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Archive for the 'employees' Category

Blurb from the COO: “very few resources to dedicate full-time attention to every program that we offer.”

Apparently news of the translation team strike has reached up to the CS COO:

Hello translation team members!

First, I want to thank you all for your dedication to this team and for wanting to help make CouchSurfing available to more members around the world. Translations is important to us and we couldn’t do it without you.

I understand from Benjamin that this team is on strike and no longer actively translating the site. He has brought up several issues with us that we are trying to better figure out. This area is important to us and we want to be sure that we have thoroughly researched the issues before we proceed with a larger scale solution and possibly make it worse. I apologize if this process is taking longer than some of you may like. As you know, CouchSurfing is a non-profit organization. With very limited funding we, in turn, have very few resources to dedicate full-time attention to every program that we offer. Our tech team alone has hundreds of priorities listed and are working around the clock to get to everything as quick as possible.

We have certainly not given up on our Translations area and are working to correct the issues as soon as possible. Many of these issues are complex and difficult to understand exactly what is wrong with them but the tech team has been steadily resolving the reported bugs concerning it. For example, this weeks’ updated code release included some fixes to some backend functions that should help. It was reported that some updated translations were overwritten whenever our website code was updated. This should now be fixed. If you see this still happening please report it to the SBOT team, through your designated coordinator, or directly to us at and choose the Translations option in the dropdown menu at the bottom of the page.

Also, our WebOps coordinator has asked Benjamin to step down from leading this team. In the coming weeks we’ll be talking to some team leaders about forming a new overall leadership post.

We understand that the translation system is not optimal and some of you may choose to remain on strike. But if you’d like to continue translating please do. It’s completely up to you. If you no longer wish to remain on the translations team we ask that you kindly remove yourself from the translation groups and let us know in the future if you’d like to come back. Again, this is completely up to you. We appreciate and value your help and want to help you help the organization for as long as you’d like to contribute.

Thanks for your help, everyone. We couldn’t do what we all do together if it wasn’t for team members like yourself. You rock!

Happy Surfing and translating!

Jim Stone
Chief Operations Officer
CouchSurfing International

I couldn’t have written a better analysis than Margaret’s:

…has the CS management never heard of working together to reach a compromise? What about ‘negotiation’…does that word ring a bell?

I find Jim Stone’s answer to the Translations Team to be both disrespectful and disingenuous. If I had to devise an approach to the management of volunteer groups which would definitely *not work*, and would alienate and anger any competent volunteer, I could not have come up with a better example than this post from the COO.

I cannot imagine why any sane person, excepting those with pathologically low levels of self-esteem, would continue to volunteer for this organization.

This post is an example of exceptionally incompetent volunteer management because:

1. Jim says that his team must more thoroughly research the areas of concern, that Ben and this same team have already clearly and concretely outlined, before making any changes…why? Because (in classic arrogant disregard of volunteers by paid staff…) to follow the advice outlined by Ben, the team leader, would “…possibly make it worse” (“it” being the situation…please see paragraph 1 in the link Kasper provides). This is administrative double-speak at it’s most irritating….and is a thinly veiled excuse to buy time.

2. Jim excuses his own management incompetence by saying this: “As you know, CouchSurfing is a non-profit organization. With very limited funding we, in turn, have very few resources to dedicate full-time attention to every program that we offer.”

NO! I have never, ever, in my 5 years of reviewing non-profits, seen any organization excuse unprofessional behavior by saying, well…ya know…we’re *just* a non-profit.

Non-profits are held to even GREATER standards of professionalism than for-profits; they have to be, because they rely upon the public trust for funding. You never, ever, ever, want to betray this public trust…so to say that you cannot run or fund your programs appropriately because you are too poor is admitting your own inability to run the org….every non-profit is in this same situation…other managers just manage it better!

Jim Stone suggests that CS can’t do its job because it does not have the riches of a for-profit company; this excuse is simply insulting to the literally millions of non-profits which perform miracles, daily, on shoestring budgets: providing food, housing, jobs, hope and life to humanity, simply because this is their charitable mission. This can-do spirit is INSPIRING to volunteers…people want to join an org that puts it out there, for the universal good, despite having limited funding. Limited funding is not an excuse in the non-profit world. NO ONE wants to pitch in and help an organization which excuses its own management incompetence by saying they dont’ have enough money!! Do these guys want to drive away their own staff? good lord, it’s astonishing.

