Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sponsored vs supported

Probably the most relevant non technical action that a community executes is events. Most mature communities organize one or several big events in different part of the world with different goals, but one of them is common in every single case: engagement needs face to face relations. We are humans....after all.

In order to organize these events, sooner or later you need a legal organization that provides financial support to these actions. You might not know that, in words of the founders, this was the main reason behind the foundation of KDE e.V. .

And when you want to bring contributors together, most organizations end up having as goal to financially support some of them since they cannot afford it:
  • The trip is expensive since they come from the other side of the world.
  • They come from countries where the cost of the trip or accommodation represent the salary of a year.
  • They are students, so they have little income.
  • They have family and they cannot afford the expenses derived from being a week far from home.

There are many more use cases.

So one way or the other, most organization that support FLOSS communities dedicate resources for supporting contributors to attend to its main event(s). But if we look closer, there are small differences among different organizations.

Some differences among organizations.

Since resources are limited, organizations try to make sure they support those who have made significant contributions to the project throughout the year. Being supported/sponsored though, have frequently attached an expectation of being heavily involved in the event itself. Giving a talk or helping the organizers are the more obvious expected actions.

The difference comes when making these variables a plus or a requirement for being sponsored.

The process for being sponsored is also different. The tools used to manage the request/reimbursement process and the "amount of support" too. I will not get into those.

There is a "motivational" difference that do not have much impact but that I have always found interesting. Some organizations support their contributors "as a reward" and some do it "as a duty".

The first case means that some kind of "thank you" is expected/required, linked to that support, as usual when you receive a prize. This act of gratitude might come in different forms but usually tend to publicly reflect that support. The basic idea behind it is to justify the investment in order to increase the level of sponsorship the organization gets from donors. It is a very popular approach in other industries/areas and there are a good number of FLOSS organizations that follow this model.

The other approach, the "support as duty", is based on the principle that if you have made a significant contribution, that is, you are part of the community, and since the organization is there to support the community , it is its duty to support you. So the support comes with no recognition as requirement.  No "public thank you" is expected.

Some refer to this as the difference between being sponsored versus being supported.

My view on this last topic

In different countries/cultures, the sense and consequences of "thank you" are different. Also, the reasons that can "invite" you to ask for support might not be fun to talk, or being being questioned about. You might not feel comfortable by being identify as "sponsored". It also might generate some undesired debate about who is being sponsored or why among people that do not have all the information.

Over the years I have changed my mind. Lately I identify myself more with the second approach, which do not mean I am against the first one. It has a point too.

In any case, what matters is that FLOSS organizations has supporting contributors to attend to the community event as one of their main goals.

A request

If you are not very familiar with how Free Software is developed, all this might sound strange. Investing money in paying trips and accommodation to go to an event to have fun with no or very little deliverables in return?

When thinking about donating to a community project or sponsoring it, ask for this particular topic to the Board of the organization behind it or the coordinators of the travel support program. You will be surprised by how important is this topic for them. They will provide reasons that, I am sure, will satisfy you.

For me, and many others, is one of the main reasons why these organizations deserve to be sponsored. Face to face meetings are essential to build a healthy community or ecosystem and many people have no way to attend if third parties do not sponsor/support them.
Post a Comment