Nonprofits and Open Source Methods

While not everything a nonprofit does needs to be open source, the ethos, laws, and technologies around open source are a great fit for social impact organizations. Nonprofits can take advantage of the growing community around specific open source frameworks, and join in conversations with technical professionals in an environment that is naturally inclusive. In fact, many nonprofits are evolving into entities that are highly tech-centric. Most find that the greater their involvement with the open source community, the better they are at managing and growing their technical capabilities without incurring ever-increasing costs.

Introducing the Service Enterprise Model

“Nonprofits that operate as Service Enterprises more effectively address community needs and run on almost half the median budget than those nonprofits that do not leverage volunteers across all levels of the their organization. When an organization leverages volunteers, managing them effectively, it is in a better position to grow.” - Points of Light (http://www.pointsoflight.org/)

The service enterprise model describes an organizations ability to work with outside talent in building and managing core processes that the organization needs. As we adapt this idea to the nonprofit technology community, there is a clear parallel with what the service enterprise model is describing and how open source organizations think about managing their core technological needs.

This parallel provides a huge framework with which to move forward in building out specific processes that high-tech nonprofits should be following as they evolve their engineering and operational capabilities.

Rather than focusing technical staff solely on building and managing your internal tech needs - completely on their own, train engineers in open source development methods. They should dedicate some time every week to working with and integrating code from volunteer developers. As they learn to do this regularly, your overall technology environment will gain knowledge, unique code and product ideas, and continued support from outside developers.


Mozilla Foundation’s Open Source Community Managers.

Many open-source projects, Mozilla is, first and foremost, a community project, depending in large part on volunteer contributors.“

As stated, Mozilla builds a huge portion of their applications using outside talent. In conversations with Mozilla team members, they’ve loosely described this as a 10 to 1 development model. The idea is that Mozilla has created a developer environment where each paid community manager contributes to Mozilla getting up to 10 times as much code created vs. having just 1 employee do the work. This 10 to 1 model provides Mozilla a competitive advantage in cost, efficiency, and product advancement. When hundreds of people are looking at working on your source code daily, improvements happen rapidly and new releases of your software have already been tested by experts who are themselves are contributing to your product.

What exactly is a Community Manager? Mozilla provides a great description of the skills they look for in hiring Community Managers:

Example Hiring Announcement:

While Mozilla has a sizable paid engineering staff, the success of the project depends in large part on unpaid code contributors. In order to ensure that code contribution is as effective as possible, Mozilla employs full-time Coding Community Managers.
The Coding Community Manager aids the entire Mozilla community in recruiting, welcoming, developing, and retaining contributors. He or she will track contribution patterns, help eliminate gaps in process and documentation, and work with managers and team leaders to build community contributions. The Coding Community Manager will analyze existing tools and processes, looking for opportunities to make contribution easier and more effective. They can identify contributor un-friendly patterns in systems and blog/discuss improvements with the developer community. The Coding Community Manager should be a social person who can work with the engineering groups across the organization.
The Coding Community Manager will be a tool wizard, building dashboards, visualizations, and using Bugzilla like MacGyver would use a multitool.
This position is available for remote work in some countries. If you are near one of our offices we're happy to provide a desk and many delicious snacks. Mozilla currently has offices in San Francisco, Mountain View, Toronto, Portland, London, Paris, Auckland, Vancouver and Taipei.

Responsibilities:

  • Collaborate with development teams to provide an effective process for new contributors. Track contributions and contributors across engineering efforts.
  • Maintain and aid development of the Mozilla contribute website.
  • Identify contribution roadblocks, drive changes in community process to resolve them
  • Coordinate with developers to ensure contributions are handled expeditiously
  • Investigate new methods to measure code contributions
  • Develop tools and programs to better highlight and reward community contributions and contributors
  • Consider and enact new ways of reaching talented programmers who are not yet part of the community
  • Encourage contribution in social media and blogs
  • Manage contributor reward nominations and the delivery of rewards
  • Knowledge of infrastructure and web languages, primarily HTML, JavaScript, and Python. Experience with Django a plus.


Mifos Initiative. A nonprofit that built their own open source platform.

Mifos is an incredibly forward-thinking nonprofit that started out thinking about levering the power of open source. They have dedicated vast amounts of time to understanding how to build an open source development environment, and this has allowed them to manage huge portions of their web platform using volunteers.

“Through one common platform supported by a collaborative community, we can deliver the biggest return for the Mifos Initiative, you, our partners, and the entire financial inclusion sector. This approach gives us the highest leverage by focusing and multiplying our collective efforts to create the most value for the Base of the Pyramid.” - http://mifos.org/

Mifos believes in open collaboration and an ecosystem of inclusiveness not only in their core mission, but also in how they work with technologists. What’s important to highlight is that Mifos has a dedicated Director of Community whose job it is to work with open source developers for continued technological development. Mifos also has employed engineers dedicated to working specifically with volunteer open source developers. This strategy lets them manage their platform for much lower cost than if they did all the technical work in-house.


And Finally: