New Procedures for This Year’s Election

In the coming weeks, NumFOCUS will be holding Board of Directors elections to install a new board of seven members whose terms will begin at our Summit, September 22-25.

It turns out that we have not had elections in a few years. The board felt there was a need to get a number of organizational hurdles fixed. This included readying our financial systems for an audit, improving processes for accepting projects, planning for the launch of an EU-based organization and working out team procedures for all the work we have taken on over the years. A turnover in the leadership during this time seemed like a way to make things slower and more error prone. With that said, our organization has grown substantially, so much so we are updating our election process.

In this post, we want to explain our needs and the process we came up with for the election to meet those needs.

A 3-Step Elections Process

Each type of elections process comes with its own set of challenges.

General member elections often become a popularity contest rather than a principled decision based on the needs of the organization. A closed door process where a small set of leaders pick the the next set of leaders is subject to bias and cronyism. To balance these two effects, the board has decided to blend our nomination and endorsement processes.

Our process will have three steps:

– July 20 – Aug 3: Nominations from the community. This includes NumFOCUS members and the public.

– Aug 10 – 24: Endorsements by NumFOCUS members who volunteer or donate (more details below)

– Aug 26 – 31: Selection and ratification by the NumFOCUS board and advisory council


Board member qualifications

Before we discuss all the details of the board election, we should cover the duties of a NumFOCUS board member. First and foremost, we seek board members who have a demonstrated dedication to the betterment of science through open source software. While the purview of the board isn’t technical, it does help to understand the interplay of our sponsored projects. Science and industry use the codes we sponsor to achieve great things; our job is to help these projects sustain themselves.

A board member needs to have between 2 and 10 volunteer hours a month to dedicate to the NumFOCUS organization. The board is still actively involved in almost every part of the NumFOCUS operation. We provide guidance to the staff on critical issues and help resolve challenges that arise. In general, we have two meetings a month.

Our board members are elected for a two year term. Having staggered terms means that new board members can learn the ropes without unduly impeding the work of the board. Because of this staggered term, we expect to have 3-5 positions available during this election.

Officer Positions

We need four members of our board to commit to be officers of the board.

  • Our President is responsible for working with our Executive Director to oversee our daily operations and help carry out the board’s initiatives.
  • Our Chair runs our meetings and wrangles the board agenda.
  • Our Treasurer is responsible for working with our financial team to ensure our organization is using our funding according to best practices.
  • Our Secretary is responsible for tracking decisions from the board and recording them for the public.

Each of these offices requires an additional time commitment, closer to the 5 – 10 hours a month.

Diversity on the Board

Finally, we look for folks that can represent different aspects of our organization. These include our projects’ needs, our programs such as our diversity and inclusion programs, and our ecosystem of events such as the PyData conferences and various other user conferences we help host.

We provide legal, financial and organizational services to scientific software projects. This requires us to work with many different partners such as private institutions, corporations, universities, government organizations, and other nonprofits. Having an understanding of how these types of organizations function is a big help in undertaking the work of a board member.

New Initiatives

A few major initiatives over the next year will include building new revenue streams for our projects, overseeing an EU launch of the NumFOCUS organization, and further partnership with major grant making organizations. All new board members will be invited to join us at the NumFOCUS Summit, September 22-25, to help plan these initiatives.



Nominations for board positions will be accepted from any member of the NumFOCUS community from July 20 – August 3, 2018.

To nominate a person, even yourself (self nominations welcome!), we ask that you fill this form with the person’s name, email address, and a few words on why you are nominating this person. Each nominee will then be invited to complete a short application addressing the qualifications mentioned above. At that point it is up to the nominee to respond before the deadline, giving the nominee a natural way to decline the position.

Additionally, I have always had a rule when nominating members of the community. I don’t say no for another person. Not everyone who is qualified will have read this post. Not everyone will think they would make a good candidate.

Busy people with lots of obligations have made time for us. People who are only tangentially involved in the projects but have other skills also make for excellent board members. Please don’t hesitate to nominate someone you feel would be a great fit for the NumFOCUS Board to move our organization forward.


Once nominees are collected, an endorsement period will be held for all the accepted nominees. Our volunteer community members will then be invited to endorse between August 10-24, 2018. This includes all project committees, event committees, and boards that give time to the NumFOCUS organization, as well as other individuals that give at least 5 hours per month to the NumFOCUS organization. 

If you think you should be on this list you can send us a message at to ensure your ballot is sent. We will post to the blog when the ballots have been sent to give folks time to send us an email if we missed them.


Selection and Ratification

The endorsement results from our volunteering community members will then be compiled for the NumFOCUS Board of Directors and the NumFOCUS Advisory Council. Invitations to join the Board of Directors will be made from these results between August 26-31, 2018.

As mentioned above we feel that the board will need to include a diverse set of skills and backgrounds. If we don’t seek this diversity, our organization will suffer from a lack of perspective. I can be the first to say that I have made mistakes by not seeking solutions from experts in the past. To that end, the Board and Council will not necessarily pick a set of candidates that are the top endorsement winners, but rather the group from the most endorsements that represent the wider needs of the community. We choose this process rather than portioning a number of seats to every category of need, because we felt the general election doesn’t always produce a working group that covers all the skills we might need.

We feel this election process, while more involved than in the past, represents the growth and complexity of the NumFOCUS organization. We are managing millions of dollars for the public good and interacting with 70K members regularly. While the size of our budget pales in comparison to the value of the time and talent our community has put into our ecosystem, we think it has a great amount of potential to grow into a stable ecosystem of innovation.

We appreciate your participation in this process and encourage any questions to be sent to .


This post was edited Aug 6, 2018 to use the word ‘endorsement’ rather than ‘vote’ as the nominees with the most votes didn’t directly select the winners of the election.