Tuesday 12 May 2009 by Bradley M. Kuhn
I don't think we talk enough in the FLOSS community about the importance of individual support of FLOSS-related charitable organizations. On a recent podcast episode, Karen and I discuss with Stormy Peters how important it is for geeks — who may well often give lots of code to many FLOSS projects — also should consider giving a little bit of financial funding to FLOSS organizations as well.
Of course, it's essential that people give their time to the charities and the causes that they care about. In the FLOSS world, we typically do that by giving code or documentation to our favorite FLOSS project. I think that's led us all into the classic “I gave at the office” feeling. Indeed, I know that I too have fallen into this rut at times myself.
I suppose I could easily claim that, more than most people, I've given enough at the office. Working at various non-profit organizations since the 1990s, I've always made substantially less in salary than I would in the for-profit industry for similar work. I also have always volunteered my time in addition to my weekly work schedule. For example, I currently get paid for my 40 hour/week job at the SFLC, but I also donate about 20 hours of work for the Software Freedom Conservancy each week.
Still, I don't believe that this is enough. There are many, many FLOSS non-profits that deserve support — more than I have time to give. Meanwhile, very small amounts of money, aggregated over many people giving, makes a world of difference in a number of ways to these organizations.
Non-profits that are funded by a broad base of supporters are much more stable and have greater longevity than other types of non-profits that are funded primarily by corporate donations. This is because one donor or even a few disappearing is not disaster. Also, through these donations, organizations build a constituency of supporters that truly represent the people that the non-profit seeks to serve.
Traditionally (with a few notable exceptions), non-profits in the FLOSS world have relied primarily on corporate donations. I generally think this is not ideal for a community that wishes to be fully represented by the non-profits that embody the projects we care about. We want these projects to represent the interest of developers and users, not necessarily the for-profit corporate interests. Plus, we want the organizations to survive even when companies stop supporting FLOSS or just simply go out of business.
If we all contribute, it doesn't take that much for each individual to be a part of making a real difference. I believe that if each person who has benefited seriously from FLOSS gave $200/year, we'd make a substantial change and a wonderful positive impact on the non-profit organizations that shepherd and keep these FLOSS projects alive. I'm not suggesting giving to any specific organization: just to take $200/year and divide in the way you think is best across 2-4 different FLOSS non-profits that sponsor project you personally care about or benefit from.
Think about it: $200/year breaks down to $16/month. For me (and likely for most people in a major city), $16/month means one fewer dinner at a restaurant each month. Can't we all eat at home one more time per month, and share that savings to help FLOSS non-profits?
If you are looking for a list of non-profits that could use your support, the FLOSS Foundations Directory is a good place to start. FWIW, in addition to my volunteer work with Conservancy, here's the list of non-profits that I'm supporting with a total of $200 this year (in alphabetical order): The Free Software Foundation, GNOME Foundation, The Parrot Foundation, and The Twisted Project. Which ones will you give to this year?
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Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization. Since I do co-own ebb.org with my wife, it may not be so obvious that these aren't her views and opinions, either.
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