(the poverty plea is actually a lie: CS has tons of money…more than enough…to fund its programming. They simply *choose* to not put this money toward programming. What do they spend it on? Cohabitation bonuses, airfare, rent for luxurious spaces on the beach, and that nebulous catch-all category: Talent

Jim has shown, in this post, a distressing lack of talent. If you add the entire expenditures from the Talent portion of the financial pie, you’ll see that CS spent (I’m assuming this past year, since this info is not dated…incompetence again) $1,590,172 on “Talent” alone…and for what? We get a reference counter that is far inferior to one developed, for free, by Dan?

Jim is the head of Operations. According to the pie chart linked above, CS spent $169, 032 on operations during whatever fiscal time frame this webpage documents. What has that money purchased?? Jill Kohlberg, the PAID volunteer coordinator-type person is unresponsive and evidently AWOL (despite her LinkedIn profile saying that she’s still getting a CS paycheck (source: ) ….while the competent Translations Team leader, Benjamin, who has diligently worked for free, is *fired*.)

…and “operations” is spelled “opperations”!

Well… I have one thing to add, it’s the first public post of someone in the higher spheres of CS in a while. One has to have respect for that!

Blurbs from BSR

Sometimes I come across some very accurate and insightful messages in the Brainstorm Redefined group. And I just adhocratically decided to copy some of that stuff here, where it is actually indexed by Googlebot for others to find in the future.


“just a way to pay some employees more than others”

I’m fairly certain that it’s just a way to pay for the inner circle’s rent out of company/charity funds, without paying income tax on the value of the benefit. Because that’s what it usually is. And that’s what it was about when they were paying supposedly tax free flat rate ‘daily travel allowances’ for long term employees, or before that, when they paid flat rate ‘travel expense reimbursements’, or before that, when they were offering ‘free food and lodging’, as a perk for ‘volunteers’.

And it’s not as if the IRS had never come across it. There are certain areas of maximum suspicion in all tax jurisdictions: tax free benefits in kind, foreign business travel to popular holiday resorts, employing family/friends, (sub-)contracts between legal entities owned by the same people, all kinds of expenditure that may be (partly) private, etc. They all raise red flags with tax inspectors, and give them the hope of shining in the eyes of their superiors by catching a crook.

Having a nice place, however, may well turn out to be a ‘chick magnet’, as I believe the phrase is in heterosexual womanising circles.


perhaps it’s not useful to think of CS selecting for ‘dumb’ women, but to view the managers as valuing loyalty in their hiring selection. In my opinion, you must simply do your job and keep quiet to remain employed by CS. Your place is very circumscribed and the understanding is clear: if you want this job, you lose your voice.

I hosted Mandie, the former communications directors, and she was really smart. I also admire Meredith’s writing skills (current communications director) and I hear that Rachel is simply wonderful to work with: professional, prompt, responsive and super competent. I dont’ think any of these people could be considered stupid.

I do think that CS values loyalty and discernment in their hiring choices. The way to get, and keep, your job is to either not notice problems, or notice them and shut up about it…I think CS values employees who are very patient and who do not think critically about problem solving…which is a long term concern for the survivability of this org under its current management. Most organizations value employees who notice, and point up problems, early on before they become larger concerns….it’s the only way to ensure quality.

Checklist to Evaluate a Nonprofit Board of Directors

Last night I was skimming through a book about fundraising. I was surprised to see that members of the Board of Directors are tacitly supposed to give to the charity. So I googled a bit and found this Checklist to Evaluate a Nonprofit Board of Directors (courtesy of Greater Twin Cities United Way).

It’s hard to assess in how far the CouchSurfing Board is meeting these requirements, apart from 4 (recommended) and 15 (essential): all 5 members of the board have American citizenship, are living in California, are in their thirties, there is one female member and 3 out of 5 are receiving a salary.

Most of the other points don’t seem to be available for public scrutiny (at this point it’s even unclear to me if there are any bylaws).  It would be nice if there were a bit more clarity about this charity.

