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[vertx:5874] Conservancy & other fiscal sponsor options (was Re: Discussion: The future of the Vert.x project)

Bradley M. Kuhn Jan 10, 2013 4:58 PM
Posted in group: vert.x
[ Sorry to be slightly Kibo-like and join this thread, but someone
  mentioned to me that Conservancy came up in this thread, and I thought
  I could comment usefully on the decision about fiscal sponsorship that
  the vert.x project currently faces. ]

Conservancy would welcome an application for vert.x, but I typically
tell projects that they should actually talk to *all* possible fiscal
sponsors to find the right one.  Each of the options discussed in this
thread are different types of organizations on various spectra.
However, IMO, the most important difference is that some of
these orgs are non-profit trade associations (a 501(c)(6) in
the USA), some are non-profit charities (a 501(c)(3) in the USA).

Mike Milinkovich's posts about how Eclipse works gives a good sense of
what a trade association looks like.  This solution is right for some
projects.  Mike has noted in his posts that Eclipse focuses on
interacting with the for-profit industry, which is what trade
associations like Eclipse (and Linux Foundation, too) are for.  They do
a good job at this task, and if your project's main goal is to interact
with for-profit companies, then a trade association solution as a fiscal
sponsor is probably right.

By contrast, non-profit charities like SPI and Conservancy focus on
benefiting the general public.  Every time a member project at
Conservancy wants to do something, the question I ask is whether the
plan helps make the software better (more available, more usable, etc.)
for everyone in the general public.  It's not that charities *ignore* the
for-profit corporate user base, but rather we focus first on the
*individuals* who use and develop the software.

Anyway, there are fortunately lots of non-profit options of all sorts
(including some that I didn't even cover in this email), and I urge the
vert.x project to think about all of its options.  Conservancy welcomes
applications from projects that are just considering but aren't sure
yet, as the application process is often a good way to see if a given
org is the right fit.  I can't speak how other orgs treat this process,
but I do know that SPI feels the same way about this aspect of it.

On that point, I see Jenkins mentioned in this thread, and Kohsuke
Kawaguchi talking about how Jenkins joined SPI.  As KK could tell you,
Jenkins applied to both Conservancy and SPI, but ultimately decided that
SPI was a better option, in part because Jenkins didn't really need the
"full service plan" that Conservancy has.  SPI focuses on a smaller set
of services, which means it's easier for them to take new projects
quickly, when compared to Conservancy.  SPI's and Conservancy's service
plans, BTW, are available here:

More than anything else, though, I think what matters in selecting a
fiscal sponsor is finding the right fit for the users and developers of
the software.  I urge vert.x developers and users to look at all the
options and decide what's best for them, and to not jump to a decision
quickly merely because there's a specific set of issues to be resolved.
All of these orgs talked about in this thread could probably help you
solve the issues that vert.x faces, but they'll all do so in very
different ways.

BTW, I did want to reply to Trustin's email publicly (I've already
written privately in more detail):

이희승 (Trustin Lee) wrote at 09:26 (EST):
> Therefore, I applied for SFC membership because SFC takes care of
> legal and financial issues and let me focus on
> development. Unfortunately, it took eternity to get approval [for
> Netty]

As I mentioned in private email today, Conservancy was pretty
resource-strapped for most of 2011 and into 2012, and we had a really
long backlog of project applications.

The good news is that we're just about to clear the queue of evaluations
of projects entirely. (You'll see on Conservancy's website that projects
started joining again back in November, and we'll have at least a few
more joining very soon).  Conservancy always has a policy to place the
needs of existing members over new applications, so sometimes we don't
move as quickly as we'd like on new applications.

This is also another common difference between (c)(3)'s and (c)(6)'s.
Because (c)(6)'s are permitted to act directly in the interest of
companies, companies are often more willing to give to (c)(6)'s because
they can "buy" a certain amount of influence.  Thus, the (c)(6)'s
budgets are usually larger.

(c)(3)'s, by contrast, are actually legally prohibited from acting in a
way designed to benefit a specific company or individual.  As such, it
also means that fundraising is admittedly a bit more difficult sometimes
for a (c)(3) than a (c)(6).  So, you'll find the (c)(3)'s in our space
usually have less staffing, etc.

> Meanwhile, we assigned the copyright to the 'Project'. I'm not really
> sure about the legal ramifications, and I still wish there's a
> foundation similar to SFC which protects Netty.

Something that isn't a legal entity can't hold copyright.  I do see
frequently that some Free Software projects have notices say "Copyright,
The Project".  However, if "The Project" isn't a legal entity in some
jurisdiction somewhere in the world, that's probably not a valid
copyright notice, and I recommend against using it.  (The good news is
that most jurisdictions don't require copyright notices to have a
copyright claim, so the damage is minimal and more of just a confusion.)

For Conservancy's part, Conservancy doesn't require copyright assignment
nor CLAs for our member projects, but we instead help projects decide
what they want to do in this regard and help them develop policies that
work for the project.  Some Conservancy projects use CLAs, some don't,
and the ones that do have varying CLA terms.  Some accept copyright
assignment to Conservancy for the project; some don't at all.
Bradley M. Kuhn, Executive Director, Software Freedom Conservancy