Posts Tagged with “grants”

Catching Up with July

August 14th, 2006

In July I mentioned a couple of projects that are now underway. The beginnings of Mozilla “prototypes” can be found at It’s in the early stages, which is the perfect time for good ideas to carry weight. So take a look and see if the early phases capture something in your imagination.

Separately, Seth Bindernagel has plunged in to get our Community Giving program underway. I said I would describe what we hoped to accomplish in more detail, but Seth has done this better than I could, so head over to his blog to find out where things stand.

Welcome Seth Bindernagel

July 10th, 2006

In early June I noted that we had found a great person to lead development of a grants and donations program and that we would turn to this topic in mid-July. That person is Seth Bindernagel, we’re coming up on mid-July, and Seth joins us at the Mozilla Corporation today.

The goals of the program are to help strengthen the Mozilla community. They are not to turn volunteers into employees or to reduce the number of employees. We’re not looking to be an all-purpose grant–making organization, or to be gigantic. The point is to use all the different kinds of resources available to strengthen our community, and that currently includes some financial resources.

Seth will join us for an initial 6 months to flesh out how this might be done, to try an initial set of programs and develop a clearer view of our path before joining us permanently. The focus is not on making a big bang, but on doing useful things. Seth and I spent some time articulating this work more clearly. I’ll post this separately, since this welcome is long enough already.

This is an unusual role. We are lucky to have found Seth, whose background in business and social entrepreneurship matches remarkably well. Seth comes to us from the Haas School of Business at the University of California. While there, he focused on socially responsible business, co-leading the school’s Net Impact Club and serving as co-chair of Judging for the Global Social Venture Competition. He was also a member of the winning team for the Global Ethics Challenge. Before business school Seth spent three years working with Ashoka, a global nonprofit organization focusing on advancing the profession of social entrepreneurship.

At Ashoka Seth served as the Program Manager for the U.S. and Canada programs. With the team, Seth helped search for and select leading entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada who were creating new ideas to solve critical social problems. He helped launch Ashoka’s Accelerator for Social Entrepreneurship, which brought together Ashoka’s corporate partners Hill & Knowlton, McKinsey & Co., and the International Senior Lawyers Project with Ashoka Fellows in need of pro bono professional support. These partners donated their time and industry expertise to Fellows who were starting new organizations with strategic development needs. Seth helped organize all orientation and induction programs for the new social entrepreneurs entering the Ashoka Fellowship. Seth has consulted many different social ventures during his time at Berkeley, including the Omidyar Network, Ashoka, World of Good, and the San Francisco Giants Community Fund.

Please help make Seth feel at home. Feel free to ask him about his experiences, about why he switched his undergraduate degree from engineering to “Agriculture, Resource, and Managerial Economics,” about sports in general and baseball in particular. Please make some time to help Seth get to understand the Mozilla project so he can do more sooner. Seth will have a Mozilla related blog up and running shortly, I’ll point to it.

Coming 10 July 06: More on the grants and donations program

June 6th, 2006

In late March I wrote a bit about a grants and donations program I’d like to get started. Since then I’ve received some great comments about some of the issues this raises, some suggestions and seen some press comments. Even more important, we’ve come across someone we think is the right person to help us make progress. He’s someone with a proven commitment to the thoughtful use of funds to improve community and community leaders as well as background in business matters, which is important and designing and implementing programs related to money. He’s just graduating from business school, is taking a month off and will start working on this program on July 10. So this is a note to say that we haven’t forgotten about this, we’re making progress and expect more in a month.

Until then I want to emphasize that the goal of any program we test is not to turn our community into employees. The goal of such a program is to learn if and how we can use some of the Firefox revenue to support and strengthen the activities of the Mozilla community beyond those people employed by the Foundation and Mozilla Corporation.

A number of the comments I received refer to the dangers of doing anything with money. They express the concern that any programs involving money run the risk of contaminating our community, or of turning it into a mercenary group interested only in money. I understand the risks. I also believe there are risks in ignoring money. Firefox generates revenue now, that’s a fact. So we need to deal with money. (And we have the privilege of being able to employ people to work full time on Mozilla, which I believe is necessary for a project of our size and scope. Not all open source projects believe this however, and some are wary of employees or almost any activity that requires the distribution of funds.)

We use all other resources to strengthen our community. Key contributors devote time to paying attention to others, to helping others, to getting help from others. We redesign our planning, development and marketing processes to make them easier for others to particulate and to build on what we do. We evaluate our technology to make it increasingly useful for others to build things. We distribute authority and leadership. We value reviewing patches written by others, sometimes above having experts code themselves.

