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FORCE11 Sustainability Models

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The task force created a spreadsheet that listed revenue generating activities.  Each of these was evaluated against the principles of FORCE11, its feasibility, and potential for revenue. Several were discarded, e.g., selling advertising.  Others were potentially viewed as feasible, but required more research and careful consideration before implementation. 

The models the committee considered fell into four main categories:

  1. Donations. Donations involve members and institutions giving resources (in-kind or cash) because they feel our activities are worthy of support and/or effort. Examples include a “Pledge now” button on the web-page and a programme of “Sustaining memberships” that could be pitched to supportive institutions. Donation programmes tend to be the easiest and cheapest to implement, but they rely on the good will of the membership (and hence are open to being overdone) and can produce uncertain revenue streams.
  2. Access charges. Access charges involve charging fees for access to or participation in FORCE11 activities: examples might include conference registration fees or a membership fee that is required to participate in FORCE11 activities (this last is something we consider to be off the table). Access charges are also relatively straightforward to implement and in some cases (e.g. the conference fee), a reasonable access charge both covers conference costs and raises funds. These revenues also can produce regular and predictable income. They are easy to overdo, however, and in some cases can be antithetical to our nature as a Community of Practice, and can restrict access to FORCE11 activities.
  3. Fees for Service. Fees-for-service involve charging for services rendered to others “by Force11” (in practice, in most cases, individuals who volunteer to help the organization). Examples might include offering a compliance certification program, subcontracting to administer activities (such as working groups) or specific work-packages on funded research, and so on. These can be expensive to implement (in that they in many cases involve either asking members to donate time to carry out the service or profit-sharing with members who work on a fee-for-service basis themselves)–although in some cases, such as collaboration with other organizations on grants of common interest, they can be much easier to implement. The potential payoff and its regularity varies very much with the nature of the activity and its value to the potential customer: certification programs may provide regular income, but depend on the certification itself having sufficient value to cause somebody to pay for it; sub-contracting on grants is presumably less-regular as an income stream, but an easier value proposition (we have already collaborated with others in this way).
  4. Grants. FORCE 11 can apply for grants on our own behalf or as collaborators with others. Currently this is our main source of income. Grants vary considerably in the income they provide and can be difficult to get. Grant funding for continuing costs are also hard to come by. But they are a natural fit with many of our activities and, especially when collaborative, can greatly facilitate our activities. A danger in a hyper-competitive grant world is that it may put us in competition with members. A principle of Force11 is that we try whenever possible to look for funding opportunities that allow us to work transparently and collaboratively with others.

In most cases, the differences between these categories was obvious: a “donate” button on the website, for example, is clearly a donation while offering to certify initiatives for a fee is clearly a fee-for-service. In other cases, however, different emphases could alter the category to which an activity belonged. Early on, for example, it was decided that membership fees (in the sense of “a required payment required to participate in FORCE11 activities”) was off the table: in this sense, membership is a fee-for-service that directly impacts the relationship between the community and its membership. Donations from individuals, even if provided on a recurring basis, seem far less problematic: an optional “membership” (similar to that developed by the American Public Broadcasting System (PBS), for example), is a form of donation that might well prove not only sustainable but, in fact, popular among individuals and institutions that strongly associate with the goals and activities of the community.

Considering the range of options, the committee agreed that the best approach would involve a mix of revenue generators, drawn from each of these types of activities: donations, grants, and fees-for-services. Some of these seem both relatively easy to implement and relatively low-risk: it makes sense to experiment with these in the coming year while we have support from the Moore Foundation. These models were therefore ranked as to which could be readily implemented within the next few months. 

The following list is ordered by type of revenue stream and then by ease-of-implementation/immediacy.


1.  Add donation button(s) to the home page:

  1. Type: Donation;
  2. Description: A “donate now” button on the web-page;
  3. Pros/Cons: Easy to implement; uncertain revenue stream;
  4. Action:  Place donation button on home page;
  5. Timeline:  Ongoing (we already have a button on the site);
  6. Variant/extension:
    1. Add a “donate now” button to the membership page, encouraging members to donate as they join; Add an opportunity to donate on a recurring basis;
    2. Offer specific sublines for donation such as travel support to send students to conferences.

2.  Pledge campaigns:

  1. Type: Donation;
  2. Description: Run donation campaigns (for individuals and organisations) at specified intervals;
  3. Pros/Cons:  Easy to implement;  can’t do too often without annoying membership; we have done something similar this past year with institutions;
  4. Action: Place banner across top of FORCE11 website during campaign;
  5. Timeline: Upcoming: Late fall is a good time to do this. Sometimes contributions can be solicited as part of registration for conferences.

3.  Sustaining memberships: 

  1. Type: Donation (also potentially fee-for-service or access charge);
  2. Description: Organizations, businesses and institutions give annual donations;
  3. Pros/Cons: Easy to implement; uncertain revenue stream; May need development staff to implement and manage; we currently have an informal set of institutional sustaining members, albeit on a one-off basis; need to consider how sustaining membership might interact with conference sponsorship (see below);
  4. Action: Need to determine levels; need to determine value proposition to organizations; is this a "membership", i.e., that implies renewal every year or is it a sponsorship donation? Some organizations might want either; do institutions receive a benefit for their participation (i.e. listing/logo on organization website)?
  5. Timeline: Ongoing (we currently have institutional sponsors); TBD (more formal implementation may require more study);
  6. Variant/Extension:
    1. Develop similar recurring programme for individuals, while making clear that this is not a precondition of participation (i.e. an actual membership fee).

