Posts Tagged with “volunteers”

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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