The GNOME Foundation is presently going through it’s annual election cycle. I want to note my appreciation of the time and energy of all those who are running.
I’ve got something over 21 years cumulative experience as a Director, most of it in the not-for-profit organization space. Large NGOs are generally very professionally run, but one of the things I’ve observed quite often about the tiny associations that typically arise around local events and civic initiatives: there is a tendency for the Membership to expect the Board to do all the work.
This is likewise true of groups in the Open Source space. Such organizations usually don’t have full staff and the Board, which should be concerning itself with a governance role, ends up being called upon to act additionally as both Executive and Secretariat. Everyone else in the community contentedly sits back, expecting herculean efforts from the poor suckers who got elected. Every half baked idea has to be followed up and every last initiative to be successfully carried out. The inevitable result is burn-out of the very people who are your most passionate advocates.
Wide open spaces
Predictably, people have been attempting to force the various candidates into making solemn promises about all the many things they are going to do for GNOME in the coming year. Which is all a bit ridiculous: Hello! These people are unpaid volunteers!
Nevertheless, being candidates, most are replying with various exciting statements as to what they are going to achieve if elected Directors. Replying to one such platform, David Neary writes:
What has prevented you from doing/encouraging these things as an ordinary member? The marketing team is open to all, several members propose/organise local events… What makes you think you will be more able to do these things as a board member?
It’s a fine question; and as is the case with most of the organizations that exist only to provide a legal structure around a Free Software community (eg GNOME, The Perl Foundation, Linux Australia, etc), ultimately the organization and its Board matters little because it is those who write the code, package the software, do the promotional work, complete translations, who set the direction. And that’s not to mention the courage of the individual who convinces his or her peers and superiors that a particular piece of software should be used in their organization.
I should make it clear that I do value the work of the Directors of these various umbrella organizations. I’ve been in their shoes. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it enjoyable work, but it can be rewarding. None the less, it takes a huge amount of effort to prepare financial statements and to maintain relationships with sponsors. Even just context switching in order to attend a conference call is a burden. It’s thankless toil that even in titularly transparent organizations largely goes on behind the scenes.
In early 2003, Linux Australia expressed that it’s purpose was to “facilitate the enthusiasm” of people in the Open Source community. Really, that’s what all such supporting organizations are about. The hard work of all the volunteers, be they at Board level, those carrying out marketing campaigns, the miracle workers making awesome posters and promotional material, the fun people manning booths at trade shows, and the tireless volunteers helping out at our premier conferences and events, are what make being a part of the Linux movement the amazing experience that it is.