VM Brasseur: Freedom isn't Free

by Deb Nicholson on December 21, 2018

We got to interview the most excellent VM Brasseur, who is a steadfast Conservancy supporter, volunteer and booster. (She also happens to have written a whole book about contributing to free and open source software.) She took a little time to talk with us about why she donates to Conservancy and why you might like to too.

Two cats cuddling with a Conservancy branded patch.

Deb: Tell us about the moment you decided to become a Conservancy supporter.

VMB: Prior to learning about Conservancy's mission, it hadn't really sunk in to me how critical that sort of work was to Free Software and Open Source. At the time, I was just like most other free and open source software participants: I just didn't think about the mundane administrative side of FOSS. After learning about Conservancy it was like someone had turned on a light in a dark room. It was so obvious now. Of course a project would need to think about accounting, copyright, compliance. Of course developers are unlikely to have the skills necessary to handle that sort of thing. Of course they would need help. No one starts a project thinking, "Oh boy! I'll get to write code and work on accounting, legal matters, and event coordination!", after all.

Once that finally sank in for me, supporting Conservancy was a no-brainer, as did getting the word out so more projects could stop stumbling along in the dark trying to handle their own finances or manage their own legal issues. Projects had to know that there were organisations out there that would help.

Deb: What do you wish people knew about free software?

VMB: As with any other freedom, this kind does not come for free. I'm not talking about paying maintainers, though that seems to be what everyone else is fixated on of late. Freedoms are not won through money. Freedoms are won through the time of every free software developer. Unlike money, when time is spent it's gone forever; there's no chance to earn more later. Too many projects rely on the time of too few maintainers, and those maintainers are devoting too large of a slice of their lives to supporting the projects they love.

Contributing money to a project helps pay for infrastructure, interns, and meetups, and is a worthwhile way to support the projects on which you rely. For many projects, however, contributing your time and expertise can be even more valuable. The time you donate not only improves the project, it also returns a bit of time to the maintainers so they can spend more of their time taking care of themselves and their families. Learning how to contribute to a project is therefore the most valuable way to support free software. All sorts of contributions are needed, not just coding. Security audits, marketing, system administration, user interface and graphic design, project and community management… There are so many ways to contribute to free software that don't require writing a single line of code. Conservancy, with its focus on the administrative and legal challenges faced by FOSS projects, is an excellent example of that.

Deb: What would you like to see Conservancy accomplish in the next five years?

VMB: Ya know what I've loved watching over the past few years? The increasing maturity of Conservancy as an organisation. Hiring more people to distribute the workload, adding infrastructure and tooling… It's been great watching Conservancy add all of these things. They've been going through this maturation process in such a considered and deliberate way, thinking through each change to select what will make the best impact for the member projects, rather than making change purely for change sake. I'd like to see Conservancy continue that trend. By doing that they'll be able to continue serving more projects, more efficiently, without losing any quality of that service.

Deb: What's a question you wish we'd asked? Ask yourself that one and then answer it here.

VMB: "What can people do if they want to support Conservancy but can't contribute money?"

That's a great question! I'm glad you asked! ;-)

While, yes, monetary donations will be doubled right now, money isn't the only way to show your support for Conservancy and Free Software. If you can't spare the cash for whatever reason, one very helpful way to support Conservancy is to share it and its fund drive with your networks. If more people know about the great work that Conservancy does behind the scenes to make Free Software and Open Source projects successful, then more people will have the opportunity to donate and support that work. Just one share on your favourite social networks or group chat system could lead to several donations, and every little bit helps.

Conservancy is running its yearly donation drive, and your donation is matched by other generous donors. Please consider donating to Conservancy today!

"Nigel and Percy" by VMB is available under a CC-BY-SA license.

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