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SQLAndy

I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.

PASS Update #57-Board Benefits, Travel, and Meetings

From time to time I get asked about how PASS Board members are compensated, so I thought it would make a good blog post, and I want to add to that some notes related to travel and meetings.

Board members are not paid a salary, stipend, or honorarium. We get free admittance to the PASS Summit, but not to the pre-conference seminars, and we do get a free copy of the Summit DVD’s. Our travel and host costs are paid to attend the Summit, but we pay for our own meals (note that most meals are included in the Summit admittance). PASS also pays our costs to attend Board meetings, typically 2-3 per year not counting the one we have at the Summit. For Board meetings we get reimbursed for airfare up to $500 (slightly more for anyone that lives outside the US), HQ books and pays for the the hotel room, and we get reimbursed for any rental car/tax needed (and we try to do ride share when we do). Per diem varies based on the city, but averages $50-$55 per day.

Non-Summit Board meetings are usually held at a hotel that can provide meeting space for 16 or so. Most of us try to arrive the night before the meeting so that we can do an informal dinner and get a head start on the work to be done. It’s also one of the key times when relationships are built. Breakfast and lunch are brought in so that we can meet start work over breakfast and continue right through the end of the day. Dinner on the first meeting night is usually required,and is optional for the second night (many want to get home that night). Dinner is usually one check and paid for by someone from PASS HQ or the senior Board member present. In practice that means I pay for the airfare,rental/taxi, parking, and maybe an airport meal or two up front, and then get the money back in 30-45 days.

For the past three meetings we’ve tried to co-locate with an event or chapter meeting (SQLSaturday Nashville, Dallas Chapter meeting, SQLRally Orlando), and going forward we expect to continue that. It’s incredibly important that we connect with our members, especially those that haven’t been to a Summit yet, and to do so as a group so that we can share the lessons and questions. We’re also trying to be a little more aware of the time/travel required for Board members. Just as I’m in favor of moving the Summit around, I’m in favor of moving the Board meetings around so that no one person suffers travel too much.

Aside from arguing for moving the meeting location around, my biggest complaints since I joined the Board in January 2008 have been the cost of the hotel, dinner, and the amount of work we get done (or not). We’ve had some dinners where the cost was higher than I though appropriate,, $40+ per person, and that’s not counting wine and drinks. We’ve also stayed at some hotels that I consider overly expensive, even with the discount that HQ negotiates.

Many will argue that as the Board is unpaid, buying them a nice dinner and a nice hotel room is the least we can do. Maybe there is some merit to that, but I think it sends the wrong signal to the members. Perception matters. I believe we should meet at a typical business class hotel (Embassy Suites for example) and live within our per diem. If want to hit Shula’s here in Orlando that’s fine, but we should do it with the $20 or left over after our share of breakfast/lunch costs, and then pay the difference ourselves. Ideally we’d all pay our own check and get reimbursed, but as a practical matter restaurants want a single check when you show up with 10 or more.

I will add that the hotels are a package; rooms, meeting space, breakfast, lunch, so it’s hard to tell what costs what. I know here in Orlando I can get a room at the Embassy for $130 or so before tax, breakfast is free (and cooked to order), and meeting space is $300 day (and often less if you buy lunch from the hotel).

I think anyone that volunteers to be on the Board deserves to stay at a clean and safe hotel, no different than I’d ask anyone that worked with me to stay at, and to get reimbursed for reasonable expenses. Outback is reasonable, Flemings is not.

I’ve been told that our average meeting costs $30-35k. That number seems high, but it may be realistic. We’re typically flying everyone in plus 3-5 people from HQ (which we need). That’s probably $1000 per person for airfare, hotel (2-3 nights), and related costs, and then we have the cost of meeting space and any incidentals. I’d like to see it cost less, and that may be possible, but I consider the meetings to be absolutely essential. I think we should publish the final cost so that the members can see it clearly.

The real work gets done at the in-person meetings. Our monthly phone meetings are one hour or less, for votes and quick discussions on ongoing business. Collaboration takes time, and works best when you get people in a room. Relationships get built over lunch and dinner, and you can’t do that over Livemeeting. Imagine managing a project for your business by getting the decisions makers together 3 times a year. It sorta works. Not smoothly, more of a lurching walk.

Meetings are hard at best. We tend to get an agenda published at the last minute, with my request being to see it at least 7 days prior so I can try to prepare. We used to do reporting by portfolio, which seemed like a waste of time (we can read it beforehand), but I think we’ve gone the other way to the point that we don’t hold each other accountable. Sometimes we don’t put enough thought into prepping a particular discussion (and that is not a PASS specific failing, it happens everywhere), sometimes we can’t decide how far into a discussion to go (are we in the weeds?), and sometimes we start an open discussion that turns into a great talk, or a free for all. Not all meetings can be about making decisions, sometimes they are about exploring ideas, and just as with sausage making, it’s something not fun to watch, but it’s how it works.

Sometimes we have good meetings, sometimes not. Meetings need a moderator and a leader, sometimes we have that, sometimes not. I think we try to be too structured in some places, not leaving enough time for groups to break off and talk. The most valuable time for me is dinner and after dinner, I still remember great talks with Greg Low right after I was elected that helped me understand how much I didn’t know about the international world of SQL and PASS.

What else? I typically get a free shirt or two each year. Conference calls are to a toll free number, and other calls I just do on my cell phone. I don’t get an allowance to buy anyone dinner or drinks or coffee, that’s all on me. I’d like to see Board members get an allowance for that, but maybe that starts to look like compensation and should be avoided.

I hope you as read this you’ll keep in mind the time investment we make. For me it’s conservatively 200 hours a year. 4.5 hours this week, more on some weeks, and hopefully less on others. I’m trying to do a solid two hours each week not counting in person meetings, and that is a struggle. I knew the deal going in and I’m not complaining about the time, or the lack of compensation. I’d like to see us spend a bit less for meeting, but I don’t think it’s going to be a huge amount, a few thousand a year. We try hard to be productive, we try to make good decisions, and overall we try to be good stewards of the resources we have available.

I’m planning to ask the Board to make some changes this year:

  • Require a Board vote to stay at any hotel that costs more than $200/night including all fees/taxes (excepting the Summit, where we leverage some free rooms), and ask HQ to target hotels that would be in the $150/night range
  • Schedule Board dinners at restaurants with an average entrée cost below $30
  • Disclose the final cost of each meeting outside of the Summit (where the costs are so blended I don’t think we could figure it out in a way that be worth doing)
  • Publish a public version of our agenda at least 7 days prior to each meeting
  • Schedule all non-Summit meetings to coincide with a SQLSaturday, chapter meeting, SQLRally, or other similar event unless it’s an emergency
  • Schedule two full days for each non-Summit meeting, and schedule an after dinner workshop on evening of the first full day
  • Offer former Board members the opportunity to attend any PASS event at our true cost, as a way to keep them engaged and available

I’d like to hear your thoughts before I do so. I want Board members and prospective Board members to be treated fairly. I want our members to have a fair and positive perception of the money we invest supporting the Board. Are all of my ideas good? What would you change and why?

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