Annual General Meeting - 2019-12-12
- Mike F
- Bob - member in good standing
- Kirby - member in good standing
- Mike M - member in good standing
- Matt - member in good standing
- Brian M - member in good standing
- Glen - member in good standing
- Amy - member in good standing
- Michele - member in good standing
- Taya - member in good standing
- Rex - member in good standing
- Beau - member in good standing
Everybody introduces themselves and their relationship to Free Geek.
Explanation of Procedures
- Rules of Etiquette, based on Robert’s Rules of Order. Respectful discussion, no name calling; warnings will be given.
- Glen delivers the directors report.
Since the AGM last September, we have had 10 board members, 4 of who are still serving. Athenaise resigned in December, Chris in January, Brian in May, Joel in June, Michael in July, Michele in August. Currently the board consists of Glen and Rex, who were elected in September 2018, and Zahra, who was brought on in March. Amy has recently joined as an assistant.
The store revenue has struggled this year compared to last. Part of the reason is due to rapid turnover in store management. Since then it has been managed by committee. Whenever there is a change in management, store revenue will struggle for a bit. In the first 5 months, we were down 11% vs the first 5 months of 2018.
Staff expenses increased 8%, due to over staffing. In the first 5 months, we had a loss of $16k.
During June, Michael volunteered in the store and made suggestions to try to drive up revenue. During this time, we realized that the amount of money that we were making in the store was not enough to keep up with expenses. A press release went out to solicit donations; between that and LTX, we earned $15,000 in donations.
In the first 7 months, when including donations, and profits from LTX, we had a net loss of $2,500.
In August, the board decided it was necessary to cut staff hours to reduce costs. Michele left the board at this time due to disagreements with how the plan was to be implemented. Two staff were laid off, one did not have their contract renewed, and other staff had their hours cut.
In October, revenue decreased by 25%, but staff costs decreased by 24%. We are now at a positive cash flow.
As a Board, we do not believe we have the capacity to solve the ongoing, systemic problems that are occurring. Staff and volunteers are concerned about safety; this is in part due to cuts.
We are not putting director candidates forward tonight because we are not comfortable handing this mess off to a completely new Board. We have been interviewing interested people, and have 4 people who are interested in joining. We want to clean up some of this mess first before the next Board begins their term.
- Bob: Are the donations that we get during OHN tracked? How are we doing?
Sara: We usually get $50-60 on average, but have received as high as $250 when volunteers encouraged clients to donate.
- Mike delivers the staff report.
It’s been a difficult year. In the summer we faced financial difficulties and possible bankruptcy. Expenses were exceeding revenue. So we reduced our payroll by one-third, from 9 full time employees to 6. Payroll went from $13K per pay period to $7K. Some staff were laid off, and others had reduced hours. This has created extra stress, some conflict, and has adversely affected morale. However, we are still here and have improved our financial situation.
Outlook improving. Production is better in terms of components: we have been selling high-value items like Cintiq tablet monitors, and have a good stock of desktops for January. Sales are keeping pace with expenses. Garage Sales have continued, earning about $1,000 per event.
- Open Help Night
On average night we help about 15 people, which totals 750 per year. Though recently it seems to have been increasing.
We paid off the final loan payment to Vancity in March 2019. We’ve always made payroll and paid our bills on time but it has been very tight.
- Production/Desktop Build
Component testing faltered earlier in the year but Mimi has brought it back to earlier levels. - Increased production of Intel i-series desktops - Increased production of Macs (especially iMacs) - Increased production of higher-end gaming desktops - Increased production of video game hardware
- Laptop Build
Basically keeping up with demand, but barely. We have some steady regular volunteers and are able to keep production steady in spite of losing Luke to the warehouse (temporarily).
- Receiving and Shipping
Changed scrap pickup to E-Cycle, but it has been difficult to determine exactly how much we will get for each type of item. Recently Luke and Robert discussed this at length with the appropriate person and we are adjusting our dismantle and sorting procedures to fit this for maximum return. Warehouse has been clogged for some time, partly thanks to increased donations, but we are slowly reducing the piles.
