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?

17 Replies to “A call to support open source software projects”

  1. Hi,
    sorry bit too long for me to read it all over, but yes please put some ‘Support Me/Adopt Me’ badges everywhere (every gnome project website). Make it very easy to subscribe to pay some small amount of money every month (just like you do for gnome friends), perhaps just advertise the gnome friends more. Miro just landed also very nice program for raising money.
    There are many people who can afford to give 5$ and more a month just to support this project, if I can give 4$ here and 4$ over there, that would be great as it give users the feeling they can support the parts of the system they like. I’ve been Linux/GNOME user for a long time and always felt bad because I could not code very well, so if giving you money helps, than giving you some makes me feel better as well 😉
    Perhaps propagate that GNOME is built by regular people (not by a company) and it is ALWAYS APPRECIATED to get some money. There is no shame in raising the money this way, actually if many people give a little it can be a lot of money. I guess the question of how to propagate this is the trick. Since GNOME is packaged into other systems not many people go to gnome.org by them self. I do not know, perhaps cooperate with distributions?
    Also make it clear how money are spent, for example you pointed out FSF and $845000 but I do not see anywhere those numbers for GNOME.

  2. You ended with the question “Which projects will you support?” so i will answer this one: For many years now i support the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) through their Fellowship program. Therefor i will also mention that there is not only one Free Software Foundation but a network of FSF’s. The USA, Europe, India and Latin America have a Free Software Foundation. If people consider join or support a Free Software Foundation i would encourage them to pick the FSF from their region because this will be the FSF which knows best about the Free Software situation in your country/countinent.
    About supporting GNOME. At the moment my financial situation doesn’t allow to support more than one Free Software organisation so for the moment i will stick with FSFE. But i could think of supporting GNOME which thinks like buying a t-shirt or other “fan article”. I think this would be an are which GNOME could improve. The T-Shirts you can find at gnome.org are really uggly but i like the new one “Freedom lover”-T-Shirts. Maybe you should put up a “fan shop” to collect some money beside the regular donations.

  3. I work for PCF which builds Miro, Miro Guide, Miro Local TV and a few other things. We’re also a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the bulk of our funding comes from donations and grants.
    We recently launched an Adopt a Line of Code fundraising campaign that we’re hoping catches on for us and also becomes a model that other organizations can use, too.
    More projects are using video to share news with their communities, educate through screencasts, show off future plans, and other things. Miro and the open standards we’re pushing are helping to make that easier and more prevalent.
    If there was a year that someone were to start supporting the groups that are important to them, there’s no better time to start.
    And if you can’t support with money, support with time.

  4. Seeing the FSF has charters all over the world likely helps — Gnome is a US foundation and while I have donated and likely will again, it is nice to get the tax receipt by donating to a local foundation as well.
    Also – I was curious, not that it is worth much in this financial climate – but if I gave you $1-10-100 to run your foundation, could you get a matching amount from a corporation that you would stick in an endowment fund?
    While I realize the budget is and always be tight, would people be more inclined to donate if they got extra value for their dollar and knew they were supporting Gnome in the long run… especially if the “matching” contribution built up some self sufficiency?
    Value might even be expressed in sponsoring a bug fix 🙂 …. people pick X number of bugs that they want fixed, and pay $1 a bug (as a fundraiser) and see if you can raise enough to contract a few of our hard working developers to progress the platform.

  5. Actually right now Canonical is matching our Friends money up to $10,000. So yes.
    Sponsoring a bug fix is a good idea …

  6. I meant to list Miro. You guys are doing some great fundraising campaigns. Not just the adopt a line of code but also your Firefox Amazon affiliates widget!
    We are working on starting some time of GNOME video program. Hopefully some educational, some to spread the word.

  7. You can buy some GNOME stuff through hackerthreads.com right now. We are also working on a GNOME store.

  8. Stormy’s salary:
    Base $96,000.00 per year
    %25 bonus to be paid out of funds above expected income
    Stormy’s travel budget:
    $20,000.00 ($2,645 used to date)
    The top three sponsors of the GNOME project are:
    Google: $30,000.00
    Intel: $30,000.00
    Canonical: $27,000.00
    Therefore, the top three donors don’t even fully pay for Stormy.
    According to the GNOME Foundation budget, Stormy is the single biggest outlay. She costs more than the total spent on Hackfests, Events, and Marketing combined.
    What the hell is going on here?
    See for yourself: http://mail.gnome.org/archives/foundation-announce/2009-April/binDvlf3ZJovM.bin , save as a .ods file, open with openoffice.

