The (Legal) Future of Privacy Guides

This is not an announcement of an imminent shutdown of Privacy Guides or a crazy lawsuit or anything :slight_smile:


Today I received an email from Open Collective Foundation (our 501c3 fiscal host which has served our legal needs for many years) telling us that they are completely dissolving their operations by the end of this year, they will no longer accept donations on our behalf next month, and they will be cancelling the donations of our recurring supporters as well.

This is… not great I would say. However, perhaps it is an opportunity to decide as a community what we want Privacy Guides to look like moving forward.

Some options we are considering are forming our own foundation, but I’m not sure if we have any lawyers or nonprofit/business experts within our community who would be willing to help us out in this regard. That might make or break that option.

We also could explore other fiscal host options, I don’t think OCF is the only game in town when it comes to this type of support, although they were the easiest to deal with at the time. If anyone has been involved with other nonprofit and/or FOSS projects that have dealt with this and has a suggestion, please do share.


I’m also curious about our collective opinion on hosting privacy-respecting internet services, which we have not done at any large scale lately. We previously hosted public services like Matrix/Mastodon, and while it was difficult to do, it also was probably the greatest period of growth for Privacy Guides as far as being recognized and getting our message out to new people who previously weren’t interested in privacy/security.

If we thought pursuing that path again is a good idea, that might make me lean more towards creating our own foundation and doubling-down on fundraising efforts for those services.

On the other hand, we could scale back and not do anything besides the Privacy Guides website and forum, which would probably cut down on our costs. Maybe we could revert to not being incorporated at all, and… I guess I’d just pay for our remaining operations out of pocket like I did in ye olden days. It would certainly be easier, but I have a vision of Privacy Guides being completely self-sustaining and independent, and that would be a big step backwards in that regard.

There is also probably a middle ground here, but I’m just putting ideas out for us to consider.


If nobody has any ideas we will figure something out, but all this happens to coincides with some plans I’m working on in the background to open up Privacy Guides to much more community involvement now that we just got into a stable place with a solid community here on the forum, so I thought discussing this issue would be a good step in that direction as well.

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I am assuming you would want it to be a US based foundation? Might be good to clarify that.

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Any org from the eff side in this space?

Definitely don’t want you paying for all this. A sulf-sustaining Privacy Guides is definitely what we’re after.

This seems like the best option if we can find a decent alternative.

I would imagine yes. It is worth noting that our team is spread across the globe though.

We really want community invlovement in this matter, as we are nothing if not a community. Please, everyone, give us your thoughts and feedback - on this topic maybe more than any other of recent times.

On the dissolution FAQ, I found this link, which contains a list of other fiscal sponsors :

See for yourself if there’s one who could be interesting (I hope)

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I am aware but if you seek for help this is an important first decision to make.

why is the forum saying that this will be closed a month after the last reply? i think that should be changed, as i feel like it isnt a topic that should just go stale

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Yes

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I’ve had good experience with New Stories (https://www.newstories.org/) who provide fiscal sponsorship services.

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In my opinion, you have three main options. Note: I’m on the board of MAGIC Grants.

Option 1: Choose a New Fiscal Host

It looks like the OpenCollective platform isn’t shutting down, so you can choose a new fiscal host. This is the least painful method.

MAGIC Grants (https://magicgrants.org) is a 501(c)(3) and its scope includes your educational materials for privacy, so it’s a reasonable option to consider. I will need to discuss with the other board members, but we would be able to host Privacy Guides for your current fee of 5% or better.

Advantages:

  • The least work
  • No additional cost, and possibly cost savings
  • Keep the same platform if you like it
  • Don’t need to handle the tax paperwork, only receipts

Disadvantages:

  • Not as bespoke as other options

This is the best fit if you’re not yet sure if you want to aggressively grow Privacy Guides.

Option 2: Create a Dedicated Fund in Another 501(c)(3)

This one is a little odd, so bear with me. The idea is that you can create a committee as a part of an existing 501(c)(3) nonprofit that votes on how to allocate restricted donations that are provisioned just for this fund. This is how the MAGIC Monero Fund is nestled into MAGIC Grants. There could be a Privacy Guide Fund.

The fund would operate semi-autonomously. It would operate within the restrictions imposed by MAGIC Grants, but critically, it could operate as a part of the parent org. This would give Privacy Guides access to benefits afforded to MAGIC Grants (tax advantages, committee debit card, TechSoup, etc).

With this, you have two options. One option is to continue using OpenCollective with MAGIC Grants as the fiscal host, with 0% platform fees. The other (more difficult) approach is to build your own platform. I recommend the former to start, since you can always decide to switch later.

This second option is my recommendation. It allows the best of both worlds, with limited downsides.

Advantages:

  • Still not that much work
  • No additional cost, and likely cost savings (no need to pay collective fee or Wise transfer fees, etc)
  • More autonomy to raise money on other platforms, or OpenCollective could still be used
  • More autonomy to conduct a broader scope of charitable activities
  • Don’t need to handle the tax paperwork, only receipts
  • Get access to promotional rates/programs given to charities

Disadvantages:

  • Other fundraising platforms would need work/investment
  • Using a new platform (optional) would require more investment
  • Would require transferring Privacy Guides assets (domain, etc.) to MAGIC Grants org (should be done with a restricted donation for this community’s protection)

Option 3: Make Your Own 501(c)(3)

This is the most work, and it costs the most money.

