What does it mean to be on the board of PostgreSQL Europe

With the upcoming elections in PostgreSQL Europe, I'm excited to see that we have more candidates than ever before. But during the FOSDEM conference we just finished in Brussels, that also lead to a fairly large number of people who asked me the simple question "what does it actually mean to be on the board of PostgreSQL Europe". So I think it's time to summarize that for both those standing for election, and for the members of the organisation in general.

For a TL; DR; version, being on the board basically means a lot of administrative work :) But read on for some details.

How much is it?

We don't hold a lot of "traditional board meetings" in PGEU -- instead we work with a process that's fairly similar to what the PostgreSQL development does, which means we conduct our business primarily on our closed mailinglist. But there are of course differences -- there are more deadlines imposed from the outside, so it's not possible to just say "don't have time for this thread/patch/whatnot this cf, we'll do it in next", because things simply have to get done on a schedule.

So what does this mean in amount? For example, in the past year we have dealt with approximately 200 threads of discussion on the board mailing list. Many of them going on for weeks or months. This may not sound very much to people who are used to the volume on for example pgsql-hackers, but keep in mind that every member of the board is expected to have an informed opinion on each and every thread. Sure, there are some of them that are basically just "FYI-threads", but there are also those that go into 100+ messages.

On top of this there are things like phone calls and chat meetings a couple of times per year, and the occasional actual in-person board meeting (typically one or two per year, at pgconfeu and/or FOSDEM).

What's it about?

So what things do we actually do and discuss during all this time.

General administration

Communications with authorities

Being a registered French non-profit brings a number of administrative works in itself. Coordination needs to be done with the French authorities, in particular the tax agency. And that of course means a lot of paperwork, as I'm sure everybody realizes. And as most of this communications has to be done in French, translations have to be done in both directions.

Contract and relations maintenance

PostgreSQL Europe is the signing party to a number of contracts. For example, we have payment processing contracts with a couple of different companies such as Adyen and Trustly. These all need to be regularly renewed, and since they are payment related there are some documents and forms that actually need to be re-done every year or every two years, based on new regulations and such things, which sometimes includes circulating paperwork that has to be signed by all individual board members.

We of course have our own contracts, such as sponsorship contracts for events. These need regular renewal, and those need to be coordinated with our legal advice, in order to make sure they are actually properly phrased to be valid in the European market. And with all paperwork of this type, this can be both time consuming and painful.

Recurring minor things

There are a lot of minor things that need to not get forgotten. For example, every time our insurance is up for renewal, it has to be evaluated and possibly changed, as well as actually paid. This must both be done, and specifically it must not be forgotten.

And of course, we must not forget to renew our domain names :)

Finances

When it comes to pure individual workload, keeping up with the accounting is probably by far the biggest thing to handle. In 2017, PostgreSQL Europe processed over 2000 financial transactions, with everything from small membership fees to conference venue costs of over €100,000. Every one of these needs to be accounted for, followed up and verified. While a lot of this is automatic (such as the transactions generated by a credit card payment), everything is not, and even the automated ones need to be validated so that things match up all the way up the stack.

Especially since PGEU got VAT registered, the amount of work in this area has increased significantly. We do have an accounting firm that helps us with much of this today, but even with that it's more work than when we did everything ourselves before we had to deal with VAT. And while our counterparts may be our accountants, their counterparts are the tax agencies across multiple European countries, which definitely does not make for a smooth process.

And of course, just keeping up relations with our primary bank requires some effort. For some things, they actually require in-person meetings. I still clearly remember having to fly down to Paris for a 1hr meeting with the bank -- that was conducted entirely in French, so Guillaume was there to translate -- just to sign some papers. Luckily this was only when we started up the account, and has not been a regular occurrence. Since then, all on-site meetings have been handled by Guillaume who is local.

The same goes for keeping up relations with other vendors, though none other than our banks normally require physical meetings.

The organisation itself

We have to ensure the organisation follows it's statutes as decided by the General Assembly. This includes such things as holding a General Assembly each year (including preparing all paperwork, ensuring the correct people are there, handling of quorum and such details), as well as making sure we have regular board member elections and that those elections follow the rules both in preparation and execution.

Conferences

Of course, our conferences are one of the biggest things that are visible to the outside. But in fact, it's one of the things that the board doesn't do as much as people think. Most of the things around our conferences are actually managed by mostly independent conference teams. For some of them, there are board members present on the team as well (such as PGConf.EU, but also smaller events like Nordic PGDay and pgconf.de). For some (such as pgDay.paris) there are not. But even when there is some crossover, those people work on the conference primarily in their role on the conference team. Of course, there are a few things that is always done by the board even in these cases.

Budget approval

The board will approve the budget of the event, since PostgreSQL Europe is the underwriting authority. If there is not a trustworthy budget in place, the organization cannot put it's money behind it. The actual budget is of course developed by the conference team, but the board handles the approval.

Venue contract review

Final review of venue contracts falls under what the board has to do. This may include communications with a legal advisor in some cases, but usually not. It may also include negotiation with the venue on contract details if necessary. "General" venue negotiation is handled by the conference team, not by the board.