  9. Some of the money from sponsors is due to my work. (I recruited Google, and last year Intel and Canonical gave much less.) I also am trying to bring in more sponsors, but with the economy the way it is, it’ll be a while before they sign up.
    That said, my job is not to focus on 100% fundraising (although it is part of my job.) I was hired to do marketing, business development, help run the foundation day to day … http://www.stormyscorner.com/2009/01/what-do-i-do.html.
    If you don’t approve of how the Foundation uses its money, then now’s the time to speak up … during the next election of the board of directors.
    If you are a GNOME Foundation member, you can run for the board of directors or vote for someone who supports your view.

  10. A measured response to an incendiary post, Stormy.
    One way to reduce the ‘damage’ potential of stats like Mad’s would be to conduct your work in a way that allows external scrutiny.
    For instance, I see lots of twittering, identi.ca’ing, and mildly interesting blog posts from you, but not much detail on your day-to-day efforts. A lengthy post about why people might go to conferences, for instance, makes me wonder “who has time to formulate lengthy blog posts about this stuff”?
    Shorter posts about things you’re doing to further the Foundation’s goals, your successes, and your failures would better allow the community to evaluate your worth. I think too much of your blogging is about your job description. Tell us about your work.

  11. Personally I think you are doing excellent job, the problem is the we need to raise more money. It is almost unbelievable whole GNOME runs with such a low budget.
    Is there anyway GNOME can attract some money from goverment? Even EU? many developers are from EU and EU is sometimes having programs for spnsoring various activities. In the end EU is one of the legislative leaders in switching to Opensource (many migrations happening in Germany, France, whole parliament runs on Ubuntu).
    How about the vendors, wouldn’t be HP, Dell, IBM, Oracle, Citrix, ACER (and all the netbooks providers) be happy to provide some help? In the end it helps them create viable options for negotiating with MS (we all remember what contracts MS dicated to its OEMs).
    Can Universities help? I mean there are lot of open source fans there.
    At the same time it is great opportunity to see how community will take care of things. Everybody little, makes a lot 😉

  12. I don’t think stormy really needs to justify her salary..I think the GNOME board is probably aware how important money is to their organization, and if they believed it was ill spent, she wouldn’t be in the position she is in.
    THAT being said. I believe what miro is doing is a good idea, but far too over priced, for a long long time linux and free software have been sold to users as 0 cost$ even though that may not be what the free was intended for, now asking users to pay the same amount per month 4$ at the end of the year, would buy them a nice commercially supported piece of software. To me that amount is to great to convince people. I applaud these efforts to make money, but I don’t envy the job who’s it is to do :P)
    Sometimes I wonder how short opensource developers are selling themselves though, even if money is raised for these hackfests and conferences, what do the developers get out of it? If they currently don’t hold one of the few jobs provided by opensource, how do they justify spending this time instead of with family friends or other hobbies, I think a model to raise money for developers not just the organizations is key, but the product must be amazing, so far nothing even compares in linux world to what microsoft and apple produce. Ah well, good luck!

  13. Good points, I would only say:
    Donating money is just one of ways how to participate in the community, there is nothing wrong with that and it should be embraced. And it is always optional, sw still costs 0$ but donations can improve the whole sytem.
    Paying developers straight should be available as one of the options, but not all parts of system enjoy the same level of popularity, yet all are needed. Organizations can help to oversee the whole project and distribute money where needed.
    Now tell me, is there currently a way how to adopt more then one gnome hacker?

  14. You can adopt more than one hacker by signing up more than once. Several people have done this already – thanks!

  15. We need to decide if we (as a Foundation and a community) want to apply a business model around GNOME.
    As an example of a business model that might apply, several people are talking about creating training that the Foundation could deliver or could contract out and collect royalties.

  16. I think everyone who works for a non-profit foundation ought to justify their salary.
    When someone’s compensation is sucking up nearly $100,000.00 of a donation pool annually, there’d better be some serious and tangible changes taking place in the organization, driven by that person.
    Maybe those changes won’t be directly reflected in foundation income; that’s fine as long as the benefits are real and well documented. They should be obvious and unquestionable to the casual observer.
    Also. $100,000.00 per annum is an Affluent Person’s Salary. Many GNOME contributors are university students, unemployed, or living in far less-than-ideal conditions. Hubert Figuiere, for instance, is a kick-ass GNOME developer who’s unemployed right now. How does he react? He writes GNote! Is Stormy worth more to GNOME than him? Really? (Disclaimer: I just read Planet GNOME. I don’t know him personally. I have never spoken to him.)
    Time to shake up the GNOME Foundation’s governance methods. Some really bad decisions being made there.

  17. We should be applying for grant money … Sun just got a large accessibility grant from the EU. I’m happy to help find and write up grants but I need project people to propose projects that would match calls for grant money …
    HP, Sun, Novell, Intel and others do support us now at $10,000/year plus support for events. We could ask them to give us more, and many of them do. For example, Intel gave us $30,000 last year.

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