501c3 Application: Questions from IRS, September 2012

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On September 14, 2012, OSGeo Received a letter with questions from the IRS relating to its 501c3 application.

The letter is available here: http://svn.osgeo.org/osgeo/board/irs_docs/OSGeo-IRS-Letter-20120914.pdf

This page is to work on the response to those questions.

Update 2012-12-10: Our final response to the IRS was submitted on Dec. 10, 2012 and a copy is available at http://svn.osgeo.org/osgeo/board/irs_docs/OSGeo-IRS-response-20121210.pdf

Update 2016-02-21: See also the following letters from the OSGeo attorney to help understand the context: https://svn.osgeo.org/osgeo/board/irs_docs/OSGeo-IRS-attorney-advice-and-suggestions-20121029.pdf and http://osgeo-org.1560.x6.nabble.com/attachment/5072628/0/OSGeo-IRS%20advice%20and%20suggestions-2.pdf

1. On September 11, 2012, Mr David Atkin, your authorized representative, indicated that you are willing to move some of your non-educational activities to a taxable subsidiary. Please indicate which activities you will retain.

  • The board decided in its 2012-11-15 Board Meeting to cancel the sponsorship program which was the main issue driving the need for a taxable subsidiary. This means that we will NOT create a taxable subsidiary and our plan is to stick with a single 501(c)(3) entity after cancelling the Project Sponsorship Program.

Here is our response with the list of activities that we plan to retain (reviewed with David who thinks they should all be acceptable, pending minor adjustments for things like renaming the Marketing committee, see below):

  • OSGeo is a federation of software projects run by communities of volunteers who join their efforts for a common goal, so it act as an umbrella organization for those projects to coordinate collaboration between projects and with educational organizations around the world. OSGeo's main activities include:
    • Education and Curriculum Project: http://www.osgeo.org/education
    • FOSS4G Conference and Workshops: http://foss4g.org/
    • Incubator: http://www.osgeo.org/incubator All software projects go through this thorough review before being admitted, to confirm that they meet OSGeo's standards (too long to list here), including the fact that the project is related to our field, that it has an open and active community of users and developers, and that it is appropriate for use in education and by the geospatial industry in general.
    • Copyright ownership for some projects.
    • System Administration Committee: hosting of the member project's web site, source code repositories, issue trackers, mailing list, forums, etc.
    • Outreach Committee http://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Marketing_Committee (currently known as "Marketing committee" but would be renamed as "Outreach Committee" to better reflect our non-profit status)
    • Collaboration agreements (MoUs) with educational organizations, OSGeo labs, etc: http://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Category:MoU

2. The funds from your Project Sponsorships are used to fund specific software projects which will be moved into your taxable subsidiary. Since an exempt organization cannot use its funds to support the activities of its taxable subsidiary, you may wish to move this type of support to your taxable subsidiary.

  • We will cancel the project sponsorship program, removing the need for a taxable subsidiary.

3. Do you plan to move your trademarks and copyrights to your taxable subsidiary?

  • No. (Not applicable since there won't be a taxable subsidiary)

4. Your website indicates that you provide "financial, organizational and legal support to the broader open source geospatial community... OSGeo serves as an outreach and advocacy organization for the open source geospatial community, and provides a common forum and shared infrastructure for improving cross-project collaboration." Please explain how these activities further a purpose described in section 501(c)(3) of the Code.

  • OSGeo is a federation of software projects run by communities of volunteers who join their efforts for a common goal. The activities listed above help them realize their educational mission by providing a level of confidence in the software which is demonstrated by the recognition of OSGeo in the academic and geomatics industry in general. For instance, this level of confidence and OSGeo's recognition by the industry makes it easier for educational organizations to justify their choice to use OSGeo software in their programs to educate their students. At the end of the day, students want jobs, and they want to know that the software that was used to train them is recognized by the industry that they want to work in.
  • David also said something about there being "no improper private benefit" related to those activities... we'll let him elaborate on that.

5. Your website states that you provide support for the use of OSGeo software in education via curriculum development, outreach and support. Please explain what this entails.

  • The OSGEO Education Committee is driven by a collection of educators from a variety of different international educational institutions with a strong social capital. They have been using OSGeo for several years as a communication and coordination channel for their outreach and curriculum development activities. They are also strong users and supporters of OSGeo software in their respective day to day activities.
  • OSGeo has also signed a number of Memorum of Understandings (MoUs) in support of international initiatives promoting the use of OSGeo software in education via curriculum development, outreach and support, and in most cases the establishment of an Open Source Geospatial Lab (OSGL). These MOUs usually involve the appointment of an OSGeo representative to join the Advisory Board of each initiative. Here are a few examples:

6. Your website refers to both the OSGeo Educational Content Inventory and the OSGeo Education and Curriculum Project. Are these separate programs? Please explain.

