As we progress into Q4 and the end-of-year budget cycle for many organizations, I’d like to have a conversation about budget surplus, and how to steer those dollars away from marketing efforts and into your open source infrastructure.
Yes, Budget Surplus Is A Thing
We can call it “budget surplus” (we unexpectedly made more than we thought) or “budget underspend” (we unexpectedly spent less than we planned), but for the purpose of this post I’m just going to call it all “budget surplus” as the effect is much the same: you get to the end of the quarter or fiscal year with some unspent funds. Typically, if you don’t spend the money, it gets swept away by your Finance department. In many cases, this can result in a budget reduction for you next year.
When organizations find themselves with budget surplus, the solution is to find one-off spending opportunities that don’t create long term engagements or expectations. Budget surplus often gets reinvested in the business in the form of marketing. Ad space is virtually limitless, and it’s an industry that has optimized for quick turnaround of one-off expenses (once you have the ad materials). There’s nothing wrong with spending your budget surplus on marketing. But I propose that there is a better way.
The Easy Stuff
There are ample opportunities to make quick, one-off investments in your open source infrastructure. Depending on where you are in your open source sponsorship journey, you may have already done the easy stuff. But just in case, here are some quick wins that should require minimal time to execute.
Foundations like the Apache Software Foundation, NumFOCUS, the Open Source Initiative, and Software Freedom Conservancy need access to unrestricted funds in order to run their respective organizations. Joining one of these foundations, even for only one year, can help them pay for critical operational expenses. If you are already sponsoring the foundations that align with your organization’s needs, raising your level of sponsorship for the year can help tremendously. If you do not expect to renew or maintain the new level of sponsorship, be sure to set that expectation clearly. It will save everyone some heartache when renewals come due.
The Outreachy program is another good candidate for one-off sponsorships. The program administrators are quite adept at flexing up or down depending on the funds they have available, and you can point to direct impact on the free and open-source software ecosystem as a result of your investment.
The Time-Consuming Stuff
If you’ve done the easy stuff, what’s left is the time-consuming stuff. If you have the time to spend, or someone on your team who can take over execution, you can start with the pointers I offered in my last post about Critical Human Infrastructure. Here are some specific recommendations.
Run A One-Off FOSS Contributor Fund
Following the FOSS Contributor Fund model, you could poll your internal developer community for project nominations and hold a vote for a single distribution of funds. This doesn’t need to be a long, complex process - it could be as simple as a discussion and a show of hands over a video call. Distributing this decision making across your organization can lead to unexpected insights about the free and open-source software that everyone is using.
Set Up An Open Collective Fund
Setting up an Open Collective Fund for your organization will enable you to both receive future budget surplus, and support projects via one-off grants and sponsorships. You will need to already have an organization set up on Open Collective in order to set up a fund, but this process is fairly quick and easy. This approach solves the problem of your Procurement department needing to engage individually with people and projects to figure out contracts and payment methods.
Explore One Of The Many Available Tools
You could spend some time looking at tools like thanks.dev, StackAid, Back Your Stack, and the Explore page for GitHub Sponsors. They all take the same approximate approach: they examine package manifests for potentially sponsorable projects or people, and often provide some recommendation for sponsorship levels. This approach can be very rewarding, but applying these tools effectively takes an investment of time.
If You Don’t Have The Time, I Am Here To Help
While I continue to look for my next role, I have quietly hung out my consulting shingle and have been serving a small range of clients with coaching and advisory services. One of the things I do is help people make smart investment decisions when funding free and open-source software and Critical Human Infrastructure. If you find yourself with a budget surplus this quarter, I would love an opportunity to partner with you to distribute the funds. I’ll help you develop a decision-making framework and, if you prefer, take on the overhead of working with your procurement department to get the funds to the foundations, projects, and people that you’ve chosen. Please email me for more information, or reach out to me on LinkedIn.