The FSF board announces criteria for evaluating board candidates
To assist the new board nomination process, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) board has created a "board matrix" to help establish a list of fundamental requirements and valuable attributes for board members. This is not an exhaustive description of what is sought in a board member, but it should help in the evaluation of candidates.
To be qualified to be on the FSF board, a candidate must, above all, meet these fundamental requirements:
- An FSF board member should loyally uphold the FSF's insistence that users are entitled to control their computing, individually and collectively, and therefore to control the software that does that computing, and should attest that no reason can justify denying them this.
- An FSF board member should loyally uphold the integrity of copyleft and the GNU licenses, and decide about revised licenses primarily to ensure that the programs carrying these licenses continue to give their users the four freedoms; and, all else being equal in that regard, secondarily to encourage developers to release more programs under these licenses.
- An FSF board member should steadfastly resist pressure to depart from the above, regardless of what goal or argument may be offered for doing so. Important real goals will never require such a sacrifice of freedom for all; there will always be a morally preferable way to achieve them.
Highlighted valuable attributes
The board is a dynamic entity, with each director possessing skills, experiences, and qualities which may be of use to the board. When recruiting a new board member, the sitting board members will reflect on their own attributes, then select and highlight a few as desirable to have more of at the present time.
The current highlighted attributes relating to the process started on January 19, 2022 are:
The board hopes that people who are considering going through the nomination process for becoming a board member will take a moment to reflect on these fundamental requirements and highlighted attributes. Anyone who has these attributes is particularly encouraged to self-nominate or be nominated.
Nominate someone using the board nomination form
The board plans to also share these highlighted attributes within the nominated candidate evaluation forum to help guide and focus associate member discussion of the candidates.
The board matrix lists thirteen qualities that the board selected in the categories Expertise & Capacity, Relationships, and Diversity (not ordered by priority).
Expertise & Capacity
The FSF is a 501(c)(3) and expertise in nonprofit governance, including best practices and legal compliance requirements, helps the FSF achieve its mission, use its resources optimally, and maintain its integrity.
Legal expertise including in copyleft
The FSF publishes the GNU General Public License. It maintains resources on copyleft and free software licensing and it answers questions related to it. A practical understanding of legal conversations and legal issues, including how to consult with lawyers (if one is not a lawyer oneself), is valuable to assist FSF staff in driving these pillars of the mission successfully, and in contributing to board-level decisions regarding the FSF's licenses.
The FSF's 4-star Charity Navigator rating means that associate members and donors can trust that their donations are going to a financially responsible and ethical charity when they decide to support the FSF. The board has an audit committee, which is responsible for approving the filings prepared by the FSF's staff and external auditor. Knowledge of accounting and finance in the board helps keep our standards in these aspects high.
High availability: Available 200+ hours/year
The FSF board has been meeting three hours per week for the past year. This is only possible due to the dedication and availability of the directors. The board achieved a lot in this time and hopes that the time demands will be less in the future.
The FSF is a small nonprofit with fourteen staff. The management team and staff receive valuable support from a board that understands the value of good management and from board members who can share knowledge and resources relating to hiring and management.
Current technological practices, including free software development
Freedom of computer users all over the world is threatened constantly by new developments in technology. Knowledge and understanding of current technological practices, both within the free software world and outside it, will help the board make good decisions and long-term plans.
Able to be an officer (has no excluding condition e.g. conflict of interest)
The FSF has three essential officer positions: President, Clerk and Treasurer. The FSF prefers to have these roles filled by board members. Some people are disqualified from being an officer due to their employment agreements or for other reasons. To find good officers within the board, it helps to have a larger pool of potential officers.
Practical experience wrangling with specific ethical issues that involve reconciling principles and practical consequences
Free software is a matter of ethics applied to technical activities. The FSF works at a practical level to advance the use of free software everywhere, so finding the best way to apply our principles within the practical situation is an important part of the FSF's work. Practical experience in doing this will be an important contribution. This attribute must be highly represented in the FSF board.
Our work is dependent on the generosity of individuals who value the work we do, and who support the FSF's mission. Experience and expertise in fundraising helps the board both oversee and support staff efforts to increase the FSF's resources in a way that deepens donor engagement with the free software cause.
Relationships are important in any form of governance, in activism, and for any organization with a community-oriented mission. Relationships that are identified by the board members for the purpose of the board matrix are:
- Free software community (developers, users, advocates, companies);
- Leaders at the intersection of technology and freedom; and
- Fundraising (for example: grant making organizations)
The FSF board values the human diversity of the board, including persons of groups which are currently underserved in the free software community. The board hopes that this process will help identify candidates who have the necessary commitment to free software, along with diverse life experiences and perspectives that will help the FSF board avoid biases and broaden the free software movement.
Desirable for all board members in various degrees
Some attributes that will be considered as desirable for candidates are informed by the mission of the Free Software Foundation, and they will help a potential board member better understand and adapt to conversations in the FSF board meetings.
- A history of using and promoting free software.
- A history of acting with honesty and integrity.
- A history of treating others in the free software community civilly and dealing with conflicts in a restrained way, ideally with empathy.
Skills for working in a group that makes difficult decisions
- Think about topics or issues in an objective and critical way.
- Identify the different arguments there are in relation to a particular issue.
- Sensitivity to one's own and other cultures.
- Contextual understanding and sensitivity.
- Helping the board notice and avoid bias.
- Sensitivity to neurodivergent people.
Read more about the FSF board and what being a board member entails.