  • They overlap and reflect activities from past years. We need to update the educational pages of our website to reflect where we are now.
  • For several years (beginning around 2007) we did develop a first cut at an educational inventory system. We developed a web form and database that allowed members to post metadata on educational material that they had developed. We have a searchable database online of that work.
  • Since then, we have been trying to go the next step and build a repository of actual content, creative commons licensed, and stored so that others can download the content and create new derivatives. Imagine someone translating material or updating something for a new version. We set up a document revision management system (based on subversion) a few years back but that didn't really catch on. This is harder to build than just asking people to post metadata. It requires more time by each author and a commitment to share materials and make them available. We've gone back and forth about developing standard structures and file formats for this content inspired by the way other OSGeo projects do it.
  • Suchith Anand at the University of Nottingham has built a next-generation system that we are trying to migrate to. This is still a work in progress.

7. With respect to the inventory and project referred above, is all of the information contributed by volunteers? Do you monitor the content contributed or take other actions to monitor and maintain the inventory and/or project? Please explain.

  • Yes, volunteer contributions. We used to post periodic reminders to our members to add metadata but haven't done so this past year. Part of that is because of our shift toward the U of Nottingham repository.

8. The OSGeo Educational Content Inventory contains educational material. Is the content of the inventory limited to materials related to the software you sponsor or is it pertinent to other geospatial software? Please explain.

  • The content is most of the time related to OSGeo software but this is not a hard rule. Depending on the topic and who provided the link or content, it may also contain material related to other geospatial software. For instance, material on interoperability and geospatial open standards may apply as much to OSGeo software as to proprietary software.

9. You state that you have an online training material database that students can use to find material for self-study. Is this the material that has been contributed to the OSGeo Educational Content inventory? If not, please explain.

  • Yes.
  • Our hope is that 2013 will bring a new era to this system as the U of Nottingham network continues to be refined and some new initiatives take off.

10. Please provide a description of your last FOSS4G conference. This should include the length of the conference, the number of lectures, workshops, etc, the topics covered and the number of individuals attending.

  • The last global FOSS4G conference was held in Denver, Colorado from September 12-16, 2011. Note that some other groups organize local "FOSS4G" events, such as FOSS4G Japan and FOSS4G North America, with OSGeo's permission to use the FOSS4G name, but OSGeo is not directly involved in organizing these events, just the annual global event. The 2012 global event was scheduled to be held in Beijing, China, but was canceled due to issues with the local organizing committee. The 2013 event will be held in Nottingham, UK, and planning is well advanced for that.
  • The Denver event ran for 5 days in total, 2 days of pre-conference workshops and 3 days for the main conference. It was attended by over 900 people from 42 countries. The program included 24 half day workshops, 12 tutorials of 90 minutes each, approximately 150 technical presentations of 30 minutes each, an academic track with 24 papers, 6 keynote presentations, 12 lightning talks of 5 minutes each. The conference covered a wide range of topics in the broad area of Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial. The detailed program is available at http://2011.foss4g.org/program.

11. How do you make upcoming conferences known to the public?

  • The location of the yearly FOSS4G conference is decided through an open call for proposals and selection process where bids by local groups around the world are submitted and evaluated by the Conference Committee. The bids are public and the decision is usually made and announced by the committee between 1 and 2 years before the conference date.
  • A website is created for each year's conference under the foss4g.org domain, e.g. http://2011.foss4g.org/
  • Announcements about the conference dates, location, and various deadlines (call for proposals, registration period, etc.) are sent from time to time on the general "OSGeo-Discuss" mailing list and on several project discussion forums or mailing lists.
  • Links to the conference website are placed on the main osgeo.org website and on OSGeo software project websites.
  • Community members and partner organizations are encouraged to spread the word through their own website, blogs, network of contacts, social networks, etc.
  • Advertizement through targeted publications (magazines, journals, website ads) may also be published if appropriate (this item is part of the strategy decided by the local organizing committee and may change from year to year)

12. Please provide a copy of your most recent OSGeo Journal.

13. Is your journal published semi-annually or annually?

  • On average semi-annually but no less frequently than annually.

14. Are your annual report and your OSGeo Journal the same publication? If not, please provide a copy of your annual report.

  • Yes. Some volumes of the OSGeo Journal are the annual report (Volume 4, 5, 7, 9, and 11 are annual reports). Not all Journal volumes are annual reports.

15. Are you willing to accept exemption under section 501(c)(3) effective the day you move certain of your activities into your taxable subsidiary? If so, please provide a statement to this effect.

  • David recommended that we do not seek retroactive exemption for past years as this would be harder to get, unless we have a very good reason to do so (and we don't). So here comes our statement:
  • OSGeo is willing to accept exemption under section 501(c)(3) effective the day that we will officially cancel our Project Sponsorship program.

16. If you plan to accept prospective exemption from the time you move certain of your activities into a taxable subsidiary, please furnish financial statements for 2011 and projected financial statements for 2012. If you are seeking exemption from the date you filed your application, please submit financial statements for 2008-2011 and projected financial statements for 2012.

  • TODO: 2011 financial statement
  • TODO: 2012 projected financial statement