Question to the ccandidates: Vision, leadership training, and transparency

I am very interested in seeing the Foundation do better on its rating on web sites such as GuideStar, which includes increasing transparency around visioning and leadership training, and signed conflict of interest forms. Are you planning on addressing these sorts of organizational questions and, if so, how are you going to prioritize it?

Additionally, I am really inspired by the transparency practiced by the Tor project, including things like publicly available budgets and financial projections. Is this level of transparency something you would support?

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This is a really good question, thanks. Before any candidates jump in to answer it, though, I’d like to mention that some of the facts on Guidestar are out of date, since some of the candidates who are not incumbent board members might not be aware! Here are some corrections of inaccuracies that jumped out at me when I briefly browsed the Guidestar page:

  • The Foundation has had a conflict of interest policy since late 2018. Board members are required to sign conflict of interest forms yearly.
  • Normally the budgets and financial projections are publicly available. The forecast for the fiscal year 2020 is not posted online yet, but for example the 2019 one is here.
  • Last year the board created a committee to conduct regular reviews of the executive director’s compensation.
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This is a good question, and not something I’d actively considered. The GNOME Foundation should strive to be as open and transparent as it possibly can, although of course there things that can’t be publicly disclosed (like the details of an ongoing legal dispute, for example). Having served on the board in the past, I do not believe any non-transparency was ever due to directors acting in bad faith, but rather was simply a failure to communicate as well as we could have. We’re all prone to this, myself included, and it’s worthwhile for the board to periodically review whether they could better communicate with the community.

I do think that in my time as treasurer, I improved our budgeting and financial reporting. I tried to create reports that were easy to understand and which answered real questions people have about how we handled our finances. Of course, the finances of the Foundation are quite a bit different from when I served as treasurer, but I’ve also learned a lot in serving as treasurer of two other organizations since then. This is an area where I think I could help, whether as treasurer, or just in an assistive role.

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A very good question! As @ptomato has already pointed out, the information on GuideStar is derived from our non-profit 990 filings, which are submitted are filed a few months after the year end, and then published a couple of years later, so our rating there doesn’t reflect current practices. With support and encouragement from Neil we’ve been trying to implement these governance best practices and check more of the boxes on that form - we’ve established an compensation committee of the board to review the ED perfomance and salary, set up a conflict of interest policy and forms, etc.

As @shaunm says we’ve been transparent for quite a while when it comes to finances, but to my eyes the information has not been as detailed or punctual as I would like for the Foundation, and has been biased towards the past or “just in time”. I and the board have been giving Neil pretty constant feedback that the Foundation needs to do better about timely reporting on use of resources, forecasting and financial goal-setting. In fairness, on top of very understandable constraints of time and focus that are not uncommon for non profits, we’ve faced serious illnesses and had all kinds of technical issues there. Franky we have been struggling with trying to stick to FOSS systems and not even being able to find external consultants to get the support and functionality we need. This means the reporting of finances remains slower and less accurate than I would like to see, and forecasts are sketchy - but we’re pushing on it and would love to share any improvements publicly as they occur.

In terms of leadership training, and being clear about how we translate the mission of the foundation into our strategy, we’ve already started to share strategic goals but have not quite lined them up with things like a succinct statement of our mission, some 5 or 10 year goals, etc. We’ve been working with a consultant during the past board term on this, and training to bring the board’s level of attention to a more strategic level, and I hope we can continue this as a priority for the next board.

I’ve responded in some more detail about our work on transparency at Question: Adoption of a Freedom of Information policy as well, but I think moving towards a well-known best practice such as GuideStar’s Seal of Transparency is a superb idea and would definitely support it through the next board term.