Indicator Met Needs
E 1. The roles of the Board and the Executive Director are defined and respected, with the Executive Director delegated as the manager of the organization’s operations and the board focused on policy and planning
R 2. The Executive Director is recruited, selected, and employed by the Board of Directors. The board provide clearly written expectations and qualifications for the position, as well as reasonable compensation.
R 3. The Board of Directors acts a governing trustees of the organization on behalf of the community at large and contributors while carrying out the organization’s mission and goals. To fully meet this goal, the Board of Directors must actively participate in the planning process as outlined in planning sections of this checklist.
R 4. The board’s nominating process ensures that the board remains appropriately diverse with respect to gender, ethnicity, culture, economic status, disabilities, and skills and/or expertise. NO
E 5. The board members receive regular training and information about their responsibilities.
E 6. New board members are oriented to the organization, including the organization’s mission, bylaws, policies, and programs, as well as their roles and responsibilities as board members.
A 7. Board organization is documented with a description of the board and board committee responsibilities.
A 8. Each board has a board operations manual.
E 9. If the organization has any related party transactions between board members or their family, they are disclosed to the board of directors, the Internal Revenue Service and the auditor.
E 10. The organization has at least the minimum number of members on the Board of Directors as required by their bylaws or state statute.
R 11. If the organization has adopted bylaws, they conform to state statute and have been reviewed by legal counsel.
R 12. The bylaws should include: a) how and when notices for board meetings are made; b) how members are elected/appointed by the board; c) what the terms of office are for officers/members; d) how board members are rotated; e) how ineffective board members are removed from the board; f) a stated number of board members to make up a quorum which is required for all policy decisions.
R 13. The board of directors reviews the bylaws.
A 14. The board has a process for handling urgent matters between meetings.
E 15. Board members serve without payment unless the agency has a policy identifying reimbursable out-of-pocket expenses. NO
R 16. The organization maintains a conflict-of-interest policy and all board members and executive staff review and/or sign to acknowledge and comply with the policy.
R 17. The board has an annual calendar of meetings. The board also has an attendance policy such that a quorum of the organization’s board meets at least quarterly.
A 18. Meetings have written agendas and materials relating to significant decisions are given to the board in advance of the meeting.
A 19. The board has a written policy prohibiting employees and members of employees’ immediate families from serving as board chair or treasurer.
Indicators ratings: E=essential; R=recommended; A=additional to strengthen organizational activities

Uncoordinated Couchsurfing

We are just fresh in 2009 and CS finally launched its new feature: ‘News Channels’, one overview for all organizational communication towards all CS-member. It not only features the latest news from the organization and tech-news, it even hosts the earlier announced member-stories about hospitality experiences and also the news-letters that are supposed to arrive in your inbox soon again.

But what a completely uncoordinated launch this is. We’ve been anticipating this new features since a long while, and now that it is finally ready, you just have the feeling something is still not going right at the CS Basecamp. The only launch-news shown, dates back to news which is 4 months old, August and September 2008, and the thread on the communications channel that catches my eye the most is still the infamous ‘do we have a team?‘.

It could be just a simple lack of coordination but the impression you get from this launch is that volunteers are still not supported in the work they do. Imagine: you work hard on implementing a new system – or enthousiastic about writing news for the CS-members – but somehow you just don’t get the feeling you are receiving support from some key people to get this launched professionally. At the same time, while older volunteers are tired from their effort, there is a lack of empowerment of new volunteers, no news has been written, or the editors didn’t have access to the tools. Really, sometimes you just feel pity for the people that still work for Casey Couchsurfing Inc.

Anyway, let’s see how quickly this new feature will be used and how it will run. I just hope that somehow, the first news item will be a BIG apology from Casey himself about the 14,000 e-mails that got deleted corrupted while upgrading the messaging system last month, and an honest explanation why this took 3 days instead of an hour. Followed the next day by news about the 501c3 status, news about BaseCamp on the third day, new hires on the fourth, expenses and income of the past quarters on the fifth, and support for the OCS-campaigns on the sixth. Now that would be communication.

A Couchsurfing Career Life With Benefits that Money Can’t Buy

Have you always wanted to be a “Ambassador Management Coordinator” or “Safety Systems Coordinator” for CouchSurfing? Now you can! CS published their “career openings“, or “couchsurfing careers“. Since these openings are not even linked from anywhere on the CS-website yet, you might stand a fairly good chance (it got posted!) to get one of the 14 full-time jobs, and become part of their family.

You may wonder why so many talented people volunteer for CS when they could have high paying jobs in the corporate world. The reason is that CS provides benefits they can’t find anywhere else. We live and breath CouchSurfing, and we are all a family.

Although you have to pay your first travel to the “Couchsurfing Base Camp” yourself, CS provides all full-time volunteers and employees “with free housing and meals”. In addition, each full-time staff member “has the opportunity to live abroad for several months of each year at one of our amazing Collective locations while maintaining a home and life in the San Francisco Bay Area”.

If you are the lucky enough to get one of the 14 listed full-time jobs, you will first have to go trough a three month trial period, after which you will be rewarded with “travel tickets, travel expense reimbursements and eventually paid salaries”. However, you will have to consent to your bos(ses) (“supervisors”) and keep yourself to the following social rules, meaning that you shall

- maintain positive references from other surfers or hosts.
- treat your team supervisors and other volunteers with respect.
- follow standards and procedures established by teams you work with.
- follow priorities and objectives established by the team supervisors.
- communicate in a calm and compassionate tone (‘thou shalt not flame’).

