Thinking About US-RSE Financial Sustainability
Published: Jun 22, 2022
Thinking About US-RSE Financial Sustainability
A 2022 Community Workshop post by - Jeff Carver, Julia Damerow, Meag Doherty, Angela Herring, Chris Hill, Blake Joyce, Allen Lee, Elaine Raybourn, Liz Vu
At the 2022 Community Workshop a group met to think about advancing the US-RSE financial sustainability vision. The group discussed possible ways to grow the financial resources of US-RSE while staying true to its member-led mind set. The outcome of that discussion is a Q&A format dialog that presents some key questions discussed and puts forward thoughts that these questions generated around possible near term considerations, directions and priorities.
What are some ideas for generating financial sustainability that might be considered (e.g. recurring, or substantial contributions)?
Membership fees (tiered individual) and/or organizational fees: An organization like US-RSE should probably consider some form of membership fee. Approaches could include individual membership fees, and/or organizational membership fees. Fees could be uniform or tiered and tied to certain activities. In general it would be preferred to continue to support active participation in the community for both fee paying members and non-paying members. The value received from a membership could be approached in multiple ways. Membership fees could be envisioned purely to provide a more concrete sense of community participation and belonging. They could also be conceived as providing eligibility to vote in US-RSE elections and other decisions. This is the model adopted by some peer organizations (UK and NL for example). Discounted fees for any US-RSE events could be a feature of an individual membership fee. Organizational membership could similarly help provide discounted attendance to events and potentially also provide highlighting of sponsorship and of job opportunities.
Sponsorship or support from other societies (e.g. ACM, SIAM, etc.) or industry: Affiliation within an existing entity (for example ACM, IEEE, SIAM) could provide some revenue support to US-RSE. The terms and amounts would need to be investigated. A relationship around supporting task force activities for a professional society was discussed as a possible model. Industry sponsorship is also a potential activity that would possibly entail some recognition on the US-RSE web site. Especially for industry sponsorship, however, US-RSE needs to carefully develop guidelines regarding what sponsors would be accepted, how a participatory workflow to decide on sponsorship would look like, and what the implications of accepting sponsorship would be.
Private donors: US-RSE is at a stage of maturity that it would make sense to approach private foundations for some support to continue its work in growing more robust research software engineering career trajectories. It would make sense for the US-RSE to formulate an approach to foundations such as the Sloan Foundation, Moore Foundation and the Chan-Zuckerberg Foundation that emphasizes the need for growing a professional research software engineering workforce.
Federal Grants: Currently US-RSE itself does not have an accredited compliance activity that would allow it to be a full participant in many forms of Federal grant opportunities. US-RSE could provide sub-contract services for a fee to other grantees. For example US-RSE could take funds to organize events and/or manage work around relevant events that might be useful to a grantee organization. Ultimately it probably makes sense for US-RSE to migrate to an open collective that is able to accept Federal grants at some stage. The US-RSE current fiscal host “Open Collective” is not organized to support this, other fiscal hosts are able to facilitate this.
Fee-based training, courses: There may be training and mentoring activities that US-RSE and its membership could organize together that would compensate contributors and the organization for their effort.
Recurring event-based income (e.g. conferences): Conference attendance fees tied to a valuable event focussed on the RSE community are another potential avenue for creating recurring revenue. This is often tied with sponsorship of select conference activities by interested corporations that provides a forum for membership to network with potential employment and business opportunities.
Charge for aspects of the Job Board: Charging for premium listings on the job board is another possible source of revenue. Many job search organizations have budgets for job advertising and could be happy to pay some fee for a listing. US-RSE might still want to filter which jobs are consistent with our mission.
Regular fundraisers: A first online fundraising campaign that allowed membership and others to donate and receive logo items was successful. More such campaigns at a larger scale could be worthwhile.
How do peer organizations develop funds?
- We considered organizations that we were somewhat familiar with and that reflect the US-RSE goals of Advocacy, Community, Inclusion and Resources. A set of organizations that we had some knowledge of and that potentially resonate with aspects of US-RSE mission were
- ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers). Long established professional organization that makes sure the nation’s built infrastructure is robust. It has a formal certification program that might be an example for US-RSE to consider. It has an annual membership charge and hosts an annual conference. It has a clear technical basis around building infrastructure that is robust, cost effective and fit for purpose.
- AMP (Allied Media Projects) + DJN (Design Justice Network) . Potential inspiration for having US-RSE be a movement in addition to a professional association; DJN endorsements are frequently sought after.
- ADSA (Academic Data Science Alliance); sister org with overlapping member profile, have a mix of institutional, lab, and individual memberships a model.
- SORSE (Society of Research Software Engineers), SSI (Software Sustainability Institute) Fellowship program, but different style of member model. SORSE aspires to represent RSEs globally.
- ACM HPC-SIG (High Performance Computing Special Interest Group). An example of being a part of a larger umbrella.
- SIAM (Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics). Professional organization that holds traditional conferences and serves as a vehicle for professional, career affirming activities.
- The Carpentries. Has a train-the-trainer and education model, with institutional memberships model.
- NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance). Has a membership fee model primarily tied to strengthening a sense of community. It offers tiered services that distinguish between members and non-members.
What are some examples of how we could use funding?
- Key principles for allocating funding target priorities are
- Participatory budgeting. Fund allocations and fund development priorities in US-RSE should be open to all to present perspectives and shape direction.
- Practicality. The scale, duration and likelihood of garnering financial support for an activity should also be considered in setting priorities.
- The group identified some candidate near-term and longer-term possible priorities for broader consideration.
- Near term (1-2 years)
- Member management software that supports basic organization services and supports member communication and networking.
- Website support.
- Small grants for advocacy/messaging activities that raise awareness and grow US-RSE membership.
- Support for student interns to help with administrative work (e.g scheduling events, processing videos, enhancing newsletter).
- Supporting organization of local/regional groups.
- Longer term
- Executive Director / Community Manager / Development Officer [part time]
- Development of training materials
- Development of certificate program
- Scholarships for people to earn the certificate
- Small prizes for contests to attract people into the RSE profession (e.g. K-12 outreach)
- Near term (1-2 years)
What are the next steps?
The next steps will be centered on the US-RSE Financial Sustainability Working Group/Standing Committee. We welcome anyone who is interested in this topic to please join the Slack channel #wg-financial-sustainability!
The current draft set of priorities is as follows:
- Prioritize funding sources to go after (e.g. membership dues, monetize job board, industry sponsors, institutional memberships, etc) - see above for full list
- Outline value for each kind of funding source
- Membership dues allow for discounts on annual conference, free posts on job board
- Industry sponsorship. Might allow for branding, representation, workforce development activities
- Philanthropic funding. Potentially particularly valuable at this stage in helping the organization evolve into a strong, long lasting and self-sustaining entity bringing new value to the national research ecosystem.
- Establish concrete participatory budgeting process in line with ethical / values statement
- Develop strategic plan for one-time investment of funds
- Plan for how to spend sizable donation
- Establish a formal budget - recurring costs vs one-time costs
- Finalize as a white paper recommendation to the steering committee and US-RSE membership
- Includes market landscape analysis: related organizations and their funding sources/business models
- Estimate total audience - how many US-RSEs are there?
- Include financial needs of all US-RSE groups in final white paper as a list of potential funding opportunities