Hackfests, fundraising and the economy

When I took this job it was agreed that part of my job, but not all of it, would be fundraising. However, because of the economy I find myself thinking about fundraising more often than not these days.

For example, take hackfests. Hackfests are events where you get all the key developers for a project together in one place and they spend a few days or a week discussing issues, planning future releases and writing code. As most open source work happens virtually, hackfests are great opportunity to meet in person and make a lot of progress on things like planning a new release or a particular issue.

Last year many of the GNOME Foundation sponsor companies sponsored hackfests. They were happy with the outcomes – good conversations, good code, great planning sessions – and at the beginning of this year they were interested in sponsoring more hackfests. So we were tentatively planning for about six hackfests this year. However, when we went to raise funding for the first one, a GTK+ hackfest, we soon found that while companies still thought hackfests were a good idea, but, with a couple of exceptions, they no longer had any budget to help fund them. (The notable exceptions: Intel is funding a GNOME documentation hackfest in June and Igalia wanted to sponsor the GTK+ hackfest that we had to cancel.)

So what do we do?

  1. Find more economical ways to run hackfests. We can plan them close to other events where people might already be, have smaller hackfests, coordinate multiple hackfests at the same time, etc. (It disappointed me that nobody has taken Nokia up on their offer to host related hackfests at the Danish Mozilla/Maemo Weekend.)
  2. Find additional funding sources. There are many types of funding out there, some of them easier than others to acquire. For example, there are grants, which might take us a while but could provide substantial funding. There is individual support. The Free Software Foundation is primarily funded by individuals that believe in their cause, not companies. At $10/month, they have enough individual sponsors to support a much larger organization than the GNOME Foundation. So we can and should encourage GNOME users and supporters to sign up for Friends of GNOME.
  3. Find other ways to accomplish what hackfests do. While there is no substitute for face to face conversation, some of the work can be accomplished by virtual hackfests, dedicated hack days, setting goals and milestones, …

Other ideas? Thoughts?