What is the difference between a Project and a proper Association?

We regularly see people referring to Debian and Fedora as Projects. They tell us that Debian is a Project. They tell us that Fedora is a Project. There is something fishy about this.

Here is one of those emails where a volunteer is referred to as a project member.

Why are we project members and not simply members?

The Cambridge English dictionary gives us the following definition of a project:

a piece of planned work or an activity that is finished over a period of time and intended to achieve a particular purpose

The key word is finished. A project starts with a plan and finishes with a product or outcome. Projects are transient in nature. Therefore, being part of a project team also implies a somewhat transient status.

When you consider the quantity and quality of the work and intellectual property that volunteers contribute to Debian and Fedora, this inferior and transient status is somewhat insulting.

This inconvenient vocabulary is no accident. Every time there is an election for the Debian Project Leader, somebody raises the idea of creating a proper Debian foundation or a Debian association. In other words, creating a body with its own legal status where all the volunteers have a status as equal members. In the 2022 election, Christian Kastner raised the topic here.

In reality, all of the money and other assets associated with Debian development have been siphoned off into other legal entities. They are described as "trusted organizations" and there is a list of them on the Debian wiki site. Each of these organizations puts out an obscure financial report from time to time.

In 2023, we will be celebrating 30 years of the Debian Project. To put it in the terminology of the Afghan war, Debian and Fedora are forever-projects, like forever-wars, that seem to be losing their way. The Debian Social Contract gives us promises of transparency but in 30 years, we have never seen anybody publish a consolidated set of Debian financial accounts.

What is there to hide and why?

Subject: Call for ideas -- useful ways of spending Debian money
Date: Tue, 1 Oct 2013 21:46:17 +0200
From: Lucas Nussbaum 
To: debian-private@lists.debian.org
CC: auditor@debian.org, philipp@hug.cx

[ TL;DR: ETOO_MUCH_MONEY -- need ideas to flush queue ]


Thanks to the fantastic work of the DebConf13 sponsorship (fundraising)
team, DebConf13 generated a surplus. The current estimate of it is CHF 38k (that's USD 42k, or EUR 31k). That's excellent news.

The not-so-excellent news is that it means that the debconf13
association will have to pay income taxes for it. (no estimate yet;
Philipp Hug (DC13 and debian.ch treasurer) will get in touch with a tax

Even if Switzerland has been very welcoming towards Debian, it would not
be a bad idea to try to avoid paying too much taxes. A good way to do
that is to spend some of the surplus (in ways useful to Debian, of

Could you start thinking of useful ways to spend some money? servers?
porter boxes? buildds? sprints? Of course, it would need to be spent before
the end of 2013. There are no known restrictions on what we can buy or
where we can ship. What we end up buying will of course be made public
as usual. To move forward, please reply to this mail, providing an
estimate and a justification. Or mail leader@ + auditor@ if you prefer.

Somehow related: we are participating in GNOME's Outreach Program for
Women, winter edition[1].

As already stated in April[2], I wouldn't favor a situation where Debian
funds are used to pay OPW participation on a regular basis. However, as
an experiment, it makes sense to help that happen for the first time (it
didn't happen in the summer edition).

So, if the fundraising effort currently being set up fails to raise
enough money for one stipend, but still raises a significant amount of
money, I will authorize the use of Debian money for the difference
(likely for at most $2900 -- that's half the stipend, so the other half
needs to come from fundraising).

[1] https://lists.debian.org/debian-women/2013/09/msg00058.html
[2] https://lists.debian.org/debian-project/2013/04/msg00108.html

Q: Why is this on -private@?
A: Because I'm not sure yet how cautious we need to be about the DC13
   surplus situation. Better safe than sorry. We can restart the
   discussion on a public list when/if things are cleared.


and then there was this... $300,000 from Google hidden behind another $300,000 donation from Handshake Foundation:

Subject: Realizing Good Ideas with Debian Money
Date: Wed, 29 May 2019 07:49:25 -0400
From: Sam Hartman 
Reply-To: debian-project@lists.debian.org
To: Mo Zhou 
CC: Andrey Rahmatullin , debian-devel@lists.debian.org, debian-project@lists.debian.org

[moving a discussion from -devel to -project where it belongs]

>>>>> "Mo" == Mo Zhou  writes:

    Mo> Hi,
    Mo> On 2019-05-29 08:38, Raphael Hertzog wrote:
    >> Use the $300,000 on our bank accounts?

So, there were two $300k donations in the last year.
One of these was earmarked for a DSA equipment upgrade.
DSA has a couple of options to pursue, but it's possible they may
actually spend $400k on an equipment refresh.

$200k doesn't really go that far in terms of big infrastructure projects
like bikeshed or similar.

I'm looking for someone who would be willing to guide a discussion of
the Money issues Martin brought up in his campaign.  I don't have time
to guide that effor myself.  Real thought needs to be put into it; it
will be at least as much work as the discussions I'm leading on
packaging practices and git if done correctly.

However it could be very valuable for the project.