[This is a personal document and does not in any way represent an official position of or commitment by the Mozilla Foundation or other Mozilla organizations. It is intended as a personal guide to thinking about a particular approach to grantmaking in the Mozilla context, for use by anyone interested in this topic, whether within Mozilla or otherwise.]
Grants can be a useful middle way to help address problems relevant to Mozilla and like-minded projects and organizations, more effective than relying solely on volunteer contributions and more suitable for areas where organizations can't justify making a sustained investment of staff time and other resources. However effective grantmaking requires more than simply defining grant criteria and soliciting grant applications. Prospective funders need to actively reach out to find and fund projects in support of clear and compelling strategies.
This document presents a possible framework to help guide a) the choice of problem areas in which organizations might make Mozilla-related grants and b) the creation of detailed strategies for each such area. The goal is for grantmaking organizations to be a catalyst in spurring innovations and addressing problems in areas relevant to the Mozilla mission that are important for the future of the open web but have been relatively neglected by Mozilla or others who share its vision and values.
Over the years the Mozilla Foundation, the Mozilla Corporation, and other Mozilla organizations have made grants to various organizations and individuals. In some cases (as with Mozilla grants to support accessibility) such grants have been made in support of a defined strategy; in other cases grants have been done in a relatively ad hoc manner, with little or no coordination between organizations and minimal leveraging of other Mozilla resources.
Grants (whether outright grants to nonprofits or one-off service contracts with individuals and for-profits) are a useful and relatively low-overhead mechanism to help solve Mozilla-relevant problems that are too big and/or specialized to be addressed by volunteer contributors and are too small or not critical enough to justify a major commitment of staff time, funds, and other resources. However simply defining a set of grant criteria and encouraging people to submit grant applications has not proved not effective in practice; grantmaking organizations need to take a more proactive approach to finding and funding people and projects of interest to them.
In my opinion one key goal in making grants should be to spur innovations and address problems relevant to the mission of advancing and promoting the open web. It's important that an organization has clear strategies guiding all its grantmaking activity, in order to ensure that it uses its limited resources most effectively in support of this goal.
This document describes a possible framework for strategic grantmaking by Mozilla organizations or others that builds on existing Mozilla activities and leverages existing Mozilla technologies, people, and other assets.
The document proposes to select individual program areas for strategic grantmaking based on the following criteria:
- Important, exciting, and (relatively) neglected problems. Grantmaking should be directed at problems that have the following characteristics:
- They are relevant to the Mozilla project.
- Their solution will help accomplish larger goals related to the overall Mozilla mission.
- Addressing them will require actions that go beyond the scope of existing Mozilla project activities (including product development, marketing, research, and other efforts already being undertaken by the Mozilla Corporation and Mozilla Messaging).
- They are challenging but also interesting and even exciting.
- They are somewhat neglected, in the sense that relatively few people are approaching them in a manner consistent with the overall open web vision.
- Entrepreneurial partners. For each problem meeting the above criteria there must exist strong individuals and organizations who know the problem space, whose overall mission and vision are congruent with those of Mozilla, and who have the passion and skills to make things happen in partnership with the grantmaking organization.
- Internal champions. There must be people within the grantmaking organization who care deeply about the problem, can help identify and work with partners, and will advocate for proposed grants and related activities to help address the problem.
- Clear strategy. For each problem the grantmaking organization must work with its chosen partners and internal champions to create a clearly defined strategy that can guide grantmaking and related investments to address the problem.
- Bounded commitment. For each problem the grantmaking organization must be able to provide leadership in addressing the problem while making a relatively limited commitment of funds and staff time.
These criteria are based on Mozilla's past grantmaking in the accessibility space (where Mozilla drove a major wave of innovation in making advanced web applications accessible), on the current Mozilla Education program (as a result of which Mozilla is now a leader in introducing open source values and practices into undergraduate computing education), and on personal thinking about possible future areas for Mozilla-related grantmaking such as media and the arts.