So what are you waiting for, go and apply for your role! Current (as per 1st of November) “openings” include:

Administrative Assistant; Ambassador Management Coordinator; Database Administrator; Developer, Events Coordinator; Human Resources & Personnel Coordinator; Marketing Coordinator; Member Communications Coordinator & Writer; Safety Systems Coordinator; System Administrator; Gardener / Landscaper; IT Assistant; Trainer, Educator, Coach, or Expert.

Note that there are currently 14 full-time positions available, while there are only 15 people supposed to stay and live in the Couchsurfing Base Camp. At the moment though, according to Matthew, there are already 15 people living there…

The Alaska Collective?

From the most directly available news source about CouchSurfing it seems that the next Collective will be held in Alaska. And congratulations to Doogy, who seems to have been hired to work for CS. I wonder what his official function will be. Translation:

i have been hired to work for CS but then [i] have to decide before March 8 if I move to Alaska with the group for this Summer…

Casey Fenton needs to stay

To clarify what OpenCouchSurfing is and isn’t and to give a more balanced view in our blog posts I’m writing this tiny blog post about why Casey Fenton needs to stay.

  • Casey might not be the most educated IT guru, but he’s definitely a guru and at this point he’s probably the only person capable of keeping the CouchSurfing website up and running.
  • The entire CS “Leadership Team” and Board of Directors consists of Casey’s friends. They would be quite clueless if Casey suddenly disappeared.
  • Casey is great. He might not have made the right decisions and I cannot agree with his attitude in many ways, but I am sure that I will feel happy if I will be able to give him a genuine hug again, maybe in 2009.

Still, even legally there is a problem with Casey in a paid position while being a member of the Board. And it would be totally useful if Casey’s ideas about transparency and volunteer participation would change a little bit. Though, also without it, with an estimated half a million US dollars coming in during year 2008 it’s unlikely that the ship will go down any time soon. And I am sincerely happy about that.

Casey Fenton needs to go.

Disclaimer: I am not OCS, if the OCS doesn’t like me utilizing their venue, I can perfectly understand them removing this, so go ahead Callum or whoever runs this site ;)

That title works to grab everyones attention. Hello there lazy bums in Thailand, celebrating ineptitude under the sun!

I was thinking how all the work of the motivated volunteers full of ideals and good intention can be saved. The title was my only answer. One thing i have learned is that people dont really change, i dont expect Casey or the majority of his buddies to be different, despite all the visionary leadership.

Why do I point out that people don’t change? Because I am convinced that they would have to change if Couchsurfing is supposed to progress. Couchsurfing as a website and Organization has grown beyond the size that is governable with the attitude and management employed by Casey and his appointed BurningManBeer Buddies. We are dealing with an Organization that is crooked and mismanaged from the Top. Casey might be a nice guy, he might be a good coder, he might even have that MC1R sexyness to get all the good bitches in the pack, but he is about as good as a manager as Paris Hilton is an expert on Quantum Mechanics.

From the Top down, it was all about happiness and fun, NEVER about accountability and results. Casey initially, when first launching public, already made a claim on how cs is a 501c3 non profit. He either made a false claim, which would make him a liar and crooked person, possibly a felon, since he collected the donations, or an amazingly inept manager. You don’t run an Organization without knowing its legal status, dot! I tend to go with a third option though. He is a hopeless dreamer, who wants to make a 501c3 and heal the world, but gets ahead of reality way too much. This pattern was followed in the whole CS team and Spirit of Organization. Sure, it would be great to have a good manager, but lets settle for someone who COULD be a good manager, such as TTT, but who actually sucks ass since he settles for having a manager title, rather than doing the job, just like Casey and 501c3. On CS, the culture of Vaporware needs to go. The people will not change, so unless they go, Cs will never proceed beyond the Fratboys who would LOVE to be cool, but end up being drunk failures.

They ALL lack the self confidence to critically reflect upon their managerial skills or the apparent lack of. The root of all this is of course, Casey. He appointed Managers who lack the wit and gut to debate with a dissenting community. A dissenting community that actually argues constructively and is kind enough to share all the solutions.

CS, thanks to the pressure built up by Pickwick, is about to arrive in the cloud of Accountability that is the real world. I hereby Claim that there will be no milestone accomplishment at the Thai Collective, which will make it nothing more than an expensive party for Casey and his equally inept cronies.

You run an Organization and fail to deliver, you go. If is all about buying Caseys’ Burning Man crew 4 Months of sponsored Holidays on the beach along with pussy that would not be available to this elusive group of mediocre men, then is indeed a brilliant success for aforementioned visionary leader and his associates. It would of course make it a racket and scam, morally at least, regardless of how it would be judged by a legal professional.

