Sponsored vs supported

Probably the most relevant non technical action that a community executes is events. Most mature communities organize one or several big events in different part of the world with different goals, but one of them is common in every single case: engagement needs face to face relations. We are humans….after all.

In order to organize these events, sooner or later you need a legal organization that provides financial support to these actions. You might not know that, in words of the founders, this was the main reason behind the foundation of KDE e.V. .

And when you want to bring contributors together, most organizations end up having as goal to financially support some of them since they cannot afford it:
  • The trip is expensive since they come from the other side of the world.
  • They come from countries where the cost of the trip or accommodation represent the salary of a year.
  • They are students, so they have little income.
  • They have family and they cannot afford the expenses derived from being a week far from home.
There are many more use cases.
So one way or the other, most organization that support FLOSS communities dedicate resources for supporting contributors to attend to its main event(s). But if we look closer, there are small differences among different organizations.

Some differences among organizations.

Since resources are limited, organizations try to make sure they support those who have made significant contributions to the project throughout the year. Being supported/sponsored though, have frequently attached an expectation of being heavily involved in the event itself. Giving a talk or helping the organizers are the more obvious expected actions.

The difference comes when making these variables a plus or a requirement for being sponsored.

The process for being sponsored is also different. The tools used to manage the request/reimbursement process and the “amount of support” too. I will not get into those.
There is a “motivational” difference that do not have much impact but that I have always found interesting. Some organizations support their contributors “as a reward” and some do it “as a duty“.

The first case means that some kind of “thank you” is expected/required, linked to that support, as usual when you receive a prize. This act of gratitude might come in different forms but usually tend to publicly reflect that support. The basic idea behind it is to justify the investment in order to increase the level of sponsorship the organization gets from donors. It is a very popular approach in other industries/areas and there are a good number of FLOSS organizations that follow this model.

The other approach, the “support as duty“, is based on the principle that if you have made a significant contribution, that is, you are part of the community, and since the organization is there to support the community , it is its duty to support you. So the support comes with no recognition as requirement.  No “public thank you” is expected.

Some refer to this as the difference between being sponsored versus being supported.
My view on this last topic

In different countries/cultures, the sense and consequences of “thank you” are different. Also, the reasons that can “invite” you to ask for support might not be fun to talk, or being being questioned about. You might not feel comfortable by being identify as “sponsored“. It also might generate some undesired debate about who is being sponsored or why among people that do not have all the information.

Over the years I have changed my mind. Lately I identify myself more with the second approach, which do not mean I am against the first one. It has a point too.

In any case, what matters is that FLOSS organizations has supporting contributors to attend to the community event as one of their main goals.

A request

If you are not very familiar with how Free Software is developed, all this might sound strange. Investing money in paying trips and accommodation to go to an event to have fun with no or very little deliverables in return?

When thinking about donating to a community project or sponsoring it, ask for this particular topic to the Board of the organization behind it or the coordinators of the travel support program. You will be surprised by how important is this topic for them. They will provide reasons that, I am sure, will satisfy you.

For me, and many others, is one of the main reasons why these organizations deserve to be sponsored. Face to face meetings are essential to build a healthy community or ecosystem and many people have no way to attend if third parties do not sponsor/support them.

Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities (VII): activities

This is the seventh post of the Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities series. In order to fully understand this one, please consider reading the previous ones. p, li { white-space: pre-wra
 
 

There are several kind of activities that can be very productive and aligned with the goals of the project. We can group them in several ways. Maybe the most general one is:

  • Promotion activities.
  • Training sessions.
  • Discussion/reflexion.
  • Networking activities.
  • Demonstrations.
  • Administrative/coordination meetings.
Some of the activities will be organized directly by communities. At the beginning of the project they would be the majority. But the project must be open to organize activities proposed by local agents and non members that are aligned with the project goals. Cross-community actions should be also promoted.
Opening a call for activities is a very good thing to do. There has to be also flexibility to allow activities that do not need a lot of effort to organize so they can be proposed with not much time in advance.
Some of the most common activities could be:
  • Promotion events (talks, lightning talks, keynotes, etc).
  • Demo events.
  • Workshops and training sessions.
  • Cross-community events.
  • Announcements and press conferences.
  • Sprints and hackfests.
  • Communities Assemblies and board meetings.
  • International events.
  • Internal meetings:
    • General Assembly and Board meetings.
    • Other internal meetings.
  • Interviews.
  • Video and audio conferences. Streamming.
As explained in the Organization section, there should be a comitte that takes care of coordinating the activities so they make sure that there is a variety of them in terms of goals, participants and achievements. This Activities Coordination Group will make also sure that the activities schedule satisfy both, current project members and local agents.
It is desired that every member celebrates in the project facilities at least one activity every year. A good goal could be to celebrate every member annual event each three or four years, so they make sure a relevant one takes place at least once a year. 
It is a good practice not just to generate local critic mass but also to ensure that the project is attractive enough in terms of sponsorship.

Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities (VI): organization

Please consider reading previous post of the Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities  series:
This project must have a legal entity that support the activity it will generate. That legal entity must be as flexible as possible. In Spain, for example, it would probably be an Association formed initially by legalized Local Free Software Communities (LFSC). When new ones get a minimum state of maturity, they will be invited to join the association as members.