Fast approaching our ten-thousandth volunteer. Shrank dismantle volunteering while increasing others, like Evaluation and Receiving. Tried to set up a program for Team Leaders, some were trained, but never came back. The problem as always is getting experienced volunteers to fill the Team Lead roles.
We attended Recycle Drives with the City of Vancouver again this year, 10 events in all. Will do the same next year but probably fewer, canceling the lower-value events. - Car Free Day on Commercial Drive, partnering with Vancouver Hack Space. - We had a booth at LTX (Linus Tech Tips Expo) - We had a booth at the Maker’s Faire at Science World
- Repair Workshops:
a new event via the City of Vancouver, partnering with Metro Van Repair Cafes, Repair Matters, and Frameworq. Four events this year, planning four for next year. One other in Surrey. Intermediate Fest event teaching artists to build computers. Free Geek provided Mimi and desktops for building.
- Grant Applications
Vancouver Greenest City Grant. We partnered with Metro Van Repair Cafes, Repair Matters, and Frameworq for a 2-year grant to promote and assess the idea of a permanent Repair Hub. Amy and Mimi applied for a Capacity Building grant from the City of Vancouver.
- Staff Changes
Departed: Flo (Volunteer Coordinator), Adrian (Production Manager), Jay (Warehouse Manager), Vivian (Store Manager), PJ (Store Assistant), Taya (Evaluation Manager), Lucas (IT Manager), Tim (Production Assistant) Added: Luke (Laptop Production Assistant), Will (Production Assistant), Tim (Production Assistant), Belejeb (Store Assistant), David (Store Assistant), Chris (Production Assistant) Changes: Mimi moved from Store to Production, Luke is temporarily handling the warehouse.
- Please be civil; do not result to personal attacks. Focus on solutions and not problems.
- Have the minutes from the previous AGM been accepted?
- Member vote: Accept the minutes from the previous AGM
- Result: Unanimous agreement
- Sometimes it feels like customer demand is more important than staff morale. Sometimes my volunteers and I feel disheartened that a laptop that we’ve worked so hard on will be sold for so cheaply in the store – the rationale is that people expect there to be cheap laptops. We have several people who come into OHN who take up a lot of time that we need to help others.
- Could we implement a maximum number of OHN visits per computer per person?
- This is part of a larger philosophy that is handicapping us. We are giving too much sway to the customers, and it is reducing our potential earnings. We haven't been able to afford to give away any hardware grants.
- What if we switched from a non-profit to a charity?
- That does not address the cultural issues. We have looked into obtaining charity status, or dissolving and re-establishing as a charity.
- It’s a lot of work, and we need the personnel to head us up.
- We could have another organization guide us through this, but it would cost a lot of money. We would need to get a grant or do fund raising.
- Can we get somewhere like Vancity to accept cash donations on our behalf?
- I have asked the Board to look into this.
- Can we add this as an agenda item for the Board?
- Action item: Board to contact Vancity about accepting cash donations on our behalf
- Just to follow up on Mike’s note, many customers think our prices should be lower because we get items for free. They are sometimes offended if we have laptops that are $400 or $500 in the store.
- This is probably due to miseducation about what we do.
- They don’t factor that labor, rent, and utilities are not free.
- We make an effort to educate customers, but we don’t always have the time to do so.
- It might help to have signs. If customers knew what the process was, and how much it cost, how much labor, etc, it would help them understand. That should be on every build sheet.
- That quantification would help.
- We could keep a fact sheet next to the till, listing some bullet points that explain why we price the way we do.
- A brochure is another idea. I second the idea of listing how many volunteer hours it took to build.
- We should start this at evaluation. Stick a sheet that each volunteer can list how much time they worked on it: eval, build, first qc, second qc.
