Open Collective Foundation Shutdown Explainer

The open source community was surprised today by the announcement that the Open Collective Foundation is dissolving by the end of 2024. Since OCF is a popular charitable fiscal host for 600 collectives (including a handful of software ones), this is quite a surprise and a large disappointment.

IMPORTANT: Open Collective has written up an excellent comprehensive guide for finding and moving to a new fiscal host, as well as a list of fiscal hosts to consider for any collectives affected.

The OCF has built at matching tool for their collectives – if you work at a fiscal host, especially a public charity, please check it out!

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Open Source help and ideas wanted!

I’ve been working on a several different projects related to sustainability and governance in nonprofits, trying to explain larger concepts and build up some worthy datasets in some specific FOSS areas. There are so many good ideas, and so little time and coding that I have to give. So I realized… I should just try asking for help!

The appeal of open source for me is that I can contribute when I have time/energy/expertise, and when $real-life gets in the way, I can step back. The other appeal is everything’s in the open, so even if no-one answers, I might as well detail a few tasks I’d love help with figuring out – or even better, building!

FOSS Foundations Metadata Directory

Inspired by the FLOSS Foundations Directory, I wantstemed to start storing some structured data about the non-profit foundations that provide services to much of the open source ecosystem. This, the FOSS Foundation Metadata directory! I’ve currently collected basic organizational data on 50+ notable foundations out there, like board size, where incorporated, links to common kinds of policies, and the like. While there are various other listings of foundations or projects out there, few are structured data and none really track the legal, corporate, and funding details I’m working on. Similarly, while there’s plenty of academic research on community governance, it would be great to explicitly quantify governance models at foundations and major projects, to help see how they differ.

For US-based nonprofit foundations, we can fairly easily get top-level finances through IRS 990 filings. ProPublica’s nonprofit explorer (yay!) makes it easy to get core 990 data, which I’ve organized and incorporated some rough finances into the metadata directory. There’s a lot more visualization we can do here: while 990 forms are high level – total contributions/total revenue and the like – they are an apples-to-apples way to compare funding and expenses of US nonprofits.

Where does funding come from? Sponsorships, mainly: I’ve also reviewed and categorized the sponsorship prospectuses of many foundations to quantify both donation levels, as well as benefits provided for sponsorship levels. Once we can get a broader cross-section of foundations around the world represented, it will be some very interesting data. And thanks to Duane O’Brien who’s done some historical research of FOSS sponsorship prospectuses!

Help Wanted!

There’s interest from practicioners and researchers alike looking at sustainability here. But we need more time in the day – or more contributors! – to keep building out both our data coverage as well as linting, visualizations, and the like. If this is a topic that interests you, please head over to the GitHub Issues page and jump in! We could use help with setting up OpenAPI for the researchers and, as well as linting, basic visualizations, and especially helping to add new foundations and categorize existing ones in new ways. For example, we have several metadata fields for policies, including links to Codes Of Conduct, as well as where a COC link is shown (i.e., is it prominent?).

Do You Work With Nonprofit Finances?

If so, let’s chat. In another life I’m involved with a hyperlocal nonprofit news website, so I’ve been relying on ProPublica and various scraping tools to help build up some pictures of local news organization finances. While ProPublica is great for top-line fields in 990s, it takes work to XPath your way into the guts of 990 schedules. The Giving Tuesday project seems to have a magic data lake project coming soon that might solve all these issues for us – but I’d love to have alternate perspectives on how to extract and analyze IRS 990 data at small/medium scales.

Also – are you a European or other non-US country nonprofit expert? How do you analyze finances across different organizations? While US 990 forms aren’t perfect, at least they’re (reasonably) consistent, and are easy enough to analyze at scale. Are there any similar broad based ways to gather nonprofit finances elsewhere?

Where Is The ASF Going? Director Q&A

With Apache board elections coming up soon, an ASF Member came up with a great set of questions for all director candidates. With permission, I’m sharing those questions here, and providing my answers as well.

I’ve also posted my own Director Position Statement for this year (and past years!).

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What Apache Needs In Foundation Members

As the ASF’s Annual Member’s Meeting approaches this month, the Membership has an opportunity to vote in new individual Members to the Foundation. I’ve written about how member meetings work and have proposed some process improvements.

But the bigger question is: how can the membership better help the ASF succeed? What a Member can do at the ASF is documented, but what should Members consider doing? Where does the ASF need Members to help out, and how?

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Three React-ions to the Facebook PATENTS License

There are really three aspects to your project’s decision (to use React.js or not based on the BSD+Patents license), and it’s important to consider each of them. You really need to consider which aspects are important to your project’s success — and which ones don’t really matter to you.
(See the updated FAQ about the PATENTS issue on Medium!)

  • Legal — both details of the license and PATENTS file that Facebook offers React.js under, and some realistic situations where the patent clauses might actually come into play (which is certainly rare in court, but it’s the chilling effect of uncertainty that’s the issue)
  • Technology — are other libraries sufficiently functional to provide the features your project needs? Does a project have the capacity to make a change, if they decided to?
  • Community — how does the rest of the open source community-of-communities see the issue, and care about your choices? This includes both future buyers of a startup, as well as future partners, as well as future talent (employees) or contributors (open source developers).

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What Apache needs in a Board

The ASF is holding it’s annual member’s meeting soon, where we will elect a new 9-member Board of Directors for a one-year term.  I’ve been honored with a nomination to run for the board again, as have a number of other excellent Member candidates.  While I’m writing my nomination statement – my 2016 director statement and earlier ones are posted – I’ve been thinking about what Apache really needs in a board to manage the growth of our projects and to improve our operations.

