I think the most transparent aspect of Civi is how it's funded. Not only do many many blog posts about new features or plans for improvement or the status of development tasks include information about how the feature or plan is being funded, but fundraising in general-- strategy, results, ideas--is widely discussed in the community. This is a huge strength of the community. The strategies that have arisen from it are great ways to distribute both power and responsibility to the user community. Most notable is Make It Happen, a crowdsourcing model that mobilizes the community around specific functionality; anyone can propose a Make It Happen. Though proposals do get vetted by the core team, it basically means that if the community's commitment to getting a feature is commensurate with the resources needed to built it, it will get done.
It's also possible to learn the history of Civi's funding pretty easily from a simple search of the website. Among the many, many things I learned from searching "funding" at CiviCRM.org are:
- Civi's annual budget is about $550,000.
- This is mostly core team salaries, with some hardware, server space, and travel costs on top.
- The project started out grant-funded in 2006 but those grants are drying up.
- The project has also used consulting as part of its business model, getting paid to develop features that are then folded back into the core.
The combination of the accessibility of this information and the information itself shows that funding is an integral part of how Civi builds community and fosters strong cooperation among users. This is strongly demonstrated by the explicit and intentional connections the community makes between fundraising and governance. In particular, two blog posts about sustainability generated many comments and robust discussion about the relationship between the core team and the funding streams, particularly a proposed service providers association, which is basically a way of formalizing the most active community members into a structure of its own (with a more defined financial contribution). A few interesting and/or representative comments:
"I recall the development of the Drupal Association, and learned through watching that process that there is a key difference between the open source movement and the cooperative movement (which is where my thinking comes from). The open source world is very much a meritocracy, where the folks that score high on the metrics "float to the top" so to speak (and as someone noted above, "keep know-nothings out") . Whilst this approach is undoubtedly a great way to get the best minds focussed on the technical task of improving the software, it is far less useful when it comes to understanding what the real needs of the user community are. My own experience of working in and with cooperatives is that while a flat and democratic approach may sometimes be frustrating and limiting, it also brings great new opportunities for learning and development." --posted by user Upperholme, full comment here
"I do like the idea of a partner program or services provider association. I also believe it is fair that there needs to be a steady financial stream, benevolent dictators and a core. I do wonder what is going to happen to all the unstructured help that we get today. If I look at ourselves: in the last two years we have sponsored CiviCon, organised 2 sprints and sponsored some of that, paid for our own trips to sprints, donated time in doing developer training. As soon as money comes into play and we need to pay a regular fee, this will all go into the balance as well. We suddenly change from 'this is required and the community is what we make it' into the far more businesslike idea of 'does this investment pay off' simply because it is a regular amount." --posted by user ErikHommel, full comment here
Eileen asks (rhetorically), "Why should anyone support CiviCRM? It is software trying to compete with other open source and commercial software so why should it be deserving of charitable giving? Why should charities & community organisations that are scrimping every cent for their good works voluntarily pay money out towards CiviCRM? Don't they pay for the software by funding bug fixes? The consultants are the ones making an income out of CiviCRM - shouldn't they be the ones to fund it? Wouldn't we be subsidising their income and we are poor struggling charity-workers? Aren't there other products Charities could use anyway? Why should I give to CiviCRM when it still can't do X that I have been asking for for years? While CiviCRM is Open Source software & faces some of the same challenges as other Open Source projects we have some unique ones. For our core constituents every dollar that goes on software & systems & CiviCRM is a dollar not spent on the cause they passionately believe in.... I know that some of our organisations generate really significant amounts of money through donations. They have professional fund-raisers & maybe that would be a worthwhile investment for CiviCRM. I think however, that before we can generate real giving we need to figure out how to tell the story of how CiviCRM empowers grass-roots organisations in a really compelling way." --full comment here
Basically, the Civi community is grappling--in public, no less--with major issues endemic to capitalism, organizational theory, grassroots organizations, funder/donor reluctance to value overhead, and the nonprofit-industrial complex. It's pretty inspiring even as the enormity of these issues is frustrating/daunting.