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Non-Profit Organizations for FLOSS Projects

Jul - 24 - 2013
Nicole C. Engard

We had several speakers talking to us about Non-Profit Organizations for FLOSS Projects: There Is No Place Like Home.

First up was Software in the Public Interest (SPI). SPI was founded in 1997 as a “fork” of the Open Source Institute. SPI provides a bank account, the ability to receive charitable donations, ability to sign contracts, and some light legal assistance. They do not have any part in your project governance, so they are simply a fiscal sponsor/non profit organization.

You join SPI because you need a bank account or what to run a fundraising campaign you have an NGO in another country and you don’t want change your project to join a non profit.

Next up, Software Freedom Conservancy who’s key difference from SPI in that they are a ‘Direct Project” fiscal sponsor. This means that your project becomes part of the Conservancy. In a legal sense Conservancy can act officially in the name of the project as a corporate entity. This gives you liability protection. Like SPI they also offer directed donations. Unlike SPI they offer more legal assistance, conference organization assistance, fundraising services and asset management. A full list is here: sfconservancy.org/member/services.

The Apache Software Foundation is more like a family than the above two (says the speaker). It was started to provide indemnity, infrastructure and independence to those who joined the family. All the projects do have to have the Apache license (whereas the other two want any OSI approved license), a collaborative consensus-driven development style and a diverse community (at least 3 independent contributors) to join.

Eclipse which is a 501(c)6 or Trade Association unlike the three above who were 501(c)3. Eclipse offers infrastructure, intellectual property (IP) management, development processes that the members are expected to follow and community development marketing people who help develop communities around projects. Eclipse is technology and forge agnostic and are flexible on the licensing of the software (it used to be just EPL).

Outercurve Foundation was up next. They too are a 501(c)6 like Eclipse. The goal of Outercurve is to help open source projects be successful by offering legal structure, business operations and technical services. One of the best ways they can help is to get contributions to their projects. Like many of the others listed here they are agnostic on license, development process and language the software is written in. That said they do require that their members have a development process in place and have a published governance.

Finally, The Linux Foundation is another 501(c)6. Jim Zemlin spoke more about the importance of these organizations than what the foundation offers. These organizations provide you with the structure you need to grow your projects – and that’s what really matters.


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