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What it's like to serve on the DSF Board

I am currently the Vice-President of the Django Software Foundation, and have served as a member of the DSF Board for two years. This article is intended to help give a clearer picture of what's involved in being on the DSF Board, and might help some people decide whether they wish to stand for election.

What we do

Each month we - the six directors - have a board meeting, via Hangout. This lasts about an hour. We follow an agenda, and discuss questions that have arisen, have report on the state of our finances, and vote on any questions that have come up.

Each month a number of the questions we vote on are about grant applications for events (conferences, Django Girls and so on) and nominations for new members.

Mostly it's fairly routine business, and doesn't require much deliberation.

Occasionally there are trickier questions, for example that might concern:

  • matters where we are not sure what the best way forward is
  • legal questions about what the DSF is and isn't allowed to do
  • disagreements or contentious questions within the DSF or Django community

On the whole we find that when it's a matter of judgement about something, that we come to agreement pretty quickly.

At each meeting we'll each agree to take on certain administrative tasks that follow on from the discussion.

During the month a number of email messages come in that need to be answered - mostly enquiries about support for events, use of the Django logo, and so on, and also several for technical help with Django that we refer elsewhere.

Any one of us will answer those, if we can.

Some members of the board have special duties or interests - for example the Treasurer and Secretary have official duties, while I often take up enquiries about events.

Overall, it's a few hours' work each month.

What you need to be a board member

The board members are officially "Directors of the Django Software Foundation", which might make it sound more glamorous and/or difficult than it really is. It's neither...

If you can:

  • spare a few hours each month
  • spare some personal energy for the job
  • take part in meetings and help make decisions
  • answer email
  • read proposals, requests, applications and other documents carefully
  • help write documents (whether it's composing or proof-reading)
  • listen to people and voices in the Django community

then you probably have everything that's required to make a genuine, valuable contribution to Django by serving on the board.

Obviously, to serve as the Treasurer or Secretary requires some basic suitable skills for those roles - but you don't need to be a qualified accountant or have formal training.

In any case, no-one is born a DSF board member, and it's perfectly reasonable that in such a role you will learn to do new things if you don't know them already.

What it's like

I can only speak for myself - but I enjoy the work very much. Everyone on the board has a common aim of serving Django and its community, and the way the board works is friendly, collaborative and supportive. There's room for a variety of skills, special knowledge and experience. Different perspectives are welcomed.

There's also a very clear Django ethos and direction, that aims at inclusivity and generosity. The sustainability of the project and the well-being of people involved in it are always concerns that are visibly and explicitly on the table in board discussions.

It's a very good feeling each month to have our board meeting and be reminded how true the "boring means stable" equation is. Django is a big ship, and it sails on month after month, steadily. It requires some steering, and a shared vision of the way ahead, but progresses without big dramas. As a member of the board, this makes me feel that I am involved in something safe and sustainable.

I've been on the DSF board for nearly two years. Serving on the board does require some extra energy and time in my life, but it very rarely, if ever, feels like wasted or useless expenditure of energy. What we do makes sense, and has actual, tangible, useful results.

If you have some energy that you would like to do something useful with to help Django and all the individuals and organisations involved in it, I think that serving as DSF board member is an excellent way to use it, because the DSF is a machine that works well and your time and energy won't be wasted.

All of this discussion has been wholly from my own perspective, and even then it's quite incomplete. I'm just one board member of six, and other board members might have things they feel are important to add that I have not mentioned. Even so, I hope this account reassures anyone who had any doubts that:

  • they don't need special skills or credentials to be a board member
  • being a board member is a rewarding way to spend their time and energy
  • serving on the board makes a genuine contribution to Django

Daniele Procida

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