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?

2 Replies to “Hackfests, fundraising and the economy”

  1. Stormy,
    Shaun McCance brought up an interesting idea the other day in IRC.
    On the Friends of GNOME page, what if we had a thermometer showing a goal of and how much has been raised against it – as one gets full, put up another goal.
    Now I know the Friends of GNOME money isn’t necessarily tied to a specific goal or hackfest – but I think people respond to goals rather than open ended requests.
    Another idea I had, being a big listener and supporter of Public Radio, is having campaign drive times. What if we had 2-3 times a year where we took 7 or 10 days, and did some marketing against it as a fundraising campaign. Would any of GNOME’s corporate sponsors maybe do matching funds? Maybe a specific campaign against a specific goal, a hackfest or GUADEC, or something else that supports GNOME (a sysadmin?).
    I thought it was interesting you brought up the FSF as well – I think their Defective by Design campaign, through email marketing and fundraising has been very successful. Here’s a campaign that’s tied to the organizations purpose, but still different enough that people who might not identify themselves as FSF supporter do support them because of their anti-DRM efforts.
    Thanks for the blog post – now you’ve got my head spinnign thinking about it. Mission accomplished.

  2. Thanks, Paul!
    The thermometer/ruler idea has come up a couple of times in IRC, the marketing list and the last adboard meeting. I think we just need to get all of them and some artist and programmer types together! You are right that trying to show the things we want to spend money on is a bit difficult as it all depends on how much money we get, when we get it and who steps up with ideas and energy to make it happen. But we could definitely come up with some milestones.
    FYI, Canonical did offer matching funds for friends in the context of raising money for a sys admin.
    I think you are right, it would be good to have a campaign to reach out beyond the people we normally talk to. I was also thinking that perhaps we should have a “subscribe by email” box that subscribed people to gnome-announce, so that people unfamiliar with mailing lists could still sign up to get news.

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