Payment and the Board

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If you read the March PASS Board meeting minutes, you saw that there was a discussion around board members and payments related to SQLSaturday precons. The question is simple, for a PASS branded event, should a member of the PASS board receive payment?

There are a couple of relevant facts. In the by-laws it says:

“…provided that nothing herein contained shall be construed to preclude any Director from serving PASS in an educational or speaking capacity and receiving compensation upon approval by a majority vote from the Board of Directors.”

That’s very clear. If a member of the Board wishes to receive payment from PASS to put on a precon, they have to get approval of the Board.

Next fact, PASS branded events, such as SQLSaturday, are not, because of legal and financial reasons, PASS run events. They are separate entities. This means they are, in terms of the law, not covered under the by-laws. They must remain separate legal entities from the events where PASS takes direct responsibility, such as Summit and the Business Analytics Conference.

The question then, is receiving money at a PASS-branded event a conflict of interest? Is it a negative perception? Is it not an issue at all? Further, does any of this apply to PASS-sponsored events?

I have my opinion, but I’m going to withhold it here. What do you think?


  • I have no problem with board members being paid to speak at a Preconn. To me that’s an event separate from their duties and quite honestly, being on the board is not going to influence me when choosing who might give a precon at a SQL Saturday I’m involved in, nor will it influence me in attending.

    Perhaps a disclaimer is appropriate, but that’s about it.

  • Personally, I’m torn on the concept of the precon in general. Specifically, it creates a division whereby if you’re a “big deal”, you can get your travel and accommodations paid for (assuming that you’re not a local). It’s doubly weird if you *are* a local (i.e. then it’s pure profit). It seems to violate the whole volunteer nature of SQL Saturday and creates more of a division within the potential speaker base.

  • Grant, I’m glad to see you soliciting feedback, Im sure there is more than one point of view on this.

    I’m in favor of the line you quoted from the by-laws as written. The Board has the option to allow the behavior which brings transparency and accountability to the process.

    The “PASS branded” part is tough. The legal dance we do with SQLSaturday was and is a necessary compromise. It protects PASS and it gives the organizers a lot of latitude – both are important. The struggle is that the separation isn’t obvious. It can still be a conflict of interest and it’s still open to “command influence” even if the authority is only perceived, not legal.

    I think the goal here is to make sure the power of the Board member isn’t abused without going overboard. I wonder if a simple way to do that is to require a board member to disclose to the Board any paid appearance at a PASS branded event and note it in the minutes (before or after the event), and write something that gives the Board the ability to say “no more” if they see something concerning.

    It’s not just about protecting the members. Board members need to have clear limits so they don’t face questions on ethics. Find a way to do both.

  • Ben, I see that side of it. The counter is that its a way for the local group members to get a day of focused training at super low cost. Co-marketing with SQLSaturday means one effort instead of two, but certainly they could be split up if the local group preferred. Another piece of the puzzle is that to get into the big leagues of PASS pre-cons you need experience, this is a way for them to get it. In Orlando we try hard to mix it up and not just do ‘big names’ and definitely not the same names each year.

  • Wow, that never even occurred to me. I’m impressed that it would even come up as an issue.

    For SQLSaturday organizers, I guess there could theoretically be pressure from a Board member who wanted a pre-con really bad, with the BoD person saying, “Pick me and I’ll make sure you get extra resources for your SQLSaturday” or something. (I’m laughing as I type this.) Or even subconsciously – maybe the organizer feels like they have to pick the BoD member in order to win favors later. But is that any different than today’s selection process? It’s all technically back-door anyway, and excluding the BoD members isn’t going to make it any more transparent. (To be clear – I have zero complaints about the pre-con selection process.)

    For Board members, I guess someone could complain that BoD members should be focusing their time on the Board work, but…that doesn’t ring true either. By the time you make it to the BoD, you’ve often built a solid library of training material, and you can give that to the community without a lot of extra work (as long as it’s not at Summit, where the timing makes it a hell of a lot tougher to do justice to both the BoD work at the event, and the pre-con.)

    For attendees, taking away pre-con choices is a loss. Affordable $99-$299 SQLSaturday pre-cons aren’t going to make anybody rich – doing these this cheaply is a service to the community, and it’s the kind of service that BoD members probably love doing too.

    So yeah, I’m all for lowering barriers to BoD members giving SQLsaturday pre-cons.