The idea of using money to help strengthen our community is new. Having revenues is new for most open source projects and so there isn’t a lot of experience in how to use it wisely to build community. It’s possible the doubters are correct, and the best thing to do is use it all for employees, expenses, bandwidth, infrastructure and a savings account. I hope this is not the case and we can strengthen the commitment and effectiveness of the Mozilla contributors and the reach of the Mozilla project through small applications of funds to the right places.

It feels to me that we should try. Our DNA is to distribute all sorts of things that conventional wisdom says (or said) can’t be done: distributing code without charge, distributing the development of that code, distributing authority over that code, distributing outreach programs (think Spread Firefox and the localization communities), distributing motivations, expertise and leadership. I’d like to see if we can develop some programs to distribute funds where appropriate.

We’ll turn to this in detail in mid-July.

Grants and donations

March 24th, 2006

I mentioned in a previous post the intention to start grant-making and donations programs to transfer some of the Firefox related revenue coming to the Mozilla Corporation to the Mozilla community and perhaps related efforts. Here is my current thinking on the guiding principles I would like to see used in developing and implementing such a program. There’s plenty of room for improvement and you may have alternative suggestions that would be better. Please let me know.

1. The Mozilla Corporation has revenue from Firefox. We use that revenue to support the Mozilla project infrastructure, activities and a critical mass of employees at the Mozilla Corporation. But the Mozilla project involves many organizations and people besides the Mozilla Foundation, Mozilla Corporation and their employees. The quality and adoption of Firefox are based on the activities of this much larger set of people. Using some of the Firefox revenue to support and strengthen the activities of this larger Mozilla community can benefit the Mozilla project in many ways. It reflects the stewardship role that permeates the Mozilla Corporation and Foundation. It might allow volunteers to devote more time to the project, and help them feel better when they do.

2. Ideally, a grant and donation program will reflect Mozilla project dynamics. We build software in a distributed, collaborative fashion where many people make decisions in their area of expertise and contribute their input to the greater whole. This brings a richness and vitality to the project that no one person or small group of people could generate. I’d like to try to capture that model our grant-making and donations programs.

So my initial thinking is not to create a single, centralized grant-making body that evaluates all proposals. I’m thinking that it might be possible (and very exciting) to create a program that moves decision-making about where grants and donations should go deep into our community. Over the years we’ve had a number of organizations that have played an important role in the Mozilla project — mozillazine, mozdev, Mozilla Japan, Mozilla Europe, xulplanet, the localization groups, the Spread Firefox community come to mind immediately, and I’m sure this list off the top of my head has grievous omissions. These organizations know more about their part of the Mozilla project and their participants than a central organization ever will. One could see these type of organizations as potential recipients of grants or donations. I also see them as potential decision-makers about getting grants or donations deeper into our community — to individual people and activities. Perhaps different parts of the Mozilla community will be best served by different uses of funds. For example, perhaps a set of contributors from one geographic area would propose machines for themselves for their work. But perhaps they would find greater satisfaction and motivation by donating materials to a local library or school to benefit a larger set of people. To my mind, either could be a good use of funds. If anything we try ends up being disruptive we’ll adjust.

3. Large grants may be appropriate in some cases. I’m personally inclined to aim for many smaller grants and donations. The goals in doing this are:

  • recognize and involve many people
  • try many things to see what works — is buying books for contributors who need them for school a good use of funds? Is helping people get to conferences and events a good use? Are scholarships a good use? Is paying rent or tuition for a contributor a good use?
  • reduce the loss when some grant or donation doesn’t work out — nothing is perfect.

4. I don’t know if there is a good pre-existing model for this. It would be nice to find one, since there is no sense reinventing the wheel. I do know there are innovative approaches to identifying needs and donors. For example, I recently donated specific math materials to a needy classroom through the “Donors Choose” program. This program allows classroom teachers to specify materials their students need, and allows potential donors to select exactly the project they want to fund. In my case I choose something I feel strongly about (mathematical literacy) in the public school district I attended (which was bad then and worse now). It means much more to me a general program for “improving math skills” would. I’m not suggesting the Donors Choose program as our model. I mention it because the feel of actually touching someone’s life with something concrete is very real. I would love to see us get something of this feel in what we do.

5. It will take some work to make this happen. But the Mozilla community is the key to what we are and what we do. It is a fundamental element of our accomplishments to date and of our possibilities for the future. Using resources to support that community feels like the right thing to do and a good investment in the expanded health and vitality of the Mozilla project. That makes it worth the effort.

Suggestions, improvements, alternative approaches welcome.

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