If Couchsurfing is not a racket and scam but instead an organization with genuinely good intentions, then it is a failure on all accounts. Absolute top-performing professionals in their respective field get alienated or sacked by a management that has possibly not even learned how to spell (project) management. The Couchsurfing Management in its current incarnation is a direct result of Casey Fentons inability to accept superior skill from employees and volunteers. The current management has a track record of rejecting highly skilled employees and outside advice, lacks skill and self confidence along with the inability to accomplish anything themselves.

You guys all need to go. I am glad CS is in the Real World SOON, legally speaking. Casey and friends, you guys talk all the talk, all the time. I have yet to see anyone walk the walk. I invite you to prove me wrong, but you and me, we both know, you fail.

p.s. i invite everyone to personally attack me on my position, preferably somewhere in real life

p.p.s please, since i am so full of shit, be so kind and make a list of all the accomplished managerial successes of the current leadership team, since thats all that it takes to turn my whole posting into a pile of shit. hint: most mangers work 45-50h a week and deliver results correlating to this

Pickwick: money no valid argument for unhealthy growth pattern

About limiting the acceptance of new members Pickwick writes

Kasper: “major source of income”

Is that income needed? Surely a much smaller stream of new members, recruited in a better way, could raise the moderate amounts necessary to pay server costs, paper clips and a few postage stamps.

Current spending is mostly for
A) salaries, and I think we had much better quality work from the volunteers “no longer retained”;
B) the exodus to Thailand, and I have yet to see any actual WORK mentioned that was done there in the 31 days of December (other than picking the place for January).

So the money seems to benefit those who make the decisions. Thankfully we are a charity now and published accounts have to be more accurate and more detailed than hitherto. Which reminds me that there are still areas of concern regarding the charitable status:

1. The financial statements online are still not identical with the ones filed with the US tax authorities and the New Hampshire charities regulators.

2. Casey may have perjured himself by stating falsely to the Attorney General that from 2003 to 2006 the company had several directors besides himself. The major reason for that could be that the truth may affect the legality of his own employment.

a) New Hampshire law requires a minimum of five directors, so with Casey as sole director the company had no legally composed Board of Directors. For that reason alone contracts entered into during that time may be invalid, including the employment contract he made with himself.

b) Casey as sole director signed his own employment contract on the dotted lines of both sides of the contract. There could not be a more blatant violation of all ‘conflict of interest’ principles, and for that reason alone this contract may be invalid.

c) New Hampshire law does not allow the chairman/president of a charity to be an employee at the same time. So when Casey as chairman/president signed his own employment contract he violated that law, and for this reason alone the contract may be invalid.

d) If Casey’s employment contract is invalid, he will have received his salaries without legal grounds, and may have to pay ~$70,000 back to the company. (That, and the other ~$70,000 of accumulated profits in the bank should keep CouchSurfing going for a good many years to come, as a volunteer based charity, without ill prepared world trips for the management.)

At the New Hampshire Department of Justice the case has been queued for review by an investigator in early 2008. My advice to the new Board of Directors is: sort it out before they start asking questions.

To sum up: I don’t think money is a valid argument to continue this unhealthy growth pattern.

Pickwick: “Casey: please don’t risk perjury”

Another interesting Pickwick post in Brainstorm:
1. Casey, you listed yourself as sole director in a report you filed with the New Hampshire Secretary of State on 24th December 2005 [1]. You again stated publicly on 28th January 2007 that you were still sole director [2]. This violated New Hampshire statute RSA 292:6-a according to which “the board of directors of a charitable nonprofit corporation shall have at least 5 voting members” [3].

On 14th November 2007 you eventually filed Annual Reports for the years 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 with the Attorney General of New Hampshire, where under penalties of perjury you falsely stated the composition of the Board of Directors in 2004, 2005 and 2006 to be: Casey Fenton, Daniel M Hoffer, Leonardo Silveira, Sebastien G LeTuan.

My advice is to file a correction immediately. An investigation for perjury in connection with filed Annual Reports may have unfortunate consequences for the application for federal tax exempt status according to section 501(c)(3) IRS code.

2. New Hampshire statute also says in RSA 292:6-a that “No employee of a charitable nonprofit corporation shall hold the position of chairperson or presiding officer of the board” [3]. This means, Casey, that you need to resign either your chairmanship of the board, or your employment.

My advice is to do it immediately. An unlawful composition of the board or unlawful tenure of the board’s chairman can have unfortunate consequences for the validity of board decisions or signatures on documents, like for instance the application for federal tax exempt status according to section 501(c)(3) IRS Code.