  • People are on the board because they were selected by the sql family who votes in PASS elections. Except for thst one time that one guy was running who never even heard of us and ran a magazine or something, typically there is a reason they were elected. For many part of that reason is this is a person who gives back to the community. Through blogging or speaking or volunteering or through giving great precons.

    As a sql Saturday organizer why should I preclude a great speaker with appeal and experience simply because a majority of the voting public agreed. That actually penalizes the event. Precons are a good way to bring in some extra revenue at a time when sponsors are pulling back. And I can think of at least two board members who have given precons and are strong and bring appeal and would fill seats.

    From the attendee perspective why hide the folks who were voted to the board from them.

    From the conflict of interest perspective. I don’t see it. Not for a sql Saturday. Pass gives their sponsorship either way and it’s run with hq. If anything I see more speaker pay for play with sponsorships. “sponsor the event and I’ll let someone speak” and even there, what’s the big deal if it means a good session and money to help fund the event expenses.

    I think the board shouldn’t even be talking about board member involvement at local events not directly run by PASS. Make enough rules about something and someone will name you in a lawsuit when something bad happens at one or subsequent to one. 🙂

    And for summit? I say be transparent and get approved but the same logic applies. If they are a speaker who brings an audience and people like their talks? Let it happen.

  • For me personally, SQLSaturday precons for BoD members is a non-issue. I would not feel compelled or pressured to select one but I can see how some people might however unfounded.

    One point to raise to you *Ben*. You mention that the finances of a precon can create a division, however there is an assumption on your part that finances are always involved. I’m sure in most cases that is true, but in others it is not.
    For example last week I flew 5500 miles (each way) to Phoenix to deliver a precon to a good sized audience and decided to roll all funds due to me straight back to the event (which could have paid for my flights). I have told another event that I’ll be delivering the same precon, not to worry about payment (especially if profit targets are not hit). Every now and again at my own event (SQLSaturday Cambridge) I also have precon speakers making the same sentiments to me. No reason why BoD members giving precons couldn’t do the same, but the bottom line either way for an event organizer is to try and remain profitable. If a BoD’s session is a big enough financial draw, then there is no reason why not to allow an event to profit from that.

  • Pat Phelan

    Short answer: PASS BoD members should not be treated one iota differently than any other attendee or presenter at a SQL Saturday based on their BoD position. BoD members should not have any additional benefits, or any additional restrictions.

    PASS has had to do an “interesting” legal dance with the SQL Saturday Events. There is no benefit to either PASS or the local events to add additional hoops to this process.

    Pre-cons seem like the ultimate “win-win” proposition to me. Attendees win because they get world class training at local pricing. I can’t find anywhere that we can get the kind of training offered at a pre-con for under $300 and it usually costs MUCH more than that… Pre-con presenters win because the pre-con isn’t a money maker but it may cover all or part of their travel expenses. Organizers win because the pre-cons draw additional attendees and speakers, which makes the event more successful and satisfying.

    There is an issue of transparency, so that the PASS board understands and approves of the activities related to SQL Server where the BoD members participate. While this issue does exist, it is of such marginal value that I couldn’t justify much (if any) time or effort on it.

    • Everyone, thank you very much for all the feedback. I’m not going to comment on any of it because I don’t want to influence the discussion at this time.

      Please, even if you think you have nothing to add to what’s been said, leave a comment.

  • For SQL Saturdays, I have no issues with board members presenting precons. As someone who has given a few precons (not many), they have only helped me in a couple of ways: offsetting travel costs, increasing my overall professional visibility, and practicing giving a full day presentations. Overall, I’d say it’s a break-even proposition considering the amount of time and effort it takes to build and deliver a precon.

    I agree with the letter of the law when it comes to the quoted by-law. Because it requires the entire board to vote and approve such an action, it provides some level of oversight. Also, since SQL Saturdays are organized by the local user group, there’s something of a double blind selection here, as the local group first has to select the BoD member, then the board has to approve it. So no real conflict here.

    Where it becomes an issue is precons at the PASS Summit. Because the board is actively and directly involved in organizing the Summit, there is a definite conflict of interest. The double blind selection only partially exists. The real benefit of Summit precons is one of marketing presence. If you give a precon there, it really raises your profile because of the number of attendees. So what if you’re on the board and you use your influence to get yourself and several members of your company to selected to offer precons? This is the conflict of interest, as the board member is using their position to help promote their business concerns.

