What does a nonprofit board do?

I now work for a nonprofit board of directors, so when one of my friends told me that she just joined a nonprofit board and took a class on what it means to be on the board of directors, I got pretty excited.

Over lunch, my friend (Serena) answered all my questions and brought me her class materials. The slides looked like the discussion might have been interesting. The booklet she got (which she said they valued dearly and I checked, it sells for $20) was a good summary. It was less than 30 pages of content but it summarized the board of directors' duties well. (And I'm happy to say I've seen the GNOME Foundation's board doing all of these things!) There's an even shorter online summary here, as well as a lot of good (free) articles on the BoardSource website. From the book Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards:

  1. Determine the organization's mission and purpose. (They can and should consult with others but it's their responsibility.)
  2. Select the chief
    executive. (And decide what they should do.)
  3. Provide proper
    financial oversight. (Budgeting, planning, making sure the money is in a safe place.)
  4. Ensure
    adequate resources. (Make sure things can get done.)
  5. Ensure
    legal and ethical integrity and maintain accountability. (This is for the organization, its members and staff.)
  6. Ensure effective organizational
    planning. (Are programs in place to further the mission and goals of the organization?)
  7. Recruit
    and orient new board members and assess board performance. (Making sure the board continues to function well.)
  8. Enhance the organization's public
    standing. (This is telling the world about the organization and recruiting new members and support.)
  9. Determine, monitor, and strengthen
    the organization's programs and services. (Managing the day to day stuff including fund raising.)
  10. Support the
    chief executive and assess his or her performance. (Making sure the chief executive knows what he/she should be doing and has the resources to do it.)

One of the things I always thought would be intimidating about being on a board of directors (nonprofit or not) is knowing what you are responsible and liable for. I'm glad to see there are lots of resources out there for people willing to serve on the boards of nonprofits. (My friend's class, and the book, were free; provided by 211/United Way of Larimer County.)

P.S. Serena is helping Steppin' Out, an organization in Fort Collins that helps foster kids that have "graduated" out of foster care. When they turn 18 most of them are suddenly without a home, parents, savings, car, high school diploma, mentors, etc. Steppin' Out helps them find jobs, cars, training, etc.

Book review: Personal Development for Smart People

[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book because I agreed to write a review.]

I first ran across Steve Pavlina when I was researching how people make money blogging. He had a very informative article of how he made money blogging and in addition I found a lot of other interesting posts. While I don't agree with all his posts, I find much of his writing thought provoking. When I was learning about the law of attraction, Steve Pavlina had the only definition that I considered somewhat reasonable from an intellectual standpoint. (Others seemed to describe it as "wish for it and it will happen". Steve Pavlina's definition was closer to the one I decided on, "believe it's possible and you'll work hard and get it.") Recently I really enjoyed his 30 day raw food trial. (Not something I plan to try but I like how he tried and documented a diet for 30 days.)

Personal Development for Smart People is similar to Steve Pavlina's blog but most of the writing is new. The first half of the book discusses the core principles or values he thinks everyone should work on. They are slightly different than the traditional set you'd find in a personal development book with intelligence in the middle. Here are some of the ideas I captured to think more about later:

  • What do your goals mean to you now? You live in the present (something I often forget) so all of your goals should be doing some thing positive for you now. You should enjoy working on them or enjoy the sense of accomplishment or the dream.
  • Triage your projects not into important and urgent but into three categories: they'll fail no matter what you do, they'll succeed no matter what you do and they'll succeed only if you do something. (You can guess which ones you are supposed to work on.)
  • He did an experiment with polyphasic sleep. Not for me, but once again it made me think about the value of 30 day trials.
  • If you want something, ask for it. Nicely, politely, be ok with being turned down. If you are ok with being turned down, you'll be able to ask for anything.
  • Habits are good and bad. I always seem to be working on getting rid of the bad habits and forgetting I have good ones.
  • Beat bad habits like chess. In the early game, position yourself for success, in the middle game deploy your tactics and in the end game, go for your target.
  • One of his blog posts that I really like was moochers versus contributors and he brought that concept up in his book. Some people make make money by creating things (creating things of value to society) and others make money by mooching (i.e. taking advantage of market changes). I don't think mooching is always as bad as it sounds but I think being conscious of whether you are mooching or contributing is important.
  • Read books written by others whose perspective is different than yours, i.e. athletes, Buddhists, investors, etc. People with different perspectives than you.
  • Instead of thinking about accumulating wealth, think of it more like cash flow. (He didn't say it like that but that's what I got out of it.)

