Thinking About the Importance of a Membership Base

1:02 am Uncategorized

Recently I’ve been working with the rest of Conservancy’s staff on launching and promoting a Supporter Program, a way for individuals to support Conservancy though membership fees (we’re avoiding the term “member” because Conservancy’s members are our member projects).

We launched this program for a number of reasons. Part of this, of course, is financial. While we do receive a portion of the revenue donated to our projects, we keep that number low enough that it doesn’t even pay for a single staff member. We need to raise money in order to be able to keep the full support of our projects that we have in place now. I sometimes refer to our model as “fiscal sponsorship plus” because we do a lot more for our projects than many of the other organizations in free and open source software (by design – it’s useful to have different orgs doing different things!). But that level of support requires significant resources and we don’t want to pass that burden onto our member projects if we can possibly help it.

We do fundraise from companies (and if you think your company can sponsor Conservancy please get in touch!) but there can be trade offs with this as an overall model. Bradley wrote an excellent blogpost about this already. Because we are focused on what’s good for the community and not necessarily what’s good for companies (though our interests are often aligned), we need a strong membership base to help balance things out. Trade associations have a much easier time fundraising from companies for these reasons but we as a community get so much more out of a public facing org.

We also realized that we’ve really been focused on promoting our projects and not necessarily Conservancy as a whole. While everyone has heard of Git, Samba, Wine, and Inkscape (the list goes on, it’s very hard to chose projects to single out when they’re all so great) I think a lot of people don’t even know that we exist or what we do. By launching this program, we have a lot more excuses to tell people about our activities and why we matter. I had a great time writing our fundraising page, and distilling this into a short explanation.

That said a lot of people *do* already know about Conservancy and why it’s an important organization. I’ve been so excited at the sign ups we’ve had for Conservancy’s Supporter program so far and I realized something today that floored me – the list of Supporters to date is in large part comprised of experts in the field. I was looking at the list of Supporter names and it read like something of a “who’s who”. We could make a killer conference if we gathered those people to speak! It gave me confidence in our program and in our organization generally. If these people who I deeply respect think that Conservancy is worth contributing to, then we must be on to something good. I expect it will take us years to build up the membership base we want but it’s fitting to have so many leaders signing up and publicly acknowledging us. I’m hoping we will be able to grow the program a lot in the near future and we’ve got a lot of exciting stuff we’re working on that I can’t wait to talk about.

I hope you have a great holiday season! Please consider joining the ranks of Conservancy Supporters and generally supporting the charitable organizations in free software (specific props to GNOME and the FSF)!

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