Concept Note A - Join an Existing Foundation

CONCEPT A – Join an Existing Foundation

This topic is for discussing people's thoughts on Concept Note A. For more information or to take the online survey, please refer to general Exploratory Concept Notes topic.

The source PDF for this note can be found here.


In this lightweight option, ODK would transition to management under an existing software foundation, such as the Software Freedom Conservancy or the Apache Software Foundation. Within the foundation, the ODK project would be governed by a meritocracy led by key developers making up a Technical Steering Committee (TSC). Under such an approach, the funding needs for the ongoing organization would be minimal, as ODK developers would not be compensated by the foundation and thus need to earn a living from other jobs (likely/ideally ODK-related service companies). This model would not provide for any direct funding for ODK maintenance/feature development.


ODK would transition to a project held under the auspices of an existing software foundation. Various foundations are possible homes; two that probably would work particularly well with ODK’s Apache License and existing commercial ecosystem are the Software Freedom Conservancy or Apache Software Foundation. As an example, the details of transitioning to ASF control are described here, and include: finding an ASF Champion; being proposed and accepted as an ASF incubator project; being assigned sponsors to help with the transition; and if successful eventually graduating to a new top-level Apache project.

The software foundation would handle all non-ODK development/maintenance/documentation activities, like fundraising (they handle donations which can be earmarked for ODK), legal (limited liability protection), bank account management, putting assets under control of the not-for-profit (this is optional, but can include trademarks, copyrights, control of the domain), nonprofit/charity tax-compliance, etc. It may also provide additional services, like technical infrastructure (web hosting, issue tracking systems, forums, etc.).


The ODK project would be directly governed by a meritocracy led by key developers making up aTSC. Designated leader(s) of the TSC would represent the ODK Project to the software foundation’s leadership. Many TSC structures are possible; for purposes of this concept note the TSC would follow the existing Project Management Committee (PMC) of the current ODK governance structure (based on the OSS Meritocratic Governance Model template). This overall structure defines roles for users, contributors, committers, and finally the PMC, which is the ultimate decision-making authority. The PMC uses a simple self-perpetuation committee model, where its membership is updated via simple majority vote of existing PMC members. It is very likely that the current PMC membership would be updated as a result of the transition and with input from the community and feedback at the convening.

A byproduct of joining an existing foundation is that this option does not require establishing a nonprofit Board of Directors, since it would already be in place. Depending on the relative size of the chosen foundation, its projects, and its governance rules, it may or may not be possible to make a case for ODK representation on its Board or top-level leadership structure.


The technical roadmap for ODK would be set by the TSC, and updated at regular intervals (e.g. once or twice per year). However, to ensure the success of the project, the TSC would not determine the roadmap in a vacuum, but would seek and incorporate from the greater ODK ecosystem in developing the roadmap. As such, the TSC may post draft roadmaps and/or possible features and activities for community feedback (e.g. online voting). The roadmap will also be publicly shared to allow for better planning amongst the ODK user base.


As there will be minimal funding needs (website hosting, IP/trademark management) the project shall rely on simple donations for support (either direct from individuals or from organizations, possibly even simply provided by the parent foundation joined). Donations would be given to the existing top-level foundation and earmarked for the ODK project. The ODK TSC and foundation could also attempt to raise funds for specific feature development / services (like code maintenance, community support) and subcontract that work to a an external ODK services company, although with this concept note’s structure it is probably simplest for the TSC to play matchmaker, directing the funder to contract with the external company and including a requirement to contribute code changes back to the ODK project.

A significant change from the status quo is that because there is no core development support, ODK maintenance, support, and feature development that is currently being funded through UW will have to come from elsewhere in the community.


Although the TSC sets the roadmap, as mentioned above it should actively seek advice via feedback from the users of the software and other interested parties (implementers and service providers not represented on the TSC, invested funders). Still, final roadmap decisions rest with the TSC.

This is not dissimilar from the current ODK approach, but (as with all Concept Notes) will seek to increase feedback from community of users and formalize the paths for bi-directional communication with them. This includes regular votes on possible features, roadmap directions, regular publication of roadmaps, submitting feature requests, etc. The TSC should also regularly participate via community infrastructure (mailing lists, forums, issue tracking management).

Should "ODK developers would be compensated by the foundation" say "ODK developers would NOT be compensated by the foundation"?

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I noticed that too and assumed the same. :slight_smile: Will give some more comments a bit later on this weekend or next week!

I've edited the text here. @W_Brunette can you make sure to updated it in the PDFs for the survey?

Fixed the PDF on github


I think this is a good potential option and doesn't preclude ODK from later doing most of the other options (well except the don't do anything option I suppose). It could be a good first step as other options are explored later.

I've formed multiple 501c3s over the years and in retrospect wish I had done this first with some.

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One challenge with this approach is that existing foundations (e.g., Conservancy, Apache) require communities be healthy, where health is often defined as a number of separate organizations who are leading the project. Health takes time to develop (as does the process of joining a foundation).

@wonderchook, I believe joining a 501c3 does preclude you from transferring assets to non-501c3s. It's possible to workaround, but it is a limitation to consider.

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I think you couldn't just donate the assets to a non-501c3, I think the value would have to measured.

Ideally after exploration of these concepts notes we would pick one and work towards it anyway.

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Going through this process right now with a non-profit whose board I'm on, which is transitioning to a for-profit social enterprise model.

In laypersons terms, the IRS restriction is that assets from a non-profit org not be used to enrich a for profit (or employees of the for profit) without proper compensation .

It is fine for a non-profit, for example, to sell assets to a for-profit for a fair-market-value.

And in the case of open source software, if the software is licensed such that the for-profit entity may use it as it wishes, there may not be a need to actually transfer very many assets for a for-profit entity to take over stewardship of a code base.

In the transition I'm part of, most of the assets of the non-profit are licensed under a very unrestricted OSI license. The assets we have to worry about valuing properly are:

  • Brand assets
  • Hard assets (desks, computers etc...)
  • Contracts / business relationships (which are by far the hardest to assess)

Hi. I'm the president of the Sahana Software Foundation, a US-based 501.c.3 nonprofit focused on humanitarian open source projects. Our main project is Sahana EDEN, an open source information management system for disaster management and humanitarian aid use-cases. I'm certainly interested in exploring whether it would make sense for us to be ODKs fiscal sponsor and nonprofit home.

We currently operate off of a "project-based spokescouncil process" that's designed to be "counter bureaucratic". We're very mindful that organizations that do admin tend to become bloated, over-restrictive, innovation-resistant and ultimately self-perpetuating. We're committed not to fall in that trap, which is why we've adopted a peer-council approach and also use an AirTable-based information management system to manage operationally relevant information. That way we can be entirely transparently with our member projects and, if our main admin (me) disappears then things can still move forward.

Happy to answer any questions and explore collaboration with you.