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Fifteen years of FSF associate members

by John Sullivan Contributions Published on Jun 05, 2018 02:10 PM

Last fall marked fifteen years of the FSF's associate membership program. Shortly after, I celebrated my own fifteenth anniversary with the FSF. I've never known an FSF without associate members. The membership program was launched in late 2002 to stabilize the FSF financially, as some previous sources of support -- like sales of software and manuals on physical media -- were falling out of fashion.

It worked, and it continues to work. Last year, member dues accounted for over half of our total revenue, and nearly ten times as much as we received from corporations. But membership from the start has been much more than a way to donate. Members form a proud community united around the idea that people, in order to be free, must be in control of the software they rely on to live their lives.

Today, we have members in over eighty countries. I feel very close to this community -- especially to the 136 members who have been with us all fifteen years. I've gotten to know their names through stuffing thousands of envelopes, exchanging many emails, and shaking hands -- first at the annual member meetings we held, at the LibrePlanet conferences they grew into, and at many other events around the world.

Members drive the success of our campaigns for universal free software adoption and ideological support for user freedom. They are the early adopters of decentralized, federated social networks, and the dedicated users of Replicant, the free version of Android. They advocate in their local schools and places of work. They write much of the free software that makes the modern world operate. I'm incredibly proud to know these folks, and to work side by side with them.

But increasingly, members are joining us who are not long-time free software users or developers. They include folks who don't have the technical know-how to be early adopters. They see the havoc wreaked on people's lives by the likes of Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, and they want someone to do something about it. These members are just as important. They are key to this movement's success at turning free software into a kitchen table issue.

If the movement is to succeed, we're going to need many more than 4,600 members. But we are finding it increasingly difficult to break through the daily tidal wave of technology news to reach the audiences we need to reach. In 2002, getting on Slashdot guaranteed a flood of attention. That is no longer true, as so many more news sources and newsmakers compete for attention. It is particularly challenging for the FSF, because so many news and news-sharing platforms require nonfree software.

We need your help. If you're not yet a member, please become one. If you are, help recruit others. When you log into your account at my.fsf.org, you'll find a membership badge you can use on social media profiles or your Web site. Let your friends and coworkers know why you support user freedom and ask them to join you. We have a comprehensive list of benefits at fsf.org/associate/benefits; the instant messaging service we provide is notable for people who are tired of their communications being surveilled and manipulated by Facebook. We're also expanding resources to help members meet and collaborate. We're relaunching the FSF Associate Membership Forum at fsf.org/associate/forum, and putting on more events for members alongside conferences around the world.

This year, we received a $1 million Bitcoin donation from the Pineapple Fund. That will give our work a powerful shot in the arm. But it was associate members who drove the technological and activist work that attracted the donation. There would be no FSF without them. We need you now more than ever. While we've done very well as "small but mighty," I hope that fifteen years from now, we'll be counting our members in the millions.

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