On the Sustainability of the GNOME Foundation
This blog post was originally a question and answer on GNOME’s Discourse to discuss how candidates to the board would be able to help making the GNOME Foundation sustainable.
Following a blog post by GNOME Foundation’s president Robert McQueen about The Next Steps for the GNOME Foundation, GNOME Designer and Foundation’s board member Allan Day opened a discussion for the board to issue recommendations to the GNOME Foundation members when voting for a candidate.
This post and issue both highlight the change that happened for the past few years in the Foundation board and staff. They also emphasise how urgent is has become for the Foundation to have experienced directors with strong skills to make its activities sustainable.
An important question for the candidates to answer is: what would make you a good asset to follow the Foundation’s strategy and assist it to become sustainable?
- With fairly pessimistic considerations that 2020 is matching pre-2018 income (roughly $275k/y) and 2019 expenses (roughly $600k/y), I am not going to be able to find sustainable funding in the next 12 to 18 months to match the Foundation’s current expenses. This can very likely have dramatic consequences on the Foundation staff.
- We don’t have the yearly report yet, but pessimistic considerations don’t seem too far fetched since the board discussed revising the Reserves Policy. It is fair to assume we are nearing the $600k of reserve.
- The pace at which the Foundation was reformed was very quick, and unless we receive other large donations such as the 2018 and 2019 ones, we won’t be able to reach financial equilibrium. Note: this corresponds to my knowledge of the finances of the Foundation from previous reports, the 2020 report has not been issued as I’m writing this post.
- We need to make radical changes in the way we work to attract donors, and this is where I can help.
Before assessing whether I’ll be a great asset to help with the Foundation’s sustainability, I believe it’s important to share my expectations from the Foundation and its mission, and how to succeed here.
The GNOME Foundation is not GNOME’s vendor. The Foundation’s purpose is to deliver a vision representative of its members' opinion, do mediation & coordination work between its members and third-parties to materialise the vision. Its role is not to implement the vision, but to support the individuals and organisations willing to do it. In the rest of the post when I mention “how to implement the strategy”, I mean how to set-up proper support to incentivise third-parties to actually implement it. That can mean for example conducting a study on the state of accessbility, and assisting third-parties interested in making it better to hire competent people.
The GNOME Project is extremely difficult to monetise directly for reasons I have explained in more detail in this blog post. TLDR: for-profit organisations can’t really make money by selling open source software to the general public.
Many countries have entered the era of “everything digital” and computers have become more than an extension of ourselves: they have become essential products. Thinking that most countries are going to follow that trend isn’t too far fetched. “Everything digital” makes sense because it automates a lot of our boring tasks. But it also enables mass surveillance. GNOME remains more relevant than ever to provide healthy “digital organs” to the masses and more particularly to the groups who can be targeted by this surveillance.
The GNOME Foundation can strive if it provides significant help to people who need it, and advertises it. Obviously, the way for us to grow is not to rely on individuals' donations but on partnerships with organisations which can benefit from the GNOME Project.
Getting the Job Done
First, the Foundation needs to have a clear view about who it can help, what problems they face, how GNOME can help solving it, where it falls short, and how the Foundation can help making GNOME better for those groups.
Given that the Foundation is a non-profit living out of donations, there are two important premises mandatory to earn donors' trust: transparency and accountability. We have room for improvement on both of those.
I can help us do better on those, and in particular:
- In the same way a commit on a public repository is not proper communication with the outside world, having issues about strategy on an open tracker is not proper communication to people who can benefit from our work.
- For entities to support us, we must have a clear, public and motivated strategy. Most importantly, we need to release a roadmap on how to achieve it. We have failed to deliver it in the past few years and it has cost us greatly in terms of trust. Being involved in large scale projects in my company, I am used to producing and presenting strategies and roadmaps to stakeholders so our team can get a budget.
- Since the first source of spending will be the employee wages, a monthly “progress on the strategy” blog post from the Executive Director to highlight what we have been doing with employee time will help donors understand that we’re moving in the right direction even if there are no visible results yet. Here again, this is something I’m used to doing.
- When we don’t deliver the milestones in a timely manner, it’s crucial to acknowledge it, understand why, revise the roadmap and make propositions regarding how to reach the target