November 8th & 9th, 2024
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Free Software Foundation: Volunteer Empire

SeaGL 2016

People are often surprised to find out that the Free Software Foundation has fewer than 15 employees. Our outreach and activities would not be possible without the thousands of volunteers who make our work possible. Managing the multitude of individual volunteers and volunteer projects has its own difficulties, but also incredible rewards. Tailoring structure, communication, and instructional materials for each type of volunteer and project is key for keeping a well run volunteer empire. We will explore this tailoring through the lens of some of the largest and smallest volunteer projects that the Free Software Foundation facilitates.


The talk will focus on three particular aspects of the work that Free Software Foundation volunteers provide to the world, going into detail about how the scope and nature of each project requires different tools in managing.

  • Massively Multi-Volunteer On-line Projects: The GNU Project
  • Published Instructional Materials
  • Volunteers as leaders: GNU Project Maintainers
  • Lowering the cost of contributing: make the process simple
  • Special Ops: The GPL License and Compliance Lab team
  • Internal documentation
  • Volunteers as shepherds: Preceptors of the Queue
  • Maintaining close-knit communications
  • The Walk in: turning one time volunteers into long term collaborators
  • Having tasks (and their instructions) ready for new volunteers
  • Having task progression - simple one off actions up to long running projects
  • Maintaining contact and enthusiasm
  • How you can help - join the FSF volunteer empire

Speaker Bio

Donald is an attorney, and speaks on free software legal issues and activism. He handles copyright assignments and GPL compliance at the FSF. Previous talks include:


Donald R. Robertson

Donald R. Robertson, Free Software Foundation

Donald Robertson, III, J.D. is the Copyright and Licensing Associate for the Free Software Foundation. He has worked for the FSF for over seven years in the FSF’s Licensing & Compliance Lab, and has been involved in free software for over fifteen years.