My review really doesn't capture the tone of his book which I think really shows that I don't think about the world the same way he does. He talks a lot about love for others, trying different lenses on, oneness, etc.

If you are into personal development books, I recommend Personal Development for Smart People. If you aren't in the personal development mode or you are just looking to learn more about a topic, I wouldn't put this one at the top of your list just yet.

GNOME.Asia was a tremendous success!

I just got back from GNOME.Asia. Emily Chen (and a host of volunteers) put together GNOME.Asia to foster and grow the GNOME community in Asia. It was a great event – definitely the first in an annual tradition.

What was the conference like? There was tremendous energy. There were lots of talks – keynotes in the morning and four tracks in the afternoon. I understood most of the keynotes and a few of the presentations, but I was glad to see a lot of talks in Chinese. (Most of the audience was Chinese.) Each of the speakers drew a few questions after their talk, but they were also approached a lot during the conference on a one to one basis. During the conference I was asked diverse questions from how to find a job in open source, to how to get started in GNOME, to why I was concerned about women in GNOME, to what I thought of Linux on the desktop, to our relationship with KDE, to how I liked China, to how a company could sponsor GNOME.

Thanks to all the sponsors who helped make the conference a success: Sun, Nokia, Motorola, Mozilla, Red Hat, Google, Lemote, Csdn.net, and Programmer. They also provided gifts for the “Lucky Draw” at the end of every day
where cell phones and laptops were handed out to lots of applause.

The volunteers were great. I believe a special thank you goes to the Beijing LUG (BLUG) as well as the volunteers that helped out with the web pages and logo. The first day people showed up before the venue opened (two hours before the talks) and when they saw people setting up, they jumped in and helped! (Emily equated that to the 10% of Beijing’s  population that helped out with the Olympics last summer.)

None of this would have happened without Emily Chen from Sun. Although she credits Quim Gil with having the idea for a GNOME.Asia, Emily gets my respect for pulling off the planning of a large event without a hitch. I first met Emily at GUADEC where she already had her plan for GNOME.Asia all laid out. She found sponsors, she found local speakers,
international speakers, a venue, attendees – especially involving local university students, and most importantly she inspired and motivated the volunteers. With her coordination and volunteers, the conference went smoothly – good venue, good press, wireless coverage was good (always important at a technical event), great volunteers, good speakers, tremendous enthusiasm … give Emily a round of applause!

I should mention that Emily even put together entertainment for speakers and volunteers – a dinner at a traditional Chinese tea house with a show, as well as a sightseeing trip to the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs for the
speakers! Pockey, a volunteer from BLUG, went along as our guide.

The conference was well attended, with more people on the first day than the second day. I believe there were 500+ registrations – we’re still waiting on a count of how many attendees. Most attendees were Chinese but I also met people from Finland, France, United States, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

I believe every year the international aspect, especially the Asian representation, will increase. I’m looking forward to seeing who puts in bids for GNOME.Asia 2009, (The Beijing team was so jazzed, they volunteered to do it again!)

I also got to meet the Sun and Motorola GNOME teams located in China. Everybody I talked to agreed that meeting people face to face, even if it’s only once a year, really fosters relationships throughout the whole year.

Here’s to a successful GNOME.Asia 2008! I’m already looking forward to GNOME.Asia 2009!


Women in open source panel at Grace Hopper

A couple of weeks ago I got to go to the Grace Hopper conference for women in computing. It was a great conference. My favorite talk was one I happened on by accident, "I’m an imposter," where some of the most successful women I’ve ever met in person got up and talked about how they often feel like they are in the wrong place or got there by accident or are being asked to do something they have no idea how to do. It was really funny and very motivating. (If they have self doubts and got to where they are at, well then … For example, the president of Harvey Mudd College talked about how she sat between two billionaires at lunch and asked for $25 million for her school. If she can do that, I should have no problem asking for very modest – comparatively – donations for the GNOME Foundation!)

I was on a panel about women in open source. We weren’t as funny but hopefully we were as motivating. Our goal was to encourage women to participate in open source so we all started off by sharing our stories of how we got involved. A good many of us originally got into open source through our jobs, as opposed to as a self started hobby. I wonder how that would compare to how men started.

