Non-Profit Centers of FLOSS Development

Audience level:
March 9th 4:40 p.m. – 5:20 p.m.


Free, Libre & Open Source Software (FLOSS) began as a not-for-profit endeavor. FLOSS licenses permit commercial & non-commercial activity, but the heart of FLOSS remains in the not-for-profit space. Kuhn will discuss advantages of non-profit structure and how non-profits facilitate neutral territory. Kuhn will also present options for projects that seek to operate officially as a non-profit org.


Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) began as a not-for-profit
endeavor.  FLOSS licenses have, of course, always been designed to
permit both commercial and non-commercial activity; however, the heart
of FLOSS development remains in the not-for-profit space.  For
example, much of the early GNU software that makes up our modern
GNU/Linux systems was written by staff developers employed by the Free
Software Foundation (FSF) to write that software and release it under
Free Software licenses.

In recent years, non-profits have been somewhat underutilized to
advance software freedom.  Most projects now organize informally, with
both volunteer contributors and corporate contributors.  Informal
affiliations have their advantage, but the downside of no formal
organization existing for the project itself can often lead to missed
opportunities for the project.

However, there are serious advantages of non-profit organizational
structure for FLOSS projects. Non-profits exist as "neutral territory"
for a project's community.  Funders -- including for-profit companies,
non-profit grant-making institutions and individuals -- can give
through the non-profit to support the activity of the project
generally instead of merely supporting one specific contributor.
Non-profits can be used to advance the project's goals in a way that
benefits the public good, which adds an additional "check" to verify
the project has not been hijacked, for example, by a single for-profit

There are a variety of mechanisms that a project can use to become
officially a non-profit.  A project can create their own, or join an
existing non-profit "fiscal sponsor" who handles the non-profit
activity of the project on the project's behalf.  This talk will cover
many of the options that exist for FLOSS projects that wish to begin
operating officially as an official not-for-profit organization.  Most
of the talk will focus on the USA, but will also include some
international considerations.