- The grants and funding program needs a formal structure overall.
- The sourcing of funds needs to be transparent and the process of sourcing funds well defined.
- It is meaningful for FOSS United to act as an umbrella org like the Apache foundation to host and support FOSS related projects, act like a “medium” to source funds (for orgs who are interested in funding FOSS but do not have a framework, time, or capacity) and distribute to FOSS projects.
- The “co-sponsorship” program needs to be formalized.
- A public committee should be formed to run this program and to take all funding and grant decisions.
All grants that have been given out via FOSS United (its own funds from its bank account) and via co-sponsorship are published here: FOSS funding and grants - FOSS United. In the last two years, we have been able to support some amazing FOSS and FOSS-related projects and orgs in India, which clearly validates the necessity of such a program.
FOSS United’s own funds were general funds not specifically raised for grants, but events, sponsorships etc. This includes funds from the two current patron organisations Frappe and Zerodha and from funds that came for event sponsorships like IndiaFOSS from multiple orgs.
Co-sponsored grants have so far been funded by my personal commitment from Zerodha. The funds were disbursed directly by Zerodha to the grantees after evaluation and approval by the FOSS United team. Ongoing evaluation and any other organisational support are done by FOSS United (eg: ongoing partnership between TinkerHub and FOSS United. FOSS programs for learners, mon.school etc). Co-sponsorship (or a managed grant) is when a funder directly funds a project on behalf of an org that manages it (FOSS United in this case).
A quasi Apache Foundation like model is naturally emerging because there seems to be an obvious vacuum in this space. An organisation/institutional framework seems to be valuable to many FOSS related projects and activities. For example, FOSS United is the official partner to DebConf 2023 to help them with handling and disbursing of funds for the event.
The grants program has picked up steam and we’re seeing reasonably regular incoming interest. This is a great sign! So far, the FOSS United team has been processing/evaluating/approving grants. The ideal next step is to create a proper grants committee with members from the FOSS United and the community who operate with well defined guidelines for decision making and management of grants. @rushabh stresses that the community should have ownership of the grants program and its funding activities also, not just projects and events. Just like how all of the FOSS United events are volunteer/community owned and run, the funding and grants program should also be. I agree.
External funding and co-sponsorship especially needs a formal structure. Suggestions:
- Invite orgs (or funders) to commit FOSS grant funds to FOSS United which the grants committee evaluates and approves or rejects based on the formal guidelines.
- Allow funders flexibility on how how their funds can be used, as long as it fits with the formal guidelines and the committee approves. For instance, some funders might want to fund a specific FOSS project, or a set of FOSS projects. Some funders might only want to fund events or scholarships etc. I think such flexibility can attract more funders.
- Have a formal agreement process between FOSS United and the funder or co-sponsor.
- Utilisation and disbursal of committed funds from the co-sponsor organisation will be handled by the grants committee.
- The FOSS United board, which is legally liable for everything, will naturally have a veto to be exercised if such a necessity arises, as always, with clear, objective reasoning.
PS: Retaining unused funds in a non-profit’s bank account across financial years attracts taxation and increased compliance burden. A co-sponsorship structure can also help with this, where the funds that may not be immediately utilised does not have to be transferred to the non-profit for safe keeping (which is an added obligation in itself).
Like the community membership program attempt that’s happening in parallel, this also requires time commitment and strong accountability (obviously, as this involves money). Personally, I’ve spent significant amounts of time over the last couple of years interviewing grantees and evaluating projects, dealing with finance and compliance etc., trying to grow the grants and funding program with the help of the FOSS United team, especially @WishArya. More recently @realvinay has committed time to lead this effort and build a structure around it, including forming this committee and preparing the decision making and compliance/legal guidelines.
Please share your feedback on the proposal. If you are interested in being a part of the funding and grants committee and are ready to commit time, please let us know.