Each Association would name a representative for this project. The Association’s Assembly then will be formed by representatives of every legal LFSC involved. They would elect a Board, that initially, it would be formed by a President, a Vice-president, a Treasurer and a Secretary.

This Association will represent the project from a legal, economic and “political” point of view. Its basic role is to coordinate efforts and to make the project sustainable, keeping the independence of every member.

The Assembly would organize itself in groups taking care of different tasks. Several groups should be created:

  1. Activities coordination group: All the activities, schedule and organization details will be coordinated y this group. The schedule is should be presented to the Board for approval and every year, a report should be made to the General Assembly.
  2. Sustainability group: this group will take care of the sustainability of the project, specially the economic side.
  3. I recommend to organize another two groups. One specialized in promo actions and another one that help the Board in dealing with administrative tasks, taxes, etc.
Sponsors and local entities should be invited to join these working groups so they become part of the project building relations with Local Free Software Communities.

Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities (V): services

Since this is the fifth post of the Building Innovation Nodes Through Free Software Communities, I strongly recommend you to read the previous four (I, II, III and IV)
This post will explain my ideas about what are the basic services that the initiative should provide so Local Free Software Communities (LFSC) and local player might organize activities that allow the project to be successful.

As enumerated in the second post of the series, the basic services that should be provided by the project to its members can be divided in six major areas:

  1. Administrative.
  2. Legal.
  3. Financial and accounting.
  4. Marketing and communication.
  5. Business development.
  6. Facilities maintenance and management.
The rest of the activities needed will be developed by participants, that is LFSC members, the catalyst organization or local players.

1.- Administrative

The administrative service can be divided in the following way:

  1. Administrative services related with the project itself.
  2. Administrative services targeting Local Free Software Communities.
  3. All of the above.
1.1.- Administrative services related with the project itself
  • Board support: as you can read in the Organization section, the project will be managed by a Board, elected from the Assembly. This Board will need administrative support.
  • Contact/agenda management for project representatives.
  • Accommodation management for activities organized within the project.
1.2.- Administrative services targeting Local Free Software Communities.
 
LFSC legalization: help LFSC that want to become part of the project in the near future with the basic administrative work in order for them to become a legal entity.

1.3.- Administrative services for both, the project and every LFSC participant

  • Regular post management: notifications, legal papers and material shipment, this is, regular post service is one of those difficult area to manage when you are a distributed organization where board members chance quiet often.
  • Membership management: the management of current and new members is a tedious task that every organization must put resources on. Having an administrative service can help them to become more efficient, specially to those where a each member has to make a yearly quota.
2.- Legal

The basic legal services needed are:

  • Advice about basic legal aspects related with statutes and everyday decisions and operations for any LFSC and the project itself.
  • Basic legal advice about licensing.
  • Legalization of LFSC.
  • Institutional agreements.
  • Legal advice related with funding.
3.- Financial and accounting
This service should be given to the project itself and for every project member:
  • Accounting support.
  • Budget and economic reports. Costs control.
  • Advice in financial decision and taxes.
4.- Marketing and communication
  • LFSC and Project activities promotion in mainstream and social media.
  • Project press releases and announcements.
  • Local marketing actions support.
5.- Business development

Since the project will need to look for funds in order to grow, business development activities become a key part. The project will provide a service in this area that support participants the following areas:

  • Relation with local agents/players.
  • Sponsorship management support.

In another article I will talk about the resources needed to lauch the project and make it sustainable.

6.- Facilities maintenance and management
 
The facilities assigned to the project will be when the activities take place. The project will provide the following services:
  • Facilities management.
  • Security.
  • Material manage, storage and control.
  • Activities support.
  • Connectivity.
and others needed to organize and support the activities defined by participants.

Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities (IV): localization/facilities

Please keep in mind that this is the fourth of a series of post. Please read previous ones ( I, II and III) before the following.
The venue is very important in order to be successful. I suggest to launch the project in a city with the following characteristics:
  • Big not not too much, so activities created have a global impact in the city. 
  • With at least one big University with Computers Science and Engineering/Science Faculties. This will ensure potential contributors.
  • Well communicated with bigger cities so activities organized can attract visitors from those cities.
  • With an international airport so it is easy for the Global Free Software Communities (GFSC) to celebrate promotional and technical activities with foreign speakers and attendees.
The facilities are a key element in order to have success. Some of the most relevant characteristics that the venue must have are: 
  • Close to the city center, well communicated with the airport or train station (if there is international airport) and close to the University if possible.
  • Close to hotels, hostels or other accommodations. It is important to have cheap accommodation around the facilities.
  • Some kind of garden or natural area where to talk comfortably outdoors.
  • Cafeterias, bars and restaurants must be close to the facilities.
  • Facilities must have, at least:
    • A room for conferences up to 75 – 100 people.
    • High quality Internet connection. Wifi in the area and outside.
    • AC Plugs.
    • A meeting room.
    • A computer lab or a room prepared for plugging laptops.
    • A networking area with some tables.
    • Stock
To be successful, the place must have a comfortable atmosphere. It must be a quiet but informal. It must promote interaction but also intimacy. 
Go back to the description post.