[hackerspaces] Governance questions

Steven Sutton ssutton4455 at gmail.com
Thu Oct 17 17:23:00 CEST 2013

>  1) Is your foundation tied specifically to a space, or operating in
> support of one or more spaces in an area?

Freeside Atlanta is a Georgia Nonprofit and our application for 501c3 was
submitted about 6 months ago. We think we've got a pretty good shot at
getting it. We aren't tied specifically to a space and have talked about
thresholds of membership to expand and to split. That all depends on the
number of people willing to take on organizational responsibilities and the
number of members we have. We also have an organization that is willing to
act as our fiscal sponsor, but haven't had the opportunity to exercise that

>  2) How are your Board members elected/selected?

The 6 Board Members and President are elected by the Membership and the
Secretary and Treasurer are appointed by the Board. This was recently
changed from the Treasurer and Secretary also being elected by the
membership to allow the Board to exercise their best judgement in Officer
roles and tho allow the President to focus more on Operations.

>  3) What are your thoughts on your connection to the Make community-- are
> you a representative body?  Corporate-styled authority? Separate but
> supporting?

About half of the pool of volunteers for Atlanta Mini Maker Faire this year
are from Freeside. We try to stay very active in the greater community. We
also founded Atlanta Makers as a way to get the organizations in Atlanta to
the table to discuss ideas, collaborate, share opportunities, and so forth.
There are about 16 participating organizations now, but the group is not
very active at all right now. We hope to change that, but it will probably
be a gradual and long-term process. In the mean time, we maintain our
one-on-one connections with the other organizations in town.

>  4) If you take a bottom-up, grassroots, community-first approach to
> governance, have you found that to be a hindrance for sponsorships and
> donations?
Most of the sponsorship and donation opportunities that we've seen so far
that are for big money involve basically using our members as employees for
some big project; That is to say, we really haven't been approached by any
sponsors that actually "get" what we're doing, so we politely decline their
offer and keep the conversation going in hopes that they'll come around.
Lots of Orgs are proposing K-12 education projects and that kind of thing.
Freeside doesn't really get into the K-12 thing, but we support two other
local Maker organizations that do. In general, we send these opportunities
their way.

As a side note, those organizations haven't really been able to make the
sponsorships work either. The sponsors want to pay for projects, not
infrastructure. Those orgs need infrastructure and aren't capable of doing
the projects until they get it. That's the Catch-22 that they're stuck in
right now, but they'll get out of it eventually.

All that to say, I don't think governance is the hindrance to big
sponsorships and donations, I think it is the lack of popular understanding
of what we do and an unwillingness to invest in infrastructure. I base this
on the 15 or so conversations that we've had with potential sponsors so
far. We're talking about shooting more video and trying to put up more
content that explains what we're about and what we do. That should also
hopefully bring down the number of conspiracy theorists, perpetual motion
fanatics, and people that want free labor that show up to our meetings...
probably not tho :)

We'll find an angle that works eventually, but what we've tried so far
hasn't really paid off, sponsorship-wise.

There are two models that I have some potential sponsors interested in
right now though:

1) Organizations use their volunteer hours to send skilled employees to our
space to teach classes on the subject area (prop-building, stage design,
and other pretty cool stuff that people would be interested in but are some
rarer skills). We charge a small amount for the class to meter attendance,
which goes directly into the space's infrastructure. So we educate our
members and community with cool skills and get some cash in the process (we
have 50 members but 850 people on Meetup that take classes in they're
interesting but aren't interested in membership-level involvement).

2) College students get a "scholarship" to come to our space and work on a
project (ex. build a CNC Mill). They fund the project through that
sponsorship and use it to build the project, which then stays at the space
and they have open access to. Members act as "mentors" to help them because
they are invested in the project too, and are possibly involved in the
project selection process.

Both of these ideas give us the autonomy to govern our organization the way
we want to, but also give the donors assurances that the money is spent in
exactly the way they direct. We have to find ways to empower both parties
to get sponsorships that work, in my opinion.

Steven Sutton
President, Freeside Atlanta
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