GNOME bled dry by outreach programs

Shouldering the burden of covering costs for its Outreach Program for Women has left the GNOME Foundation with no cash reserves, and the need to implement a budget freeze.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Until July at the earliest, the foundation behind the GNOME desktop environment will be freezing all expenditure deemed not essential to its running will be frozen, as the foundation has run out of cash reserves.

"The issue has been caused by a number of factors," wrote GNOME Foundation board member, Ekaterina Gerasimova in a post to the foundation's mailing list.

"These include increased administrative overheads in the last few years due to the increased turnover which has been caused by to the Outreach Program for Women, and the associated payments going out while the associated income has been slow to come in."

To rectify the situation within a few months, the GNOME Foundation intends to invoice, and chase up, outstanding monies owed to it.

"By keeping expenditures to a minimum while some delayed revenue is regained, the board aims to have things back to normal within a few months," said a FAQ on the freeze.

Begun in March 2010, GNOME's Outreach Program for Women (OPW) is a twice-yearly interning program designed to increase contribution from people who identify as women and are newcomers to the world of free and open source software (FOSS).

"This program is a welcoming link that will connect you with people working on individual projects in various FOSS organisations and guide you through your first contribution," OPW's wiki page says.

Although now up to its eight round of internships, the GNOME Foundation has been the principal organiser, and has been paying interns when sponsoring organisations fail to make payment.

"As the foundation cannot continue to shoulder the responsibility of paying interns out of the foundation budget and wait for other organisations to reimburse us, the OPW organisers will be communicating with the sponsoring organisations and the board expects that a solution can be found, which enables the continuation of the outreach efforts without undue consequences for GNOME in the future," the foundation said.

Karen Sandler, two weeks out of her old post as executive director of the foundation, said that OPW ramped up out of proportion to the foundation.

"For a rough overview, the 30 participants in the round that just ended required around $170k in expenditures, and that's the smaller of the two rounds per year. The two most recent rounds together should have approached $400k," Sandler wrote.

In the last set of financial data released by the foundation for 2012, the entire revenue for the foundation was $418,548. The foundation's finances for 2013 will be released at the GNOME's GUADEC conference in July.

The spending freeze imposed by the foundation's board could be the start of a new pattern for the organisation, with the board recommending that "future boards enact spending freezes if the annual budget or monthly budget update is one month late."

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