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Join the Working Together for Free Software Fund

by Free Software Foundation Contributions Published on Dec 19, 2017 12:07 PM
GNU toolchain developers

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has been a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity since 1985, with a social mission to promote and defend computer user freedom. Over the past three decades leading the free software movement, we have seen the power that motivated individuals and the free software community have in making a difference for user freedom. The FSF is home to the world's first fully free computer operating system, the GNU Project, which consists of different software packages working together.

The Working Together for Free Software Fund is a family of GNU software packages and other projects that are fiscally sponsored by the FSF. Free software projects interested in joining GNU can submit an application for evaluation. Conferences and other projects working on free software and digital freedom issues can also be fiscally sponsored by the FSF. Joining the Working Together for Free Software Fund can provide projects with additional capacity and unique benefits while supporting the free software community.

"We're developing GNU MediaGoblin because we believe user freedom is important, especially in the Web. We're proud to be teaming up with the Free Software Foundation in the fight to put power back into the hands of users."

— Christine Lemmer-Webber, GNU MediaGoblin founder and lead developer

What is fiscal sponsorship from the FSF?

Becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or other corporate entity is no small feat, with responsibilities including the incorporation process itself, ongoing paperwork and records maintenance, periodic regulatory filings, and adequate internal controls and governance. For software projects, conferences, and groups who want to focus on their work without the need to be a formal incorporated entity, fiscal sponsorship can be the answer.

Projects whose scope and purpose align with the FSF's mission and further mission-related activities can become fiscally sponsored by joining the FSF's Working Together for Free Software Fund. In addition to receiving increased awareness and donations, partners in the fund are able to take advantage of the FSF's incorporated status, organizational capacity, fundraising apparatus, and governance infrastructure, without the need to incorporate on their own. Fiscally sponsored projects further benefit from the FSF's trusted reputation in the technical, user freedom, and nonprofit communities -- the independent nonprofit evaluator Charity Navigator has given the FSF the highest rating possible, four stars, for fiscal responsibility and transparency.

Some examples of what fiscally sponsored projects spend funds on include: developer salaries, conference travel, developer sprints and other project events, hardware, development and distribution infrastructure, legal expenses, and Web site design/maintenance. Project expenditures are vetted by the FSF, but are directed by the projects themselves through a representative appointed by the project. In return, the FSF accepts a 10% administrative fee to help support overhead related to offering fiscal sponsorship.

"This is another great initiative from the FSF aimed at providing funds benefiting the GNU Toolchain and its sub-components. While these projects enjoy a strong and vibrant community of both users and contributors, this fund will help at the operational level, providing additional support towards the collaborative improvement and growth of these projects and their community. It will also help those projects move forward in new areas that collaboration alone could not reach."

— Joel Brobecker, GNU Debugger global maintainer and release manager

What benefits do fiscally sponsored projects receive?

Advantages of an incorporated not-for-profit entity

  • The FSF manages all ongoing regulatory filings, and all corporate governance compliance that is required of incorporated nonprofits
  • Bookkeeping and regular financial reporting of organization and project funds, including an annual audit by an outside firm
  • Tax exemptions for purchases that typically require sales tax
  • Ability to enter into legal contracts (including conference hall rental agreements and vendor contracts, such as with graphic designers)
  • As a nonprofit, the FSF can hold project assets for the public good on behalf of projects, including copyrights, physical equipment, and domain names
  • Ability to purchase liability and event insurance for activities such as conferences or workshops
  • Ability to receive charitable donations that can be tax-deductible in the US using the FSF's nonprofit tax ID (we also accept donations in Euro and British Pound)
  • The FSF is always working on the ability to accept donations in an expanding number of formats -- currently we can accept donations via Bitcoin, Litecoin, wire transfer, check, cash, credit card, PayPal, and in the form of in-kind gifts
  • Ability to receive funds through workplace giving campaigns, such as the Combined Federal Campaign, and corporate matching gift programs
  • Comfort in knowing the FSF is managing all donation acknowledgment, documentation, and regulatory requirements in a timely manner so that projects can focus on their work
  • Credit card and PayPal donations are processed instantly; other types of donations are processed within 1 to 2 business days, with acknowledgments being sent out within 1 week of donation receipt

Fundraising guidance and resources

  • Ability to send mass emails to project donors and supporters using the FSF's free software-powered mailing system and constituent management system
  • Access to other fundraising resources, such as dynamic progress bars for crowdfunding drives
  • Participation in the FSF's development and communications infrastructure, which can help promote projects and lead to additional contributions and awareness; this includes an initial announcement to our 180,000+ subscribers and 4,500+ members, as well as regular promotion of project updates and news through our networks
  • The FSF's $1.5 million annual budget is primarily funded by a diverse, committed group of individual supporters -- projects can take advantage of the FSF's experience from over three decades of successfully engaging and stewarding individual donations

Leadership, expertise, and mentoring

  • FSF staff and leadership have decades of technical, legal, and nonprofit-management experience, which can be leveraged by projects in the form of advice and mentoring
  • Free software licensing guidance from the FSF's Licensing & Compliance Lab

Office infrastructure

  • Access to a SIP audio conferencing system
  • Mailing address (for project-related mail and deliveries) at the FSF Boston office
  • Coworking and meeting space at the FSF Boston office

Fiscal sponsorship is a practical, resource-effective way for projects to continue supporting the free software community while having the capabilities of a larger organization. Partnering with the FSF as a fiscally sponsored project can pave the way to sustainable growth, deeper impact, and wider audiences, all with the comfort of knowing the Free Software Foundation's reputation and entirely free software infrastructure is behind the project. Email to join the Working Together for Free Software Fund today.

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