A call to support open source software projects

Many of you saw J5's call to support the GNOME Foundation. The initial response has been great! I wanted to follow up with a general call to support open source software projects financially.

The GNOME Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. By definition it must serve the general public and by definition it must be supported by the general public.

Our charter is not to be supported by a small subset of companies, but to be supported by a large group of companies and individuals. Remember 501(c)(6)'s are trade groups and are supported by a group of companies. Their charter is not to help the general public but to help the business of their group members. The GNOME Foundation is a 501(c)(3) – which helps the general public. 

The GNOME Foundation has been lucky to have a group of companies that support us financially. With their help we've been able to do a lot of good things over the past 10 years. We've had annual conferences, hackfests, and programs like the accessibility outreach and women's outreach programs. And while a number of companies have expressed their interest in
joining the GNOME Foundation and supporting us financially, the reality
is, very few companies are adding anything to their budget this year.

But compare the GNOME Foundation's financial support from 12 companies to the FSF's model.

The FSF receives most of its funding from 1,000s of individuals. According to their 2007 tax forms, they raised $845,000 from the public. (That number probably includes companies, but it's mostly from individuals.)

That is a much stronger position to be in. Not only because they raised more money, but because they are supported by the many individuals.

Open source software has shown the strength of individuals in creating great products. In the FSF's model, they have also shown the strength of individuals in being able to financially support causes they believe in. Providing your own financial support enables you to do what is right for your project. (Companies don't prevent us from doing what is right. But when they provide funding, they set direction. For example, when we depend on them for funding for hackfests, we hold the hackfests they are interested in sponsoring. Luckily, they sponsor good things! However, there is much more we could do, like the GTK+ hackfest we wanted to have this year.)

Bradley Kuhn and I were talking at the Collaboration Summit and we were thinking we should have a campaign to encourage open source software fans (users and developers) to support open source software financially. Pick two projects, any projects, and support them. Here's a short list of some projects that are set up to receive donations and use the money to support their projects:

In addition, I'd encourage people to sign up for "subscription" plans. Having regular donations come in helps projects plan things.

I have a few more posts coming up:

  • Voice your opinion of how money should be spent. For example, voice your opinion on the mailing list when the budget is shared or when the call for plans goes out. (And if you aren't in favor of donating money to free software projects, share ideas on how things can be done with no budget or which things you'd like to see cut from the budget. Or how you'd like to obtain the money.)
  • Participate in your project's non-code plans:
    • In GNOME's case, become a member of the Foundation and vote for people that support your positions! Not only is your vote very important, but having a strong membership helps the Foundation show what it has to offer when discussing our technology and our plans with potential partners and sponsors.
    • If you have the interest or skills, join the GNOME marketing team – help create our messages to the general public or run campaigns like Friends of GNOME or a merchandising store.
    • Speak about free software, why you believe in it and your project to the general public as well as at open source events.
    • Help your friends use open source software. Don't push them but be there to help them install it, even if it's just one application like GIMP or OpenOffice. If it works well for them, they might come back and ask you for others. Encourage them to contribute (skill or money) if they have a good experience.

And of course, continue to write great code and create awesome free software projects!

Which projects will you support?