Q: Where does the name come from?

The name of our foun­da­tion con­sists of the com­bi­na­tion of two im­por­tant con­cept­s: the no­tion of a tech­no­log­i­cal ‘Com­mon­s’ (in the form of the Free/Open Source soft­ware ecosys­tem) and an in­sti­tu­tion­al ar­range­ment to pre­serve and uti­lize those Com­mons in the best way pos­si­ble — a “Con­ser­van­cy”.

A computer with an 'under contruction' sign, symbolising the fact that technology is never done and there is a lot of work which needs to be don
A well-known definition by Oakerson (1992) defines the Commons as “a resource or facility shared by a community of producers or consumers”. The collective responsibility for scarce resources does not lie with any individual but with all. When there is not enough incentive at the level of the individual to act in the common interest, this is often reffered to as “a tragedy of the commons”. Technology can be like that: there is no direct link between the broad usage of free and open source technology, and the means sometimes required to maintain and further develop this technology.
A picture with jars, symbolising the ancient act of conservation
The current word conservancy stems from the Latin word conservare, which literally means “to preserve”. It first appeared in the 17th century, sometimes also spelled as “conservacy”. In the context of environment protection, conservancies are the organisations responsible for maintaining large nature reserves. They ensure that unique ecologies do not disappear. Technology is a vital and vivid part of our culture, and we want to contribute to a more diverse ecosystem.

Q: Why do you talk of Programmes instead of projects

A project is an ef­fort that in our opin­ion is al­most by def­i­ni­tion finite, and is lim­it­ed in­ s­cope. A Pro­gramme — at least in the con­text of [The Com­mon­s ­Con­ser­van­cy] — is a more co­her­ent and ma­ture long term ef­fort whose life­time is (in prin­ci­ple) open-end­ed. In­side a Pro­gramme there can of ­course be many projects hap­pen­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly.

Q: Why don’t you handle money?

A picture with a large amount of coins

[The Com­mons Con­ser­van­cy] is a ze­ro-bud­get or­gan­i­sa­tion by de­sign. We have no mon­ey, and no in­ter­est in ac­quir­ing it as an or­gan­i­sa­tion. We have no staff, no an­nu­al bud­get. Our statutes ac­tu­al­ly for­bid us to even open a bank ac­coun­t. We think there is enough val­ue for our or­gan­i­sa­tion to add with­out al­so han­dling the mon­e­tary di­men­sion of ­work hap­pen­ing with­in Pro­grammes.

The to­tal ab­sence of mon­ey through­out our op­er­a­tions great­ly re­duces ­cost, com­plex­i­ty and above all risk. Han­dling sig­nif­i­cant funds for pro­jects is a spe­cial­ist task that re­quires over­sight and au­dit­ing, and there are or­gan­i­sa­tions that are much bet­ter equipped than us to deal with that. The fact that we can­not have mon­ey, means that as an or­gan­i­sa­tion we are not a very in­ter­est­ing tar­get for law­suit­s. There are ad­di­tion­al fac­tors (such as tax­a­tion) that come in­to play as soon as mon­ey starts flow­ing.

We strong­ly be­lieve in sep­a­ra­tion of con­cern­s, and de­signed [The ­Com­mons Con­ser­van­cy] around this prin­ci­ple. In our opin­ion this makes it both more flex­i­ble and more ro­bust in the long term than most oth­er le­gal con­structs out there. Min­imis­ing risk and max­imis­ing ­pos­si­b­li­ties were ex­plic­it de­sign goals when we cre­at­ed [The Com­mon­s ­Con­ser­van­cy].

The lack of a fi­nan­cial di­men­sion to our op­er­a­tions does not mean that our Pro­grammes are de­nied any op­tions to raise funds for their work. In fact the op­po­site is true: we are con­vinced that com­mu­ni­ties are ac­tu­al­ly bet­ter off be­cause the fi­nan­cial back­end is not pinned down ­to a sin­gle or­gan­i­sa­tion. This leaves Pro­grammes free to work with­ ­mul­tipe back­ends in par­al­lel, best tai­lored to the spe­cif­ic sit­u­a­tion­s of fundrais­ing.

Q: What will happen should [The Commons Conservancy] ever close down?

A picture with astronauts waving farewell

We don’t like sur­pris­es, and try to be as pre­dictable as we can. The s­tatutes of [The Com­mons Con­ser­van­cy] force the Board of Di­rec­tors of the foun­da­tion to pub­li­cal­ly an­nounce any in­ten­tion to close down the ­foun­da­tion at least twelve months in ad­vance. Even af­ter that, the ­foun­da­tion will re­main in place af­ter its dis­so­lu­tion to make sure ev­ery­thing is tak­en care of. That should leave you with am­ple time to find a prop­er so­lu­tion.

Ev­ery Pro­gramme with­in [The Com­mons Con­ser­van­cy] is free to leave and set up its own not-­for-prof­it foun­da­tion, or join an­oth­er suit­able en­ti­ty - un­less its own statutes and reg­u­la­tions say oth­er­wise. All of the le­gal frame­work of [The Com­mons Con­ser­van­cy] is avail­able for free as well, and any­one can re­use it to set up their own in­stance should they wish to do so.

