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LinuxFund account grows but developers get no funds

By Jay Lyman on June 03, 2005 (8:00:00 AM)

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Whatever happened to LinuxFund, the fund that was supposed to support Linux through credit card use? LinuxFund was begun as "a fun project by a bunch of kids," according to LinuxFund founder Benjamin Cox, who has not been involved with the project for nearly three years. Today the project has been largely abandoned, but payments into the fund keep on coming.

The Web site for the card disappeared off the Internet sometime earlier this year, apparently in the last two to three months. Despite the vanishing site, which reappeared Wednesday following NewsForge correspondence with project leaders, the LinuxFund structure and payments -- a percentage of cardholder purchases -- continued.

Where has the money gone? It has been adding up in the LinuxFund bank account, with minimal overhead costs and no payments to developers coming out. The project's executive director, Jerritt Collord, reported the organization's funds -- checking and savings accounts totaling $126,155.29 -- have been sitting idle since he stopped running the largely one-man organization last June. In an email response to NewsForge, Collord added, "Of course F/OSS will get the money." To get those funds to Linux coders and supporters, however, some other individual or group will have to take up the cause, since the current participants have given up.

"Nothing has come out of these accounts for months, save about $250/mo auto deducted for telecommunications expenses," Collord wrote. "I went off payroll in June of 2004 when I stopped working full time on this project and haven't incurred any expenses since. I was paid a salary of I believe like $28k per year. I haven't read my LinuxFund email since about January I believe."

Collord, who said someone tried to "jack" the domain, conceded he was "negligent" on the matter in another email to NewsForge.

"I'm certainly negligent," he said. "The short story is: the scale at which the business model seems to work is not commensurate with the overhead required to run a nonprofit well. Everyone that's been involved has been lackluster given the range of requisite skills -- technical and administrative and business development in total -- and ultimately burnt out."

Collord, who began investigating what happened to the Web site after NewsForge contacted him, said after some failed efforts at community education and developer programs -- the Open Oregon Technology Center and a youth class about open source and related opportunities -- the organization went dormant.

"We had been paying a couple of what we called 'interns' who were basically kids working on projects that we could pay (well) such that they didn't have to get jobs while in school and take time away from their FOSS contributions," Collord explained. "So<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... last summer<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... there wasn't anyone readily available to administer the project<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... I've been doing the absolute minimum since, which obviously isn't enough.

"The org has been inactive, merely collecting royalty checks, for the last ~8 months," he continued. "There's one person I can think of to whom we owe money for work done, and I need to get off my ass and make him whole. I'd love to give you an accounting as to the total activities of the group. It will be surprisingly sparse. Honestly, I don't know why the site is down. I'll get the kid who was helping us with some admin work to perhaps get me an answer."

Collord said the Open Oregon Technology Center, which failed for "a number of reasons," was "the nail in the coffin for me," adding the demise of that project, which was to house the LinuxFund operation, took a lot out of him.

Although he did not indicate a desire to maintain the organization on his own, Collord did express interest in continuing the project through another entity -- he mentioned the Free Software Foundation -- that was willing and capable of taking it over.

Financial services giant MBNA, which administers the credit cards characterized by the Linux logo penguin, would not provide program statistics on the LinuxFund cards for competitive reasons, MBNA spokesperson Jim Donahue said.

In an email response to NewsForge, Donahue said if the bank has issued a card, it remains in force until the customer cancels and settles the account, or until MBNA notifies the customer of any change, which did not occur for the unknown number of LinuxFund cardholders.

"The LinuxFund card remains in force," Donahue wrote. "In the case of a change in the endorsed status of a card, MBNA will typically offer the customer the option of transferring the account to either a non-endorsed product, or to one of the 5,000 other endorsed credit cards that we issue. If a LinuxFund card holder has a question about his or her account, they should contact MBNA directly."

An MBNA customer service representative told NewsForge the contributions to various causes are made by the bank under terms of what are called "affinity" card programs. The representative said the contributions range from a half percent to 3 percent of each credit card's transaction total, and that the bank has no control over what is done with the funds once collected by the endorsed card affiliate.

"MBNA doesn't make any stipulations for the contribution whatsoever," he said. "We send it to LinuxFund. We're not able to designate and say this section of the environmental group should get it, for example. We can't do that."

Cox, founder and original director of LinuxFund, said his current career, family, and travel leave little time for a project he left more than two years ago and has had nothing to do with since, and he does not have the time, energy, or motivation to make it work. However, Cox did express a sense of moral obligation to seeing the project put back on track, and indicated he is willing to do what is necessary to ensure LinuxFund does not flame out.

Cox -- who conceded he had also made mistakes with the organization by continuing his marketing push for it and creating a "laissez-faire" atmosphere -- doubted the project's status was the result of malfeasance, instead calling it "just neglect."