- We’re a hands on society, we teach people how to build computers. These are things we need to advertise more. I’d like to move toward Portland’s model of having classes, etc. Is poor customer attitude a reason that staff attitude is negative? We could have a “heavy” – someone who used to kick people out as needed.
- These are all good ideas, but very lofty. Someone needs to head this up. Communications will improve donations and overall support.
- We should solicit email addresses from OHN and garage sales to ask for donations, advertise events, etc. It’s a big untapped market.
- These are great ideas, but they do not address the culture.
- Ultimately, we want to hire an executive director. However, we need to have a significant boost in revenue to afford one, or a significant volunteer contingent, or someone who can step up as manager. In January, we will be holding an EGM to discuss our options, and dissolving the society may be an option. We will also explore becoming an employee run co-op.
- I think it would be best to return to a consensus-based model of management. I have talked to a number of staff, and spent time volunteering and watching the flow of operations ever since I left the Board. In this time, I've noticed an alarming number of issues. Staff are scared of reporting incidents to the Board because they’re worried they’ll be fired, after an employee was fired earlier this year. Volunteers and staff are stressed by the disorganization and mess in the warehouse. I have seen volunteers arrive and they don’t know what tasks to do or where to go; nor do they know who to go for if they have questions.
- I collaborated with all departments to come up with a revamped volunteer organization system and warehouse design that would work for everyone. However, it never rolled out.
- Staff don’t feel listened to. When they come up with ideas, they get ignored. Nobody is capable of driving the organization’s vision and making plans, so everything is remaining stagnant. The mental and physical health of staff and volunteers is not being attended to, and people have gotten injured or had near-misses. We have had staff conflicts where as many as 15 reports have been put in and nothing was done. Staff members get angry, make threats, refuse to perform their duties, and refuse to apologize to each other, and there are no consequences. People are being moved in between departments or are being hired without being given training or job descriptions. This is unacceptable. In the last month, I have heard from five different staff members that they are burning out, and four of those have suggested that they may quit. This isn’t a sustainable culture. If it isn’t fixed, staff will leave, and there will be no way to replace them. Free Geek will end up closing as a result.
- We need coordination.
- Part of the reason staff burnout is happening is we don’t have a good system for training and volunteers. Staff end up taking on these tasks as a result: we are too spread out. Team leaders haven’t stuck around: how do we train volunteers?
- The staff need to decide what they want to do. If they have someone they are willing to rally around, good. Otherwise, consensus.
- Consensus only works if people can leave their agendas and egos at the board. This hasn’t happened. We also tried having Robert as leader, and opposition from some corners has made his job almost impossible.
- Is it possible that the hiring process is bringing in people you personally like, rather than people who were competent for the job?
- It’s gotten slipshod. You need knowledge and a fit for the team. We’ve run under the assumption that a fit is hard, and knowledge can be taught.
- Wages being low is also a problem.
- Staff conflict has prevented us from working our best.
- With our small board and being in constant crisis mode, we haven’t been able to focus on HR and
- I wasn’t notified about this meeting until yesterday.
- I sent out emails but it seems list members did not receive them.
- I will be looking into this with Lucas.
- Does the Board have any intent to reprimand the staff members who are demonstrating abusive behavior?
- There are multiple people who fit this bill.
- I have sent an email about this, and will not discuss this further here. This type of behavior would not stand in other organizations. We currently have no anti-harassment and anti-bullying policy, which is in violation of WorkSafe BC legislature. This needs to be remedied.
- We used to have a working policy; could we use that as a base?
- It's outdated, and needs to be redone.
- We should look at other NPOs with anti-harassment policies and build from theirs.
- Does Free Geek have a lawyer on retainer? It’s a legal requirement of the Society that we have one.
- The BC Human Rights Tribunal may have resources.
- There’s also a place called Access Pro Bono as well.
- These are all serious issues. The Board will have to make decisive steps in fixing them; if they don’t, the organization will fail, and its likely that directors will suffer personal liability in the process.