    According to the by-law, the board should be able to vote and decide on this, but this is a real fuzzy area and difficult to enforce. Overall, I’d prefer to see board members recuse themselves from offering precons at the Summit as a general rule, but barring that I want the board to take a hard look at allowing Summit precons when it comes to their attention.

  • Hi Mike,

    One point, per the current by-laws, the Board would not vote to allow one of the Directors to present a pre-con at a SQLSaturday because of the legal split between a PASS run event and a PASS branded event. The question is then, what does need to be done around this.

    Just hoping to clarify.

  • alzdba

    If the pre-con would be like “how to become a Pass BoD member”, that would seem to be “in the line of duty”.
    However, doing pre-cons which aren’t “in the line of duty”, presenting concepts/SQLServer stuff, would IMHO reside on the same shelf as any other presenter.
    As already mentioned by others, I to can imagine organizers may be tempted to select the BoD-member because of her/his status in the (logical) organisation, no matter the legal constructs.

  • Grant, thanks for the clarification. In light of that, I’m not sure anything needs to be done. The legal split means that the board doesn’t have any undue influence on precon speaker selection and, as such, it should be allowable.

  • Hi,

    I think BoD should run PreCons the same way as “others” will do except PASS Summit. The pro and cons for precons arguable and most of it has been mentioned by the previous

    I see it quite often that precons will help the speakers to reduce the costs for travel and accommodation. To be honest – that “concerns” me.

    I admit that money is not driving me but speaking! My deals – when I get selected for precons – are quite simple; i don’t want to be paid with a “fixed rate” but the risk should be divided between me and the organizer. My deals are going much further – if a minimum of attendees have not been reached than I run the PreCon for free. I think it is absolutely fair to run such deals. My benefits from PreCons are a full day of fun with the attendees and … – a good job for the community.

    I follow this rule(s) for EVERY event which is free for the attendees and the organizer have to carry the full responsibility.
    One last thought to this topic…
    I am speaking on international conferences since 2013 and most of the TOP speakers are running their own business. Speaking on a conference for free is not really a “penalty”, isn’t it. I would say that – for the german market – i get at least one business contact which leads to a project/operation after my session (precon or regular session). Truly – that is my benefit apart from the fun I have at the conference(s).

  • Robert Sterbal

    I think if the speaker will generate a 1099 form there is much more of an issue than if the speaker is just having expenses taken care of for them.

  • Karen Lopez

    The issue to deal with is perception. The way I understand it, PASS gets 100x (made up number, but the perception is out there) more submissions than they have slots. Especially for precons. If we give precons to board members, the perception would be that board members are “taking” slots from others, likely to make even more money than already having their expenses paid for the event. Even if a board member were to turn down the money, there is still the perception that Board members may be taking slots from the “regular” people.

    This perception leads to the situation we now have with people who weren’t selected now “boycott” the event because they had their spot “taken away”.

    I can see why speakers want to both serve their community and have a Precon spot. Since Precon spots are the Diamond Status of the Summit, it’s not just about money. It’s about being able to say “Yeah, I got selected”.

    We can’t have it both ways, where Precon slots are nearly awards and other saying “it’s just business”.

    People are weird.

  • I think its important to remember that event organizers have a *strong* incentive to pick the precon speakers that will pack the house They split ticket sales with the speaker. Therefore, its hard to argue that favoritism is going to get someone selected. Precons are not easy money for the speakers. I’ve done one. Even if I packed the room, I would have not done better than a day of billing clients.

  • On immediate reading the lizard brain cries out conflict of interest, but when I actually consider it there’s no reason for any BoD member to be restricted from doing a PASS branded event. Maybe something included in PASS notes that a member did a precon would be a nice to have (just to see what they are up to), but nothing required.

  • Karen Lopez

    It the same sort of weirdity around speakers not giving their lead info (scans) to sponsors because speakers and board members should not win prizes. It’s fine for a speaker to turn down a prize. But we are telling speakers and board members to deny the exhibitors the benefit we are selling them: lead gen. In the case of Summit it’s a non-trivial number of leads.

    When I tell booth people I don’t want to scanned or that I might play putt-putt just for the challenge but not let them scan, they are not happy to find out that this unwritten rule exists.

OK, fine, but what do you think?