Our session was standing room only and there were lots of questions – hopefully we talked at least one person into working on open source software!

Here’s the panel.


Kristen Carlson Accardi
(Intel), Meenakshi Kaul-Basu (Sun Microsystems), Stormy Peters (GNOME
Foundation), Valerie Fenwick (Sun Microsystems), Zoë Slattery (IBM), Kathryn Vandiver (NetApp)

(Picture from Meenakshi’s camera taken by somebody in the hall. 🙂

Humanitarian projects bring more students to open source software

I learned about an interesting project at the Grace Hopper conference: the Humanitarian FOSS Project.

The Humanitarian FOSS project is attracting new students to software development by appealing to them with open source humanitarian projects. They’ve had a lot of success over the past two years. They bring all the students together on a university campus, house them, pay them and give them open source software projects to work on. The students have access to each other, professors and remote mentors from the project. Past projects have included working on disaster recovery software, volunteer scheduling software and medical imaging software. Their project is 100% funded by an NFS grant right now although they’d like to have companies fund additional interns in the future.  A huge additional benefit from my perspective is that the humanitarian aspect brings in people that might not traditionally
have been drawn to open source. (They were at the Grace Hopper conference because last summer’s group included quite a few women.)

I had a follow-up phone call with Trishan de Lanerolle, the project director, as well as Professor Ralph Morelli from Trinity College, and they proposed having two students work on GNOME projects next summer! They would find, house and fund the students. GNOME would provide (humanitarian) projects and mentors.

It’s a great offer and I’m thinking GNOME has a lot of great projects that would fit the humanitarian aspect, especially accessibility related projects.

Open source marketing is like manning an info desk

At the Openismus party in Berlin a few weeks ago, I had some interesting conversations about what marketing for an open source project like GNOME should be. What’s our core message and who are we targeting? (I think the best ideas come from discussions with others who care about the subject. Luckily with open source, everyone is passionate about the projects they work on so I get to have lots of really interesting discussions and hear lots of good ideas. I realized later I always talk shop at open source events. So if you don’t like talking shop, you should probably avoid me at the next open source related party, although you can sidetrack me by talking about kids. 🙂

There was one comment that we all thought was funny and right on. Jos van den Oever observed that marketing for an open source project is like working at an info desk. In a sense that’s true for all companies. Marketing departments give the rest of the world information about the company. But it’s even more true for open source because the marketing project doesn’t set the direction or strategy or even know all the answers. You direct people to the people that have the answers. Or at least that’s what I feel like I’m doing. Getting questions, finding answers, relaying back … like an info desk.

An infodesk model also implies that you are applying less of a slant to your messaging …

Book Review: The Complete Guide to Offshore Money Havens

I don’t usually blog about books I don’t like but I thought I could save people some time – don’t bother with The Complete Guide to Offshore Money Havens. I was in the library looking at finance books (like the rest of the world) and I ran across it. As I had a two year old with me (hanging out in the library is an excellent thing to do with a two year old on a cold rainy Sunday) I couldn’t really peruse it well, but it had 3.5 stars on Amazon. I figured that meant the writing style was hard to read but the content might still be ok.

I spent half an hour on the book this evening and it was terrible. The main point I got? "Taxes are way too high, start a bank in the Bahamas, sell yourself insurance and get deposits from your friends." Granted I didn’t really read it but I read the first few pages and skimmed the rest and what I read was … biased, wrong, and lacking any background explanation. You’ve been warned.

Now if anybody knows of a good book that explains international banking and finance … I’m still looking.

One step to a perfect presentation

#1 piece of advice for all presenters: know your presentation by heart.

I’ve been to four different conferences in the past three
weeks. I’ve seen a lot of presentations – a few good and many that could use some help. All the presentations I saw could be fixed with one best practice:

Know how to tell your story without your slides. 

I recommend writing your talk first. Practice it. Then
figure out what the major points are. Practice again with just one main point
on a slide. Then fill out your slides. Then practice again without slides. Your
presentation will be a 100% better, you’ll survive computer failures and you
won’t commit many errors like looking at your slides, reading your slides,  … or the worst, not being able to give your presentation when the projector or your computer won’t work.