This post has been improved and published on the ASF’s website as the Governance overview of Membership – please read it there!
This is the third in a series of essays describing Apache governance. The ASF is a non-profit, membership-based corporation; as such the Members of the ASF have a role similar to shareholders in a publicly traded corporation.
In this essay, the term “member” specifically means someone who is a Member of the Foundation itself, as elected per the corporate bylaws.
The ASF is a membership corporation, so Members serve a similar role as shareholders do in publicly traded corporations. Members may propose new candidate members, may cast one vote in new candidate elections, and may cast one vote in board elections.
Members are not empowered to speak officially on behalf of the ASF as a whole, nor do they have any special rights to influence technical direction of any Apache projects that they are not otherwise elected as a committer or PMC member on. While members often volunteer and serve in many capacities both at the Foundation level and within various Apache projects, their only specific organizational rights are to vote in board and member elections.
The Apache Incubator is special: any ASF member may request to be added to the Incubator PMC without a vote. Within the Incubator PMC, members may serve as official mentors or champions to incoming podlings, as well as voting on Incubator policy and releases of podlings undergoing incubation. In this way, members work to mentor podling communities and guide them to the Apache Way and eventual graduation as a top-level Apache project.
Members act as shareholders of the corporation. As such, each member has a single vote on electing directors to the board; similarly, members may vote on new nominees to membership. Members are eligible to nominate new candidate members and to nominate individuals to the board.
Organizationally, members do not have specific standing within any Apache projects or Incubator podlings. However most members are active as individuals within multiple Apache projects on their own technical or social merits, and once elected as a member often find more ways to get involved in more Apache projects.
While the board and relevant officers are directly responsible for providing oversight to the many Apache projects, members often work within many Apache projects to help ensure projects run smoothly and follow the Apache Way.
The central place for member-focused announcements and discussions is the privately archived members@ mailing list. This is used for a wide variety of purposes: both proposing and discussing new technical or policy ideas within the ASF, announcing marriages or births within member’s families or other major social events, and any formal announcements to the membership from the board or corporate officers.
By policy, members have the right to inspect and review the archives of all mailing lists at Apache. This policy is designed to ensure that every member can independently inspect all corporate operations and the operations of all Apache projects. Thus members may review all private mailing lists (for example) about internal legal affairs, fundraising, security issues, as well as any private@ lists used by our Apache projects’ PMCs.
While members may send messages to any private lists, they do not automatically receive any special merit in terms of influencing the technical direction of Apache projects. Merit in Apache projects is gained within each individual project community, and membership does not convey any other special privileges.
The board typically holds an Annual Members Meeting, where a new board of directors is elected, and new member candidates may be voted upon. Meetings are currently held on a private IRC channel, as an alternative to a traditional conference call, where any reports are read and members may ask questions. The meeting has a 48-hour recess for voting, and then reconvenes to announce results and complete the meeting: this allows members who may not be able to personally attend the first portion of the meeting to attend the second half, as well as to conduct voting over email using our own secure voter tool. Members who are unable to attend any of the 2 day meeting period may provide for another member to proxy their attendance and votes.
The board often holds interim Special Members Meetings in between Annual Meetings, primarily to give members a chance to nominate new candidate members and be voted in. Members also use Special and Annual meetings to raise additional questions or issues about Foundation operations – although members usually just raise questions to the board or to any ASF officer at any time over our usual mailing lists. Members and invited guests are welcome at all Members meetings.
Given the distributed and volunteer nature of the ASF, official in-person meetings of the Membership are no longer held. All Foundation or project business is conducted on normal mailing lists – although some of the lists are private. Members do often meet in small groups in person – although this is for social reasons, and often involves a meal or drinks. Many members and committers also traditionally attend the ASF’s annual ApacheCon conference.
All members have the ability to nominate new individuals as candidates for membership. The amount and types of merit that existing members look for in Apache committers varies, but always includes some significant technical or other contribution to one or more of our projects, as well as a clear interest and understanding of the Apache Way. In most cases, these contributions and traits are displayed over a significant period of time, usually over a year of engagement in one or more Apache projects.
Note that it is not required to be a committer before being considered for membership, however as a practical matter, in the vast majority of cases any potentially worthy individual has already become a committer on some Apache project. At least two individuals have been elected as members without being committers first, in each case for non-coding contributions in mentoring on the Apache Way or other organizational work.
Many newly elected members are surprised (pleasantly!) to be told they’ve been elected. Typically, being nominated and elected as a new member is something that happens well after the nominee has a clear track record and a positive influence on Apache projects for some time; in hindsight, a frequent comment is “isn’t So-and-So a member already? They do such good work!”. Individuals asking to be made a member (or worse, insisting you should be elected!) is culturally frowned upon. In a perhaps counter-intuitive way, being considered for membership is something that requires real effort acting over a measurable time, but without making it obvious that you’re seeking recognition.
Candidate members are voted on as a simple majority vote (more yes’s than no’s) at Annual or Special member’s meetings. Voting is performed using custom-written voting software with secret ballots.
Within the Membership, merit is equal; all members have an equal vote and ability to propose change within the ASF. Membership is a notably helpful factor in being considered for the board or an appointment to officer positions at the ASF, although the most important factor is demonstrated merit within the particular project or the ASF as a whole.
The ability of members to influence the ASF is simultaneously major and immaterial. On one hand, members vote on new candidate members and more importantly vote on the Board of Directors, which clearly affects strategic policies of the ASF. On the other hand, membership grants individuals no other special merit within any of our projects and is not an official position within the legal corporation itself.
The perceived importance of membership is likewise a dichotomy. Many members are quite modest about their membership, and a frequently heard comment is that “oh, they really deserve to be recognized more than I did”. For many, being elected a member was not a goal or title that individuals were pursuing; rather, they were naturally doing their own work (at an Apache project), and were then recognized for it. Many members list their affiliation on their resume (or LinkedIn, etc.); some do not.
Recognition of membership varies widely outside of the ASF: some software companies don’t seem to care what the ASF is or what membership means; a few software companies have strongly encouraged their employees to become committers or members, and gaining one of those roles is a notable prestige bonus within those companies. Likewise, a number of members or officers of the ASF are frequently sought out as speakers at open source conferences.
Members share both the community of all other members, as well as often serving as bridges across the various Apache projects they are already involved in. Many members also volunteer extra time to serve as mentors, both within the ASF working with our projects and communities, and outside of it, mentoring others or speaking at conferences.
The membership as a whole and individually does not provide technical direction for any Apache projects directly; every PMC is free to manage it’s technical direction independently. PMCs are the governing body for their project and are expected to manage the project’s technology in the best interest of the whole project community, independent of outside commercial influence.
This is similar to how the board does not set technical direction for projects: this is a key reflection of how the ASF is intentionally structured to provide maximum freedom to its projects. The board and the ASF membership are happy to provide a home to any software project communities that are willing to follow the Apache Way. The mission of the ASF is to provide software for the common good: we are happy to help like-minded communities to provide that software; are confident that communities will form around software that is useful, and understand that there are many different ways to effectively and collaboratively build software.
In the case of members, nearly all members participate in a number of Apache projects – as individuals based on their merit within the specific projects. Simply being elected a member does not confer any additional abilities in terms of other projects. Many members chose to serve as ambassadors of the Apache Way, and usually get involved in more projects as time goes on.