Q: What does it cost to join [The Commons Conservancy]?

There is no cost at­tached. We don’t in­ter­act with mon­ey at al­l, so it ­would even be a prob­lem to take your mon­ey. How­ev­er, we do check the el­i­gi­bil­i­ty of your project to see if there is a good match be­tween what we of­fer, what your project needs and the pub­lic in­ter­est.

Q: But you are handling our donations?

Ac­tu­al­ly, we are not do­ing that - not di­rect­ly. And for a good rea­son. Han­dling of do­na­tions for Pro­grammes of [The Com­mons Con­ser­van­cy] hap­pens through or­gan­i­sa­tions far bet­ter equipped to do so. That keep­s all fi­nan­cial risks out­side. Cur­rent­ly we work with NL­net ­foun­da­tion, a recog­nised pub­lic ben­e­fit or­gan­i­sa­tion (AN­BI). They have been pro­vid­ing fund­ing projects for decades, and of­fer a pro­fes­sion­al ­fi­nan­cial en­vi­ron­men­t. Be­cause they are a recog­nised pub­lic ben­e­fit or­gan­i­sa­tion, this of­fers many ad­van­tages when it comes to tax and ­do­na­tion­s.[The Com­mons Con­ser­van­cy] has an um­brel­la agree­men­t (Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing) with NL­net so that el­i­gi­ble projects can s­tart re­ceiv­ing do­na­tions the minute they en­ter [The Com­mon­s ­Con­ser­van­cy].

Q: Great work. How can I donate money to [The Commons Conservancy]?

You can­not do­nate mon­ey to us in the lit­er­al sense of the word. [The ­Com­mons Con­ser­van­cy] is statu­to­ri­ly not able to have a bank ac­coun­t. And we don’t like beg­ging.

Ac­tu­al­ly, we do have some op­er­a­tional cost­s. If you want to sup­port­ our work, we have a small sup­port fund op­er­at­ed by NL­net ­foun­da­tion you can do­nate mon­ey to (so we ‘dog­food’ the very pro­ce­dure used by our Pro­grammes). We don’t ex­pect you to, but if you ap­pre­ci­ate our ­work and have some mon­ey to spare - we can put it to good work to make the life of our Pro­grammes even eas­i­er.

Q: What do you use donations to your own support fund for?

Our tech­ni­cal in­fra­struc­ture we get for free, do­nat­ed in kind by ­var­i­ous par­ties. We do not have any paid staff, the Board of Di­rec­tors ­does not re­ceive any re­mu­ner­a­tion as well.

As a foun­da­tion we may not be writ­ing soft­ware our­selves, but we deal with le­gal ques­tions about soft­ware, li­cens­ing and copy­right all the ­time. This is com­plete­ly nat­u­ral giv­en the na­ture of we are do­ing - un­bur­den­ing open com­mu­ni­ties with re­gards to or­gan­i­sa­tion­al and legal (and in com­bi­na­tion with our part­ners fi­nan­cial) as­pect­s. We aim to re­solve is­sues on­ce, and prop­a­gate ‘best cur­rent prac­tis­es’ to all our cur­rent and fu­ture Pro­grammes.

We work on a ‘best ef­fort’ ba­sis, based on the means we have avail­able. That means we some­times may want to con­sult le­gal ex­pert­s. ­Some of their work is con­trib­uted in kind too (for which we are very thank­ful), but when tough ques­tions come up which are very ­time-­con­sum­ing to deal with - we have to recog­nise they have ­house­holds to feed too. Oth­er re­cur­ring costs in­clude li­a­bil­i­ty in­sur­ances, pro­mo­tion (e.g. stick­er­s) and print.

Q: Can I donate infrastructure as well?

De­vel­op­ers are like pi­ran­ha’s when it comes to in­fra­struc­ture. We ­can pret­ty much al­ways find a good use for your in kind do­na­tion­s. ­Con­tact us if you have any­thing, we’ll help you find a good use for it.

Q: Why shouldn’t I just set up my own foundation?

Per­haps you should. We did. But maybe you can learn first, in a friend­ly en­vi­ron­ment where oth­er peo­ple do­ing sim­i­lar projects are. All our le­gal stuff is avail­able for copy­ing and re­use. If you spot any is­sues, let us know - a foun­da­tion is a liv­ing con­struct that is nev­er ’­done’.

Q: Are you affiliated with Software Freedom Conservancy?

No, [The Com­mons Con­ser­van­cy] is not in any way af­fil­i­at­ed with Soft­ware Free­dom Con­ser­van­cy. SFC is a 501(c)(3) not-­for-prof­it or­ga­ni­za­tion in­cor­po­rat­ed in New York that “helps pro­mote, im­prove, de­vel­op, and de­fend Free, Li­bre, and Open ­Source Soft­ware (FLOSS) pro­ject­s”. Great work, check them out.