Possible venue site visit

When we are talking about PGConf.EU, and a budget of well over €100,000, we always require at least one board member to do a site-visit, to ensure that the venue actually lives up to it's own marketing material. At this size, this isn't really something that can be outsourced. For smaller conferences, there is usually just a local representative handling this side.

Contract signing

Only members of the board can sign contracts. For that reason, somebody from the board will always sign any contracts related to the event, such as sponsor contracts (which always use the PGEU developed standard template) and venue contracts.

Sponsor and attendee administration

While the direct interfacing with the sponsor is handled by the conference team, there are some administrative tasks that fall on the board. It usually comes down to things like working around incorrectly given information causing re-issuing of invoices etc, filling out PO's as necessary (since they need to be signed by a legal representative of the organisation, normally), and handling discussions with their financial departments.

Likewise, a significant amount of time goes into dealing with incorrect payments or incorrectly issued attendee invoices. Most of the time this just amounts to explaining the situation to representatives of the attendees financial departments, but particularly since we deal with attendees from all over Europe (and indeed the world), this can often be quite time-consuming.

Co-located events

Sometimes there are co-located events happening during a conference. For example, during PGConf.EU 2017 in Warsaw, there was a Graphics Developers Meeting held,and right before FOSDEM PGDay we often hold a developer meeting. While the content organisation of these events are managed by others (or at least other roles when it comes to developer meetings), the administration and management is handled by PostgreSQL Europe.

User groups

The board also works with user groups around Europe. In particular, this amounts to helping out usergroups that are just starting up -- or encouraging people to make sure that they do. This can take the shape of financial aid, but most of the time the important parts are about helping out with the organisational details, and helping to make sure that there is somebody with experience from previous usergroups around to help out in the beginning.

Swag

The board maintains an inventory of swag to be used at different events. This both includes the large and fairly expensive sets of swag that is used at for example FOSDEM and PGConf.EU (such as hoodies and elephants), as well as smaller swag that is sent around to different smaller events and usergroups (such as stickers). This includes both figuring out what to get, actually ordering it, stockpiling what exists, and making sure it's delivered to the correct venues (either in the back of somebody's car, or by shipment). Part of this process is sometimes outsourced on others, but the responsibility is always with the board.

Website and information

The PostgreSQL Europe website has to be maintained, and information added. We are admittedly not doing an excellent job of publishing information other than the conferences on this site, and it is in bad need of a design overhaul, but the basics are there. This include things like translating the rules of VAT we get from our accountants and the authorities into a language and structure that can actually be useful to our attendees and sponsors when they get their invoices, for example.

Actually maintaining the conference software is not something that strictly speaking has to be a board functionality, and we have multiple people who are not on the board who help out. And if we preferred, we could also use a third party software for it -- but then we'd need somebody to maintain that. This is unlike the "information side" of the website that really has to fall under the boards work.

Everything else

Then there is of course everything else. Which should be more. In particular, we would love to see more people who are not on the board get engaged in doing things around PostgreSQL, and have them be supported by PostgreSQL Europe. The job of the board of an organization like PostgreSQL Europe isn't to do everything -- it's to make it easier for the members to do things, and to support them in doing so. A good example of that is offloading the work from the members who want to arrange events of handling contracts and payments and other bureaucracy-heavy tasks, so that they can focus on the results. This can often be fairly thankless and invisible tasks, but in the end they are a big help to bring the community forward. But without the participation of people outside the board for these things as well, the organization simply does not scale!

In summary

Many of these tasks are things that could be done by people outside the board, either just by volunteering members or in theory by paying somebody to get them done. But in the end, it's the responsibility of the board to ensure that they get done.

I definitely think it's great that we have more people who are interested in joining the board, and doing the quite behind-the-scenes thankless work. But we also need more people doing the front-line work -- so don't let the fact that you don't want to do the admin work, or that you don't want the responsibilities of being on a board, stop you from initiating or contributing to projects to help spread PostgreSQL in Europe and the world!


Comments

I enjoyed this view behind the scenes.

Posted on Feb 18, 2018 at 14:03 by Noah Misch.

Conferences

I speak at and organize conferences around Open Source in general and PostgreSQL in particular.

Upcoming

PGConf.UK
Jul 3, 2018
London, UK
PGDay.Amsterdam
Jul 12, 2018
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Prague PostgreSQL Meetup August
Aug 27, 2018
Prague, Czech Republic
Postgres Open 2018
Sep 5-7, 2018
San Francisco, USA
PGConf.EU 2018
Oct 23-26, 2018
Lisbon, Portugal

Past

PGCon 2018
May 29-Jun 1, 2018
Ottawa, Canada
PGConf.DE 2018
Apr 13, 2018
Berlin, Germany
PGDay.paris 2018
Mar 15, 2018
Paris, France
Nordic PGDay 2018
Mar 13, 2018
Oslo, Norway
ConFoo 2018
Mar 7-9, 2018
Montreal, Canada
More past conferences