There has been a lot of discussion lately about Software Freedom Conservancy's fundraiser.
Various questions come to my mind:
When all the options are compared, is Conservancy the best one? Maybe it is, but it would be great to confirm why we reached that conclusion.
Could it be necessary to choose two or more options that complement each other? Conservancy may just be one part of the solution and we may get a far better outcome if money is divided between Conservancy and insurance and something else.
What about all the other expenses that developers incur while producing free software? Many other professionals, like doctors, do work that is just as valuable for society but they are not made to feel guilty about asking for payment and reimbursement. (In fact, for doctors, there is no shortage of it from the drug companies).
There seems to be an awkwardness about dealing with money in the free software world and it means many projects continue to go from one crisis to the next. Just yesterday on another mailing list there was discussion about speakers regularly asking for reimbursement to attend conferences and at least one strongly worded email appeared questioning whether people asking about money are sufficiently enthusiastic about free software or if they are only offering to speak in the hope their trip will be paid.
The DebConf team experienced one of the more disappointing examples of a budget communication issue when developers who had already volunteered long hours to prepare for the event then had to give up valuable time during the conference to wash the dishes for 300 people. Had the team simply insisted that the high cost of local labor was known when the country was selected then the task could have been easily outsourced to local staff. This came about because some members of the community felt nervous about asking for budget and other people couldn't commit to spend.
Rather than stomping on developers who ask about money or anticipate the need for it in advance, I believe we need to ask people if money was not taboo, what is the effort they could contribute to the free software world and how much would they need to spend in a year for all the expenses that involved. After all, isn't that similar to the appeal from Conservancy's directors? If all developers and contributors were suitably funded, then many people would budget for contributions to Conservancy, other insurances, attending more events and a range of other expenses that would make the free software world operate more smoothly.
In contrast, the situation we have now (for event-related expenses) is that developers funding themselves or with tightly constrained budgets or grants often have to spend hours picking through AirBNB and airline web sites trying to get the best deal while those few developers who do have more flexible corporate charge cards just pick a convenient hotel and don't lose any time reading through the fine print to see if there are charges for wifi, breakfast, parking, hidden taxes and all the other gotchas because all of that will be covered for them.
With developer budgets/wishlists documented, where will the money come from? Maybe it won't appear, maybe it will. But if we don't ask for it at all, we are much less likely to get anything. Mozilla has recently suggested that developers need more cash and offered to put $1 million on the table to fix the problem, is it possible other companies may see the benefit of this and put up some cash too?
The time it takes to promote one large budget and gather donations is probably far more efficient than the energy lost firefighting lots of little crisis situations.
Being more confident about money can also do a lot more to help engage people and make their participation sustainable in the long term. For example, if a younger developer is trying to save the equivalent of two years of their salary to pay a deposit on a house purchase, how will they feel about giving money to Conservancy or paying their own travel expenses to a free software event? Are their families and other people they respect telling them to spend or to save and if our message is not compatible with that, is it harder for us to connect with these people?
One other thing to keep in mind is that budgeting needs to include the costs of those who may help the fund-raising and administration of money. If existing members of our projects are not excited about doing such work we have to be willing to break from the "wait for a volunteer or do-it-yourself" attitude. There are so many chores that we are far more capable of doing as developers that we still don't have time for, we are only fooling ourselves if we anticipate that effective fund-raising will take place without some incentives going back to those who do the work.