Open source projects are increasingly opting to form an independent entity – a “Foundation” – to form the core of their community, rather than relying on goodwill or corporate oversight. Foundations often hold shared assets such as money, trademarks and copyrights, provide infrastructure, and sometimes employ staff.
The idea is seductive, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. A Foundation can’t solve your community problems; it can only make firm the solutions you devise, by providing a canvas on which to paint the trust and governance you have all agreed and to guarantee it for future generations of your community. You need to solve the problems first.
Even then, a new Foundation may not be the best solution. Joining a fiscal steward, like Software Freedom Conservancy or Software in the Public Interest, may provide you with the best solution. Or you might be better to join an organisation like the Apache Software Foundation or the Eclipse Foundation, benefiting from their proven governance approaches as well as from fiscal stewardship.
If you do still feel it’s right to start a Foundation, there are plenty of questions to answer. Which country? Where in that country? Which model, public benefit, co-operative or collective benefit? What about staffing? Raising money?
Fortunately, there are plenty of people who have trodden this path ahead of you. They gather on an open but semi-private mailing list and give each other support and advice. For the first time, some of them will also be presenting an informal tutorial at OSCON called “Community Foundations 101“. They’ll tell you their experiences, good and bad, and they’ll help you decide whether you should form a new non-profit and if so, how. The session will be on Tuesday July 23rd at 9am, and you would be most welcome to come with your questions.
The session is being made possible thanks to the support of the Open Source Initiative, O’Reilly Media and Meshed Insights Ltd. As previously mentioned, Simon is also presenting a session on corporations and open source at OSCON.