Indicating the group had given out "micro-grants" that averaged $1,000 for various FOSS developers during his tenure, Cox said he was confident and hopeful the project would continue. However, he echoed Collord in expressing the difficulty of running an organization based primarily on volunteer support, a familiar challenge to FOSS project participants.

"As for the future, well, I need to find people who are genuinely interested and able to come out with a sustainable and healthy organization, or (more probably) part of an organization," Collord said.

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on LinuxFund account grows but developers get no funds

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How Can We Help?

Posted by: karnesky on June 04, 2005 12:04 AM
This is a great idea & I am surprised I hadn't heard of it until now. I regularly <a href="" title="">donate to F/OSS</a>. Is there a way individuals can help this project?

Is the credit card still available? I am uncomfortable not knowing how much LinuxFund actually gets from purchases. Does it make more sense for me to just use a 1-3% cash back card & donate the proceeds I get to F/OSS projects directly?

Are there other minor administrative functions that members of the community can take up?



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on June 04, 2005 02:15 AM
This is a dire state of affairs. Mismanagement of a fund of this size by someone who was salaried to look after it is disgusting.

This sort of thing just gives ammunition to the people who spread FUD about Open Source projects not being "professional". If I had been involved with this project it would be utterly ashamed to have my comments appear in an interview like this which basically celebrates the ineptitude of the people behind this fund.

Please, someone with some sense take this over, and please, as a COMMUNITY, lets make sure these jokers are properlly pilloried for their stupidity.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on June 04, 2005 02:59 AM
I wouldn't go as far as "apalling", but I have been a smidge worried about falling off the net. Part of me doesn't want to continue to use a card which contributes money to an organization without competent management and oversight, let alone questionable benefit.

On the other hand, having Tux the Penguin on your credit card is an awesome conversation starter with cute single women...



Posted by: Wil Cooley on June 04, 2005 07:02 AM
Lighten up dude. You've obviously never tried to run an operation like this by yourself; running an organization is draining and tedious for the technically-inclined, especially for a paltry salary like that. Jerritt is an acquiantance of mine and he's neither stupid or inept. He might have been the wrong person for the job, but then a more business-minded person would not have been nearly as motivated by idealism to sacrifice as much time and labor as he did.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on June 04, 2005 08:58 AM
I wouldn't call it apalling. It doesn't look like anything criminal has happened. Small projects like this come and go all the time. It did some good while it was running. Hopefully someone will be able to step forward and take over so that funds continue to come in and get distributed as grants to deserving organizations.

Jerritt hasn't done anything wrong other than not publicizing the fact that they're in need of new leadership. I have no doubt in my mind that he plans to use these funds for the benefit of the community and not for his own personal gain.

I'm a LinuxFund card holder and I run a project which has received funding. I'd like to see the project continue.

I only hope people won't abandon their LinuxFund cards because of the current setbacks. If they do the project might not be viable when new leadership takes over.


Neither 'apalling' nor appalling

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on June 04, 2005 04:34 PM

No, it isn't appalling. The guy running it for the pricely salary of $28k/year was somewhat unsuited to the job, but hey, that's what you get with shoestring operations. If you think you can do better, then step up to the plate, don't just throw mud at people who actually did something.

The Free Software Foundation supports some free-software development (and develops a lot of free software itself). Maybe - after some kind of opinion poll of cardholders, of course - title to these accounts could simply be turned over to the FSF?


Site's up

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on June 04, 2005 03:06 AM
For what it's worth, the site is back up or was when I checked it just now.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on June 04, 2005 03:14 AM
Is LinuxFund a nonprofit? There is nothing on the site about that.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on June 04, 2005 04:30 AM
They are a non-profit but they are not a 501c3. The short story is that State of Oregon considers them a public benefit corporatiot, but the IRS still requires them to pay taxes like any normal corporation.

As a result their records are avaialble to anyone who calls up the Oregon Secretary of State's office or the Oregon DOJ's Charitable Services Division.

If you do either you will find that they have not paid their taxes or filed any forms since 2002. You will also find that legally the organization no longer exists as it has been "dissolved" by the state of Oregon. Most of this can be resolved with a few checks and forms, but it does need to be taken care of.

<a href="" title=""><nobr>i<wbr></nobr> nq.show_detl?p_be_rsn=672631&p_srce=BR_INQ&p_prin<nobr>t<wbr></nobr> =FALSE</a>


At the very least......

Posted by: Mike on June 04, 2005 11:48 AM
If you want out of something, first you find someone to take over, THEN you can just stop doing it. Sheesh.


Yes, it is appalling. and shameful.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on June 07, 2005 01:34 AM
The guy got a $28,000 salary and still didn't do anything? Come on, that's close to fraud, at the least it's ridiculously negligent. That's a full-time salary for a lot of people, and they can't get away with taking the money without doing any work. Shame.


LinuxFund account grows but developers get no funds

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 22, 2007 01:08 PM
2007 update, all forms and taxes are paid. The IRS has granted their application to be a 501(c)(3)


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