The mission of The Apache Software Foundation is to provide software for the public good. We do this by providing services and support for many like-minded software project communities of individuals. As the Foundation grows (more than 150 top-level projects, and over 4,000 committers) so do the demands for services and support.
The Foundation does not pay for software development within its projects, nor does it influence the technical direction projects wish to take. However, the Foundation does provide technical services such as version control, mailing lists, web sites, issue trackers (and much more), as well as legal services such as intellectual property and brand management. We also have core marketing services to assist projects. All this costs money; and the amount it costs increases with each project we take on and each new service projects require.
In order to meet these costs, the Foundation accepts sponsorship from companies and individuals. However, this sponsorship does not buy influence over either the Foundation or its projects. The only way to influence our projects is to get involved with the project community and deliver valuable contributions that earn you individual merit and thus influence in that project.
So why do companies sponsor the ASF?
We’ve asked a number of our sponsors why the Foundation is important to them. As you might expect, there are a wide range of answers, but one common theme occurs across all sponsors. It can be boiled down to being assured that downstream reuse of our software is both a legally and strategically sound decision. Without the Foundation these very valuable software projects would not exist, at least not in the same form.
The Foundation provides a neutral space for companies, which might compete in the marketplace, to collaborate freely on Open Source software. This neutrality is protected by the fierce independence of the Foundation as it drives towards its mission of producing software for the public good (as opposed to the good for some subset of the public).
Balancing the Foundation’s need to raise funds to support its projects whilst ensuring our projects remain independent of those sponsors is a difficult task. However, we are lucky enough to have a large roster of sponsors who are very happy to donate with "no strings attached". Without those sponsors the Foundation could not exist and we thank them for their generosity.
Of course, most of our sponsors also contribute directly to one or more of our projects through code, documentation, and community management. Without these non-cash contributions our Foundation would be nothing more than an empty shell.
The cost of running the Foundation is kept low by our extensive use of volunteers, even at the foundational level. As with the software development within our projects, all of our strategic decision-making roles are filled by volunteers who do not receive any payment from the Foundation itself. All of our Vice Presidents, Directors, and other titled roles are members of our project communities. The success of the Foundation is personally important to them and therefore they contribute to that success. Our meritocratic system recognizes such individuals and ensures that the Foundation is run both for and by our project communities.
Our second largest budget line, at 10%, is marketing where we have a contractor who ensures prompt and appropriate responses to all press enquiries. A further 10% is spent on general administration (legal and bank fees, insurances, executive assistant and similar). The only other category over 5% is brand management which ensures our project brands remain independent of any individual commercial interests through trademark registration and related activities.
As the number of projects in the Foundation continues to grow we are looking to the future of our core services. As stewards of some of the world’s most popular Open Source software, we must ensure that our projects will continue to receive the same level of support as they have done during the last 15 years. However, it is not just the number of projects that puts a strain on the Foundations resources. A growing range of tools and services are needed for an Open Source project to be successful.
–Ross Gardler, President