Generally, it costs several thousand dollars to make a new nonprofit, and it requires ongoing paperwork.

The upside is that you have nearly full autonomy. You can use whatever platform you want, raise money however you want, etc., so long as you follow the requirements for your charitable purpose.

The downside is that you now need to deal with a lot of paperwork.

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Thank you for your input Justin! Can you explain how this would work, and what the consequences of doing so would be?

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For this committee setup, the simplest way to handle things is for the domain and any amounts you already have raised to be transferred to the parent org. It appears that Open Collective Foundation can transfer your existing assets to a qualifying 501(c)(3) host if that host passes their due diligence checks.

If you Jonah have the privacyguides.org domain right now, the options are:

  1. You keep the domain under your control and the 501(c)(3) org (with the suggestion of the committee) enters into a service agreement for use of this domain. While this is possible, it’s not ideal, since the org is effectively paying you for the domain that isn’t technically the committee’s.

  2. You donate the domain to the 501(c)(3) organization with a restricted donation. You could donate the domain with the requirement that the domain is used for the purpose of hosting free, open-source, and ad/referral-free educational resources with the domain, and potentially other restrictions like committee supervision of it. This would be done with some language you and the receiving organization agree to in advance of the donation. I recommend focusing on the most important restrictions which are easy to evaluate and enforce. This could impact the tax deductibility of the domain donation, but this probably isn’t a major consideration.

Edit: one additional restriction could be that if the committee were to make their own qualifying 501(c)(3) in the future, that it could be transferred to that organization. Something along those lines.

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I’m from Techlore community.

I original saw forum post on Mastodon.

I can’t speak about legal status of Privacy Guides. As I’m not qualified to give advice around legal stuff.

Jonah please don’t go back to the “olden days.”

For donation I believe you should find a new fiscal host option. as I believe it will Enabling Growth for Privacy Guide’s with donations can provide the financial means necessary to expand. Whether it’s launching a new project, expanding services, or reaching a wider audience, donations can be the catalyst for growth and innovation.

I don’t know if you looked into Liberapay perhaps might be a good option.

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All posts in Announcements are like that.

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A brief note for the record

I should note that nothing I’m discussing in this entire thread is anything I’ve discussed with other team members, so I can’t speak “on behalf of Privacy Guides” on this matter, I’m just gathering data to eventually present a complete proposal to the rest of the team.


edit: I'm not sure if this makes sense as a direction to go in anymore

@sgp I have an idea bouncing around in my head which I’d like to get your opinion on, which basically boils down to creating a fund separate from Privacy Guides, say the “MAGIC Privacy Fund” or something, which in turn could provide grants/fundraising services to an independent, open-source Privacy Guides project in addition to other privacy-related projects as the fund committee sees fit.

Privacy Guides assets like the domain would probably still be donated to this hypothetical Privacy Fund to be supervised by the committee, but day-to-day management of Privacy Guides (what we publish, etc.) would be handled by dedicated Privacy Guides maintainers (which may or may not overlap with the Fund committee).

In my mind this solves a number of problems for us:

  1. Allows us to support other projects, separately from “Privacy Guides.” This is an idea we’ve been considering for a while, and one of the problems is that there’s a lot of hesitation to support projects which aren’t currently recommended by Privacy Guides (e.g. brand new ideas). We basically have to balance between having very stringent criteria and wanting to support potentially new/untested ideas. If new privacy-related projects could receive funding from the Privacy Fund separately, that would take pressure off of Privacy Guides to “endorse/recommend” such projects prematurely.

  2. Avoids Privacy Guides’s management by committee to some extent. Not sure if that’s the right way to word it exactly, but one of the challenges we’re trying to navigate is opening up Privacy Guides governance while maintaining our own cohesive vision for what the website and recommendations should look like. Having the funding be completely separated from the project would let us open that fund to more open governance and enable us to support other projects, while Privacy Guides itself could remain directed by core project maintainers who can (continue to) take a more opinionated approach.

  3. Provides Privacy Guides proper with a much narrower focus. Privacy Guides itself would essentially revert to being a simple open-source research/education project without having any additional goals on top of that. I can see this being a benefit for current/future team members who are primarily only interested in writing for the website and supporting PG communities like this forum. These people being able to serve as “just” Privacy Guides maintainers and not Privacy Fund committee members might relieve some stress people currently have as Privacy Guides has attempted to expand.

A problem I’ve identified is that the Privacy Fund committee would likely have high/complete overlap with the maintainers of Privacy Guides, at least initially, and so the Fund issuing a grant “to PG” could possibly be considered a conflict of interest. I don’t know if that’s an actual issue or not, and if it is maybe it could be resolved by saying that grants to PG (or more generally, grants to committee members) have to be approved by the MAGIC Grants Board whereas all other grants could be approved by the Privacy Fund committee normally? I think we would just have to explicitly have some mechanism to grant funds to committee members basically if we went this route.

I don’t really know if any of this makes sense or is feasible, let me know.

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Fiscal Sponsorship — HCB thoughts @jonah ?

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I forgot about HCB, but I remember looking at them before. That might be a good option to consider :+1:

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Definitely an interesting idea. I’ll think about this more.

I emailed EFF. Will keep you updated.