Fundraising for a technical nonprofit

The GNOME Foundation is a nonprofit organization, a 501(c)(3), and is funded by donations from individuals and companies. So as executive director of the GNOME Foundation I figured I should learn a bit more about fund raising.

While there are a lot of books about fund raising, there’s very little information out there about fund raising for technical nonprofits. And technical nonprofits really don’t fit the traditional nonprofit model. (Anybody up for a telephone drive where you call all your friends and relatives and explain what great things we’re doing and ask for donations? Not.)

So what’s the current status? GNOME is doing quite well. We get most of our funding from our corporate sponsors who give annual fees (which I think should more accurately be called annual donations.) We also get quite a bit of money from companies (our regular corporate sponsors as well as a number of others) to fund specific events. For example, GUADEC, our big annual conference, gets funding from our regular corporate sponsors as well as a number of others. Our third biggest source of funding (which is relatively small at the moment) is Friends of GNOME, where individuals can make contributions. (More on Friends of GNOME later, as we roll out some new features and marketing.)

What can we do better? I’m open to everyone’s thoughts on this but here’s a few:

  1. When we ask corporate sponsors for donations, I think we need to focus on what their money will accomplish, not what they’ll get directly from the GNOME Foundation. So we shouldn’t say (as I was originally thinking), if you give us $10,000, you’ll get a seat on the advisory board. Instead we should say if you give us $10,000, with all the corporate sponsor money we’ll be able to send 20 developers to GUADEC, fund a usability study and have three hackfests. (And explain why that’s good for the company or why it furthers the company’s mission.) L. Peter Edles put it this way: fundraising is not begging. People want to be part of a winning team and most philanthropic efforts are to improve quality of life. (Note that the book had some good points but was rather antiquated.)
  2. Speaking of quality of life, we need to be able to explain quickly and clearly why GNOME improves a company’s business, an individual’s life, the quality of life for kids in developing countries, etc. I think we know these things and we have a lot of good stories that we can tell. Pointing out how One Laptop Per Child uses GNOME technologies is a message that would reach a lot of people that probably don’t know what GNOME is.
  3. Friends of GNOME. Friends of GNOME is our program for individuals and organizations to make donations. We do no advertising and yet many individuals and a few companies find our web page and make very generous donations. We are working on revamping this program to make it easier for people to make recurring donations and to spread the word. (This was started before I joined.) The FSF has a very successful associate membership program that brings in the majority of their funding.

So I think we need to continue to work with corporate sponsors as well as our individual fans to spread the word of GNOME!