Executive director [was: Re: OOXML]


Jeff Waugh wrote:
> I explained it in that email. If something wasn't clear or you need further
> explanation, let me know what it is.

In particular:

Jeff wrote:

> It has actually been a very helpful learning experience -- understanding
> what the purpose of that role should be, by grokking the gaps. It's less
> obvious what that role ought to be now that we're so far away from the
> "Executive Director" assumption.

The gaps I've seen are things like actively managing a budget, managing
our relationships with commercial partners (the advisory board,
community donors and more), ensuring continuity year-to-year in event
organisation, and managing relationships at an administrative level
(accountant, lawyer, bank, payroll...).

Do you see different gaps?

Rosanna has taken up some of the slack - the day-to-day handling of the
accounts, sending gifts to donors, getting it done when we need things
sent somewhere/printed/received, and also managing some of those
administrative relationships (bank, accountant, payroll), but her role
is clearly administrative, and is not pro-active - she has no
decision-making authority on spending the budget, does not cultivate
relationships with regional groups or company representatives, and
doesn't look at the Big Picture for GNOME or for the GNOME Foundation.

All of those tasks are firmly in the "Executive director" mould. I agree
that we're hoping for someone who can go beyond the bare minimum, and
who can help grow the community by searching for opportunities to bring
money into the foundation to allow us to better fulfill our role of
supporting the community and the project, but is that really so far from
the role of an ED? Isn't that what Mitchell Baker did for MoFo? Or Mike
Milinkovitch for Eclipse?

> Defining the role and hiring someone for it has been and will continue to be
> a very tricky task. We have to be very comfortable choosing between large
> target and small target goals. Just hiring for an "Executive Director" role
> would put us firmly in the small target zone, which is probably not the
> right thing to do. I don't even think it's necessary.

So I'm wondering if our insistence that our needs are so far from an
executive director isn't in some sense becoming a millstopne preventing
us from seeking & hiring someone who could do a wonderful job for us,
who would be a thousand times better than having no-one, and who would
allow the board to assume the role which a board typically has, one of

When we first found ourselves in the situation where we wouldn't have an
executive director, we exchanged emails with someone in another software
non-profit. He gave us this advice, which I think has become a fulfilled

> [We] stopped hiring an executive director partly because we
> found we had trouble attracting competent executive
> directors, and partly because poor management by these
> directors and the board reduced our funds to the point where
> having an executive director would strain the
> organization. We, too, hired a very competent managing
> director and assumed the volunteer board members would pick
> up the executive part.
> As a result:
> * Projects, local chapters, and other good initiatives got
>   dropped, even though we detected a few years later that
>   there would have been big payoffs for continuing
>   them. When the initial volunteers got burned out, neither
>   they nor anyone else took responsibility for finding
>   replacements.
> * Crucial opportunities for external success (doing
>   publicity at the right moment, finding allies) were
>   missed. This is because individual volunteers might be
>   doing excellent work on a project, but no one was looking
>   at the big picture and asking, "How do we capitalize on
>   this."
> * Important projects (including those for which we hired
>   consultants) went off in the wrong direction early in
>   their history and ended up failing or being severely
>   compromised. This is because the direction of such
>   projects depended on board members who came and went, and
>   were sometimes unprepared to take the directing role.
> * In general, the organization suffered from being led by
>   board members who were sophisticated technically and
>   politically, but lacked skills at organizing, finance,
>   fund-raising, and other executive-director tasks.

This sounds, 2 years on, like exactly the situation we find ourselves in
now. Perhaps it is time to revisit the assumption that our organisation
is so radically different from others that we don't need/want an
executive director?


Dave Neary
GNOME Foundation member
bolsh gnome org

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