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Bradley Kuhn (bkuhn) - 11 years ago 2010-10-03 23:30:08
bkuhn@ebb.org
Rewrote overview.
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<h1>Overview</h1>
 

	
 
<p>The Software Freedom Conservancy is an organization composed of Free,
 
Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) projects (called Conservancy's
 
&ldquo;member projects&rdquo;).  Conservancy is a fiscal sponsor for these
 
member projects, thus the Conservancy's member projects benefit from
 
financial, administrative services and non-profit oversight.  By joining
 
the Conservancy, member projects can obtain the benefits of a formal legal
 
structure while keeping themselves focused on software development.</p>
 

	
 
<p><b>What are the benefits of joining the Conservancy?</b></p>
 

	
 
<p>One of the principal benefits of joining the Conservancy is that member
 
projects get all the protections of being a corporate entity without
 
actually having to form and maintain one. These benefits include, most
 
notably, the ability to collect earmarked project donations and protection
 
from personal liability for the developers of the project.  Projects can
 
continue to operate in the same way they did before joining the
 
Conservancy without having to select a board of directors or any other
 
layer of corporate management, without having to maintain corporate
 
records and without having to do any of the other things required of
 
incorporated entities.  The Conservancy handles all of that burden on
 
behalf of its projects.</p>
 

	
 
<p>The Conservancy is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, so member
 
projects can receive tax-deductible donations to the extent permitted
 
by law.  The Conservancy files a single tax return that covers all of
 
its member projects and handles other corporate and tax related issues
 
on behalf of its members, who are, of course, always free to join and
 
leave the Conservancy at any time.  Additionally, by not having to
 
form a new organization, projects avoid having to pay the fees and
 
spend the time required by the state incorporation and federal tax
 
exemption application processes.</p>
 

	
 
<p>Another benefit of joining the Conservancy is that projects can use
 
it to hold assets, which are managed by the Conservancy on behalf of
 
and at the direction of the project.  For example, any monies received
 
by a project are put in a separate Conservancy fund and maintained
 
there until the project directs the Conservancy to do something with
 
the funds.  This prevents developers from having to commingle project
 
funds with their own accounts or having to set up their own project
 
specific account.  Since the Conservancy is a tax-exempt organization,
 
there are some limits that the law places on what member projects can
 
do with their assets, but those limits are the same as if the project
 
was an independent non-profit entity.</p>
 

	
 
<p>All of these benefits are currently provided for free.  The Conservancy
 
does not currently charge its member projects any fees.  The Conservancy
 
of course welcomes and appreciates voluntary contributions from member
 
projects to help cover the cost of providing these services.</p>
 

	
 
<p><b>How does a project join the Conservancy?</b></p>
 

	
 
<p>In order to join, projects need to meet certain criteria, including the
 
requirement that the project be exclusively devoted to the development of
 
Free and Open Source Software and that it be consistent with the
 
Conservancy's tax-exempt purposes and the financial requirements imposed
 
by the IRS.  Most FLOSS projects will meet these requirements.  To find out
 
if your project can join the Conservancy, or to get more information,
 
<a href="/about/contact/">contact us</a>, preferably by email.  Qualifying
 
projects that wish to join the Conservancy will form an agreement with the
 
Conservancy that sets out all of their rights and responsibilities.</p>
 

	
 
<p>While any project licensed under a widely recognized FOSS license can
 
  apply, the Conservancy seeks in particular projects that are
 
  well-established and have some track record of substantial contributions
 
  from a community of volunteer developers.  The Conservancy does gives
 
  higher priority to projects that have an established userbase and
 
  interest, but also tries to accept some smaller projects with strong
 
  potential.</p>
 

	
 
<p><b>If my project joins the Conservancy, how will it change?</b></p>
 

	
 
<p>Substantively, member projects continue to operate in the same way as they
 
did before joining the Conservancy.  So long as the project remains
 
devoted to Free and Open Source Software and operates consistently with
 
the Conservancy's tax-exempt status, the Conservancy does not intervene in
 
the project's development other than to provide administrative assistance.
 
For example, the Conservancy keeps and maintains books and records for the
 
project and assists with the logistics of receiving donations, but does
 
not involve itself with technical or artistic decision making.  Projects
 
are asked, however, to keep the Conservancy up to date on their
 
activities.</p>
 

	
 
<p><b>Once a project joins, who owns its assets (money, copyrights, trademarks,
 
etc.)?</b></p>
 

	
 
<p>The Conservancy holds assets on behalf of its member projects and
 
manages and disburses those assets in accordance with the project's
 
wishes.  Monies received by the Conservancy on behalf of a project are
 
kept track of separately for each specific project and the management of
 
those funds is directed by the project.  For example, if a donor wanted to
 
contribute $100 to Project X, they would formally make the donation to the
 
Conservancy and identify Project X as the desired project to support.  The
 
Conservancy would then deposit the check and earmark the funds for use by
 
Project X.  Project X would then tell the Conservancy how that money
 
should be spent.</p>
 

	
 
<p>Similarly, any copyrights, trademarks or other assets transferred to a
 
project can also be held by the Conservancy on behalf of the project.  A
 
significant service that the Conservancy provides its members is a vehicle
 
through which copyright ownership in the project can be unified.  There
 
are several advantages to having a consolidated copyright structure,
 
including that it makes enforcement activity easier and more effective.
 
