and myself (Chair).
Governance Committee: this committee exists to monitor and develop the board itself. It does things like checking that the board is living up to its legal and regulatory commitments, running assessment exercises, and developing the board through training and recruitment. The governance committee is currently made up of Kat, Philip, Felipe and myself.
Finance Committee: as you’d expect, the finance committee is responsible for monitoring the Foundation’s finances, proposing budgets and financial policies, and preparing finance reports. The finance committee is currently staffed by Shaun (Treasurer), Rob (President), Neil (Executive Director), and Rosanna (Director of Operations).
These committees are fairly standard for non-profit boards, and allow the board to delegate specific functions to sub-groups, which then report back to the board as a whole. They make sure that important tasks get done, and they also free up full board meetings to have higher-level conversations.
Being a Director
Due to the board’s ongoing development, the role of directors has changed a bit recently.
In many respects, sitting on the board is less involved as it was in the past. It’s no longer the case that you have a weekly meeting, and might have a long list of “operational” tasks to carry out. Instead, it’s a monthly two hour meeting, with the potential for another one-hour committee meeting every month. You might need to pick up tasks, but they are fewer in number than previously.
On the flip side, being on the Foundation Board nowadays involves living up to the standard expectations for any directors. As a director, you have personal legal obligations to ensure that the Foundation is being run effectively and in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations. To do this, you need to do things like review our paperwork and ensuring that we have the correct policies and procedures in place.
Sitting on the Board of Directors is an important role, and is a really valuable way ito contribute to both open source and the GNOME project. The time requirements are relatively modest, and it’s a fantastic way to gain new skills and experience. Personally, I’ve found being on the board to be hugely rewarding and educational, and I’ve really enjoyed my time as a director!
A good director is someone who can reliably attend meetings and take on tasks, has an eye for detail, and is able to effectively articulate themselves.
Nowadays we are also looking to our directors to bring additional experience and knowledge. So, if you have management experience, or non-profit experience, then your nomination would be especially welcome.
If this sounds like something that you can help with, we’d love to see your nomination for the coming election! You should also feel free to reach out to any of the current directors: we’d all be very happy to talk more about what being a director involves.