4.  Crowdfunding for specific projects:

  1. Type: Grants/Donation;
  2. Description: FORCE11 projects will raise money through Kickstarter or similar campaigns;
  3. Pros/Cons: Involves membership in raising funding for projects that are important to them; will likely not fund sustaining costs of FORCE11; requires volunteer effort (in essence, an in-kind donation) on FORCE11's behalf;
  4. Action: Determine how FORCE11 would help members initiate Crowd-funding campaigns, e.g., donate T-shirts or other offerings; investigate successful campaigns that are relevant to our activities;
  5. Timeline:  TBD.

Access Charges

1.   Sponsorships for the FORCE meeting:

  1. Type: Access-Charge/Fee-for-Service/Donation;
  2. Description: Raise money for putting on FORCE meeting through sponsorships; sponsors receive recognition for support of specific activities or infrastructure;
  3. Pros/Cons: A potential con would arise if one sponsor had an outsized presence at the meeting in a way that implied influence on content and activities or if a sponsor whose work or goals were antithetical to the values;
  4. Action:
    1. Establish list of sponsorable activities/infrastructure;
    2. Price activities/infrastructure in order to make profit;
    3. Contact likely sponsors;
    4. Examine ethics documents from other organizations around acceptable sponsorship requirements; 
  5. Timeline: Ongoing for 2015.

2.    Conference fees:

  1. Type: Access-charge;
  2. Description: FORCE11 would charge a conference fee high enough to ensure a profit;
  3. Pros/Cons: Could alienate members if costs are too high; some allowance must be made for concessionary rates (students, speakers, sponsors);
  4. Action: Use the upcoming FORCE conference as a test case;
  5. Timeline: Ongoing/Upcoming for 2015.

3.    Provide access to services for members for a fee:

  1. Type: Access charges/Fee-for-Service;
  2. Description: FORCE11 could negotiate with organizations like ORCID for access to their services; FORCE11 could charge fees to members interested in utilizing these services;
  3. Pros/Cons: Determine what value would set FORCE11 apart; make sure that we stay true to the spirit and reputation we want to build; if this is not a “membership benefit” (which requires charging membership), it might be difficult to build a sufficient market to be interesting to the external service;
  4. Action: Look into other organizations that provide these types of benefits;
  5. Timeline: TBD on case by case basis.


1.  Certifications:

  1. Type: Fee-for-service;
  2. Description: FORCE11 would evaluate and certify compliance of outcomes generated by groups, e.g., Data Citation Principles;
  3. Pros/Cons: Requires volunteer effort (in essence, an in-kind donation) on FORCE11's behalf, or, if contracted, profit-sharing (reducing revenue and requiring us to consider ROI); question as to whether activities require certification or whether certification is a valuable enough good to encourage people to pay for service; On positive side, we could contract out to membership, thereby giving benefits back to community; if successful a certification boosts recognition of our work;
  4. Action: Determine implementation model and cost model; build off of early products, e.g., Data Citation Principles;
  5. Timeline:  TBD

2.  Subcontracting:

  1. Type: Fee-for-Service/Grants
  2. Description: FORCE11 would charge for services, e.g., initiating and managing a working group on behalf of an outside organization; creating a policy report; running challenges on behalf of an organization. FORCE11 would charge an administrative fee;
  3. Pros/Cons: Requires volunteer effort (in essence, an in-kind donation) on FORCE11's behalf, or, if contracted, profit-sharing (reducing revenue and requiring us to consider ROI); may take a while to get up an running; would likely involve a grant mechanism, so is similar to #6;
  4. Action: Determine list of services and level of interest in paying for such services;
  5. Timeline:  TBD.


1.    Apply for Grants:

  1. Type: Grants;
  2. Description: FORCE11 would apply for grants to support its activities, either on its own or in collaboration with others;
  3. Pros/Cons: Need to be transparent with membership and make sure that we do not compete with members or play favorites; requires volunteer effort (in essence, an in-kind donation) on FORCE11's behalf;
  4. Action: Monitor grant opportunities; Register with NSF (done) and other funders as an approved organization when necessary; create materials that describe when and how FORCE11 can be involved in grant opportunities;
  5. Timeline: Ongoing.

2.    Support grant applications from community:

  1. Type: Donation/Fee-for-service;
  2. Description:  Encourage members to apply directly for grants and include FORCE11 support for community engagement; similar to “Subcontracting” but more collaborative;
  3. Pros/Cons: Conflict of interest and neutrality issues; might conflict with endorsement policy;
  4. Action: Tested waters with application to NIH for their Data Discovery Index Consortium, for NIH, which proposed to use FORCE11 as the community engagement platform;
  5. Timeline: On-going.

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