However, although it is almost always beneficial for projects to
 
consolidate their copyrights, such is not a requirement in order to join
 
the Conservancy.</p>
 

	
 
<p><b>How can a project leave the Conservancy?</b></p>
 

	
 
<p>As set out in an agreement between member projects and the Conservancy,
 
projects can leave the Conservancy at any time.  Federal tax exemption
 
law, though, states that projects must transfer their assets from the
 
Conservancy in a way that is consistent with the Conservancy's
 
not-for-profit tax status &mdash; meaning the assets cannot be transferred
 
to an individual or a for-profit entity.  Generally, a project would
 
either find another fiscal sponsor or form their own independent
 
tax-exempt non-profit.</p>
 

	
 
<p><b>Who runs the Conservancy?</b></p>
 

	
 
<p>Like many non-profits, The Conservancy is directed by a
 
self-perpetuating <a href="/about/team/board/">Board of Directors</a>, who
 
appoint <a href="/about/team/officers/">Officers</a> to carry out the
 
day-to-day operations of the Conservancy.  The Directorship of the
 
Conservancy is designed to include both talented non-profit managers and
 
seasoned FOSS project leaders who can both guide the administrative
 
operations of the organization as well as mentor member project leadership
 
as needed.  Our Directors constantly search for additional directors who
 
can contribute a variety of expertise and perspective related to the
 
Conservancy's mission.</p>
 

	
 
<h2>Public Filings</h2>
 

	
 
<p>Like all USA non-profits, the Conservancy files an annual Form 990 and, as
 
a non-profit in the State of New York, files an annual CHAR-500 with New
 
York State.  Below, Conservancy makes available these filings for public
 
inspection:</p>
 

	
 
<p><ul>
 
<li>Fiscal Year 2008</li>
 
<ul>
 
<li><a href="/docs/conservancy-form-990-fy-2008.pdf">Federal Form 900 (PDF)</a></li>
 

	
 
<li><a href="/docs/conservancy-CHAR-500-fy-2008.pdf">New York State
 
    CHAR-500 (PDF)</a></li>
 
</li>
 
<p>The Software Freedom Conservancy is a not-for-profit organization that
 
  helps promote, improve, develop, and defend Free, Libre, and Open Source
 
  Software (FLOSS) projects.  Conservancy provides a non-profit home and
 
  infrastructure for FLOSS projects.  This allows FLOSS developers to
 
  focus on what they do best &mdash; writing and improving FLOSS for the
 
  general public, while Conservancy takes care of the projects' needs that
 
  do not relate directly to software development.</p>
 

	
 
<p>FLOSS projects whose <a href="/members/apply">applications are
 
    accepted</a> become an actual part of the Software Freedom Conservancy
 
    (akin to a separate department for a large agency).  Once joined, the
 
    <a href="/members">&mdash;member project&rdquo;</a> receives most of
 
    the benefits of existing as a non-profit corporate entity without
 
    actually having to form and maintain one.  Conservancy aggregates the
 
    work of running a FLOSS non-profit for <a href="/members/current/">its
 
    many members</a>.</p>
 

	
 
<p>The Conservancy provides a large group of important services for its
 
  member projects.  Member projects can take directed donations, which
 
  allows donors to earmark their donations for the benefit of a specific
 
  FLOSS project.  Conservancy provides fiscal oversight to ensure that
 
  these funds are spent in a manner that advances the project and fits
 
  with Conservancy's 501(c)(3) mission to advance software freedom.</p>
 

	
 
<p>If the member project's leaders want, Conservancy can also hold other
 
  assets and titles on behalf of the projects, such as copyrights,
 
  trademarks, domain names, online hosting accounts, title and ownership
 
  of physical hardware.  Also at discretion of the project's leaders,
 
  Conservancy can assist in defending the rights represented in these
 
  assets.  For example, Conservancy is available to assist member projects
 
  in enforcing the terms of the projects' FLOSS license.</p>
 

	
 
<p>Finally, developers of Conservancy's member projects, when operating in
 
  their capacity as project leaders, receive some protection from personal
 
  liability for their work on the project.</p>
 

	
 
<p>A full and detailed <a href="/member/services/">list of Conservancy's
 
  services for its member projects</a> and a <a href="/members/current/">a
 
  list of Conservancy's current member projects</a> are available.</p>
 

	
 
<p>Conservancy and
 
  its <a href="/about/directors">directors</a>, <a href="/about/officers">officers</a>,
 
  and <a href="/about/staff">staff</a> believe strongly in the principles
 
  of software freedom, and believe that all users should have the right to
 
  study, improve and share their software.  Conservancy helps protect,
 
  enable, coordinate, facilitate and defend the public's right to copy,
 
  share, modify and redistribute FLOSS both non-commercially and
 
  commercially.</p>
 

	
 
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