Whether your open source project is just getting started or has been around for years, it may be time to consider the benefits of migrating to a non-profit organization.
Several excellent nonprofits exist solely to support open source projects, offering a range of services including everything from basic fiscal sponsorship to business and legal resources, infrastructure and tech support, quality control and project management, community building and more.
Projects hosted by The Linux Foundation, for example, benefit from the resources and experience the organization has gained over the past decade managing the most successful collaborative software project in history, Linux, as well as other open source projects. OpenDaylight, Xen Project, Code Aurora Forum, openMAMA, Tizen FOSSBazaar and the Yocto Project are all Linux Foundation Collaborative Projects .
In short, you gain access to experienced open source strategists and managers who handle the details surrounding the project, allowing you to focus on cranking out code.
Sounds great, right? But finding a new home can be a daunting process given the range of options available and the numerous factors involved in the decision, agreed a panel of directors from six open source nonprofits who spoke at OSCON this week in Portland.
“I always encourage people when they’re shopping to talk to all of their options,” said Bradley Kuhn, executive director of the Software Freedom Conservancy , during the presentation. Then choose the one that’s the best fit for your project, he said.
Other members of the panel included Nóirín Plunkett, an Apache Software Foundation  board member; Ian Skerrett, marketing director at the Eclipse Foundation ; Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation ; Paula Hunter, executive director of the Outercurve Foundation ; and Josh Berkus from Software in the Public Interest .
Five Factors to Consider
Here are five important factors, of the many the panel discussed, that are important to consider when choosing a nonprofit organization to house an open source software project.
- How far along is the project?
The application requirements for a project’s maturity vary among the different organizations. But no organization yet offers services to a project that’s just getting started. At a minimum, you’ll need a code base – though it may not need to be compiled or released in some cases.
- How many services do you need?
Open source organizations offer a spectrum of services that ranges from providing only fiscal sponsorship, to a full professional suite similar to what you might find as a project hosted within a corporation.
Software in the Public Interest, for example, is a fiscal sponsor that specializes in providing a bank account and a means for receiving charitable donations along with some other basic services. The Software Freedom Conservancy by comparison offers many benefits in addition to fiscal sponsorship such as liability protection for volunteers and trademark registration.
- How much do you pay to be a member?
Some nonprofits charge membership dues, a percent of each directed donation, or a percent of gross revenue to join. While others, including the Apache Software Foundation and OuterCurve, don’t charge a fee at all and rely on charitable donations or corporate sponsors to support their services.
- How fast do you need to move?
Oftentimes the speed of the process is determined by how many resources a nonprofit brings to bear on the project, as well as where the project is coming from and the license it is registered under.
“If it’s already under a commercial license, the lawyers can slow it down,” Outercurve’s Paula Hunter said.
Relatively large organization such as The Linux Foundation can move quickly to bring in a project and get it up and running – 60 days in the case of the OpenDaylight Project , Zemlin said.
At Apache, the fastest they’ve moved a project was 3 months, said Plunkett. While the Software Freedom Conservancy could take a year or more to bring projects in off the waiting list, Kuhn said. And SPI moves quickly, but doesn’t offer as many services, Berkus said.
- What happens if the project dies?
Most projects don’t want to consider that they might one day close down, but it’s an important question to ask when looking for a nonprofit sponsor, said Hunter. You’ll want to know whether the codebase is archived and how easily it can be resurrected should someone else want to pick up where you left off.
No matter which organization you may choose to house your open source project, however, know that you’ll be participating in the latest and greatest model of software development.
“The work all these organizations are doing is important. They’re setting up the future structure of technical collaboration throughout the industry,” said Zemlin.
“We provide a structure of IP management, fundraising, and promotion to enable (open source development) on a truly grand scale,” he said. “To harness tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of man resources that exist in the organizations that underwrite the collaboration.”