ASSIGNMENT 6: How does this affect the community's cooperative dynamics? Are there competing projects? How would you describe your project's role in the greater technical ecosystem?
In addition to private foundation funding, CiviCRM has come up with a crowdsourced funding model for new feature development.
It works such that community members -- both organizations and individuals -- new features are proposed publicly and promoted as Make-It-Happen projects with a total estimated cost for the full development of the feature. The current Make-It-Happen ideas are here.
The organization promoting the new feature is wise to seed the idea with some initial funding to demonstrate commitment to the development. Other organizations, developers, and users can make contributions to any Make-It-Happen project. Those features that are compelling to many in the community quickly receive support and get prioritized as soon as the funding needed is pledged in full.
When working with CiviCRM through my previous organization, PTP, the MIH structure made it extremely easy to make the case for contributing to a particular part of CiviCRM development during a PTP-internal meeting. We could issue our vote for development on a particular feature, and thus hold sway over the direction of development by contributing significantly, and sometimes even contributing exactly the amount needed to start working on a feature. PTP probably contributed more to CiviCRM than we would have otherwise because of these very specific targets that are transparent to the whole community.
However, a recent conversation with Dave Greenberg (one of the CiviCRM BDs) made clear to me that there is still a need for additional "general purpose" funding to keep the CiviCRM project on course. As is the state of many nonprofit organizations (CiviCRM's tax status is 501(c)(3)), it is possible to get very targeted funding for specific work or programs, but it is getting ever more difficult to fund the overhead and general operations of an organization. Foundations that used to give "gen-op" funding for are pushing nonprofits to demonstrate quantitative evaluation of their work, and sometimes completely shifting to support only project/program work. While this may seems reasonable to the outside observer, this has the terrible consequence of cutting off many organizations at the knees because they are losing the funding that would pay for them to keep the lights on, pay salaries, and other essential activities of a healthy organization.
To remedy this problem of general funding, CiviCRM is doing what many nonprofits do: they are considering something like a membership model that would require a small amount of dues, either once in a lifetime or on an ongoing basis, from anyone who uses CiviCRM. This might raise hackles: "Wait, I thought CiviCRM was FREE?!" but if the amount is small enough from enough organizations, it might be the solution to a more robust funding model that can keep CiviCRM healthy and make it possible to hire more development staff to keep fixing bugs and making CiviCRM a better tool for the nonprofit sector.