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Behind the scenes at Apache: Corporate Org Chart

This post has been improved and turned into the ASF’s official Corporate Governance Organization Chart overview – please see the new version there!

You probably use contribute to several Apache projects.  But do you know what goes on behind the scenes at the ASF?  Besides all the work of the 200+ project communities, the ASF has an annual budget of about one $million USD to fund the services our projects use.  How we manage providing these services – and governing the corporation behind the projects – continues to change and improve.

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How Apache *really* works

How much do you know about the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) and the many Apache projects we host? Did you know we’re holding our annual Members meeting to elect our board of directors and new Members in just a few days?

I’m often surprised by the variety of basic questions and misunderstandings I hear in the software world about how the ASF really works. We’ve written plenty of documentation about the Apache Way and our governance, but let’s try a different approach. I’d like to interview myself to try to explain some things. Continue reading How Apache *really* works

Apache Governance – Projects First

When push comes to shove and full consensus on governance matters at the ASF or at Apache projects isn’t easily found, it’s important to consider what our underlying objectives are. The mission of the ASF is to produce software for the public good. That’s a good start, but like many concise mission statements, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are several aspects of how we expect Apache projects to work that we believe are critical to our mission’s success and longevity. These include things like The Apache Way of: volunteer and collaborative led community built software projects; using the permissive Apache license; and having a consistent and stable brand, infrastructure services, and home for all Apache projects.

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Apache Corporate Policies

The old saying goes that one of the last things done in many open source projects is the documentation. Taking this to the organizational level at the ASF – the corporate level – that’s both all too true, and not at all true.

Questions regularly come up across various ASF lists about all sorts of corporate operations, and there are a fair number of times when it takes a while to get the right answer to the questioner. Luckily, we have a lot of very experienced Members and Officers who are there to ensure the right thing does happen – but I believe that the answers come be a lot quicker if we had better documentation for these corporate operations. Namely, all the stuff that’s not dealing with code.

This is not to say we haven’t documented how the ASF as a corporation works: a lot of effort has gone into our standard operating procedures, and we’ve both covered the basic legalistic bases, as well as put serious thought into minimizing the absolute rules at Apache while providing lots of best practices. These procedures – and the discussions of pros and cons and whys explaining how they came to be that way – are all available… on the mailing lists, somewhere. 😉

The foundation of our corporate policies is The Apache Way. Understanding that, and understanding that the fundamental mission of the ASF is to produce software code for the public good, leads you to many of the policies we practice, both at the ASF and in Apache projects. To start with, here’s a brief laundry list of how to learn about Apache Corporate Policies.

  • Apache Corporate Governance and org chart describe organizationally how the ASF as a corporation is run. This also makes clear the distinction between organizational governance – the board, membership, and officers as a whole; and technical governance – the fact that PMCs independently manage their projects.
  • The Foundation page provides the overall corporate mission, and links to the Board and Membership pages with the nitty gritty of corporate records.
  • The pages are both a generic project runbook, technical issues FAQ, and partial corporate operations listing. While these are written by committers, for committers and developers, they have a lot of great information on how all sorts of things at the ASF and all Apache projects should work.
  • Another key overview of organizational documentation is the Community Development project site. This aims to be a more human-friendly signpost to find the relevant technical widget or policy information elsewhere.
  • The Apache Incubator is another important place where proper procedures are documented: this is where we try to explain to prospective new communities how an Apache project should be run before the ASF formally accepts them.

Here are some other principles and rules we follow that are important to understand.

  • Transparency. All technical decisions on Apache projects are reflected on publicly archived mailing lists. The phrase “If it didn’t happen on the list, it didn’t happen” is not just an old saying, it’s the rule at Apache.
  • Respect. One of the primary exceptions to transparency are discussions about individuals. Votes on new committers and PMC members are typically held in private lists amongst a whole PMC, since this both allows better honesty of expression, as well as prevents embarrassment in rare cases where a nominee is not voted in (yet).
  • Organizational Oversight. While the ASF relies on volunteers to produce the code that we give away, we keep it organized by having oversight: the PMCs ensure that projects are managed appropriately; the board ensures that PMCs manage themselves, and corporate officers ensure that the ASF’s corporate bits are covered.
  • Member Oversight. Members of the ASF have the final level of oversight of the board and the corporate officers. All members are allowed to review any private mailing list within the ASF, including any private@ list for projects. Members do not receive special status on any lists; merely the ability to oversee all operations. The only exceptions are specifically restricted mailing aliases that are used for legally protected communications or infrastructure root level issues.

Note that while Members have a broad oversight ability within all aspects of the ASF’s operations, organizational matters like this kind of oversight are not transparent outside of the ASF. While we certainly strive to make public as many of the great lessons we’ve learned about governing community-led software projects, the operations of governance are kept primarily within the Membership.

Partly, this is due to all the lawyers. The details of running a million-dollar corporation require a fair amount of legal work. We strive to publish as much information as is practical in things like board minutes; however the actual corporate processes are done privately.

Partly, this is because part of a meritocracy is allowing those who do to do the work. Individuals who are trusted and useful to Apache projects are elected as committers or PMC members, and therefore can help directly govern those projects. Similarly, individuals who show wisdom and effort towards the goals of the ASF may be elected as Members, and therefore can help elect the board who will appoint the officers to ensure the ASF continues running smoothly.

A great place to ask questions about these kinds of issues is the Community Development mailing list.