The goal with this framework is to make things happen by leadership and actions. The grantmaking organization doesn't need to do everything itself, and should not attempt to do so; rather the aim is to connect the Mozilla community to other communities, and to facilitate interactions among these communities so that together they can do great things. If this is done right then the result will be that people from the Mozilla community and people from other communities will join to form new self-sustaining communities that can take responsibility for driving further progress.
In creating programs according to this framework, a grantmaking organization needs to leverage its strengths and work within its constraints. The major strengths of Mozilla are in the areas of technology and community, while constraints are funding, staff time, and lack of deep expertise in all aspects of the problem area. Other organizations making Mozilla-related grants may share similar strengths and constraints.
The proposed approach to conceiving, creating and operating programs according to this framework is as follows:
- Identify a important and exciting problem relevant to Mozilla that is not currently being addressed, being addressed in a fragmented way, or being addressed in ways not congruent with the Mozilla vision and values, and whose scope goes beyond the Mozilla project proper.
- Find a key individual (or, in some cases, an organization) with subject matter expertise who can play an entrepreneurial role in helping the grantmaking organization to create and run a program to address the problem.
- Identify one or more individuals who can serve as champions for the program within Mozilla and (if possible) actively participate in it in some way.
- Formulate a short-term goal that is relatively achievable and will be the focus of immediate activities.
- Formulate a longer-term vision to inspire participants and guide overall strategy. The vision should be ambitious but conceivable, and should align with the Mozilla mission.
- Formulate a strategy that (if executed successfully) could advance both the short-term goals and long-term vision. The strategy should be grounded in a realistic analysis of the context in which the problem exists, so that the grantmaking organization can leverage and perhaps accelerate likely technological and socioeconomic trends.
- Tactics called for as part of the strategy will typically include
- fostering the creation and growth of new communities of practice invested in solving the problem, building from the existing Mozilla community and the communities of partners.
- creation of new technologies and related artifacts (e.g., code, specifications, documentation, web sites, etc.) that help address the problem
- Fund a small select set of individuals or (where appropriate) organizations who can execute the tactics called for by the strategy and are supportive of the long-term vision. They will form the core of the problem-solving community and help develop any new technologies called for by the strategy, and will be the focus of grantmaking for the program.
- Coordinate grantmaking and related activities with other existing and planned Mozilla activities and with the activities of other organizations with a stake in the problem. This supplements core grant funding with contributions from other organizations, whether in the form of staff time, parallel funding of joint efforts, or donations in support of the program.
An effective program conceived according to this framework should have the following outcomes:
- After a year or so:
- The grantmaking organization should see some measurable progress toward achieving the short-term goal, based on the criteria set in the initial strategy.
- After 2-3 years:
- The grantmaking organization should have achieved (or nearly achieved) the short-term goal based on the strategy's criteria.
- The grantmaking organization should see some measurable progress in attaining the longer-term vision, as evidenced by the participation and support of many individuals and multiple organizations in activities (whether Mozilla-related or not) supporting the vision.
- After 4-5 years:
- The long-term vision should be well on the way to being realized.
- The grantmaking organization should end (or at least significantly reduce) active grantmaking in the program, leaving further work to be carried on by others or wholly incorporated into the core activities of one or more Mozilla or other organizations.
In terms of funding, the goal should be to commit no more than $1-1.5M of Mozilla funds to a given program over a 5-year period (e.g., up to $200-300K/year on average per program). This level of funding has proved adequate in the past (most notably with Mozilla accessibility), and will help encourage the grantmaking organizaton to adopt creative strategies and work with others as opposed to trying to do everything itself. Any additional funding should come from other sources, e.g., core program investments by the various Mozilla organizations, or parallel expenditures by others.
The programs below were created over the past few years by the Mozilla Foundation in cooperation with others in the Mozilla community, and helped inspire and inform the creation of this framework.
The following pages describe possible new Mozilla-related programs a grantmaking organization might undertake according to this framework. (Note: These are totally blue-sky; there is no guarantee whatsoever that Mozilla or anyone else would actually do these as formal funded programs.)
The following pages contain notes from early thinking about areas which might be candidates for other programs created according to this frame. (Again, this is totally blue-sky.)
The following pages contain additional material relevant to this framework: