Announcing the Nivenly Foundation

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Nivenly Foundation blue and yellow flame logo with black text reading Nivenly Foundation

Introducing Nivenly

Today marks the official “release” of the Nivenly Foundation.

We are very excited to have finally reached this juncture in our journey. This means we’ve opened up the ability to do direct donations and are also opening up memberships. There is a lot of information we are going to provide in this post, please use the table of contents below to jump around as needed:

What is the Nivenly Foundation?

The Nivenly Foundation is a non-profit co-op that we’re creating to provide governance and legal support to open source projects. Each concept in this sentence was chosen with care, the ultimate goal is to create a place where individuals, project maintainers, and project sponsoring entities can build healthy, effective, and sustainable working relationships that nurture the positive benefits that each group brings while offsetting common sources of friction, bias, and unbalanced influence that often create discord, block progress, and are not sustainable in the long term.

Why a co-op?

The co-operative structure allows for members to partake in decisions that govern the co-operative entity. In our case as a foundation, that means that all members work together to make decisions and find solutions. We chose this structure specifically for this reason: we wanted to create a place where everyone that uses, builds, and finances open source software to have a voice in decisions that impact them. In fact, “uses, builds, and finances” is what we determined the main differentiators are for the member types.


Membership is a core concept to co-ops, as the co-op defines one or more member classes and then also defines the mechanics of how they raise concerns, make decisions, reach consensus, change policy, and so on.

Here at Nivenly, there are three types of membership: general membership, project membership, and trade membership (use, build, and finance - with some overlap). All members must adhere to the Nivenly Covenant and membership itself is managed via Open Collective.

General membership

General memberships are open to all individuals that are willing to adhere to the Nivenly covenant. You do not need to write code, provide donations (beyond member dues), supply in-kind donations, or do literally anything else to become a general member. General members vote in general elections, and the outcome of general elections is decided by a majority vote. At minimum, the quorum percentage of general members must participate in the election for the results to be valid.

General memberships are currently $7 / mo. (USD) and are available on our Open Collective page.

Project membership

Project memberships are for project maintainers of projects supported by the Nivenly Foundation. Project members must also adhere to the Nivenly covenant. There are no dues or fees associated with project membership: project members are supporting Nivenly just by contributing to their project(s).

For information about becoming a project member, please email us at

Trade membership

Trade memberships are for companies, businesses, and similar organizations, foundations, and entities, that wish to support the Nivenly Foundation and partake in governance. Trade memberships are purchased and price is based on the size of the entity. The pricing structure is on our governance page.

For information about becoming a trade member, please email us at

More information on governance

For more information about the governance model, please check out our governance page. We’re also going to be updating our docs in the coming weeks and months with more detail about governance application processes, and more - so stay tuned!

Why a non-profit?

The main reason we have chosen to found a non-profit is our collaborative intent. There are three ways that being a non-profit, instead of a for-profit, helps with our mission:

  1. Makes it easier for board members and other volunteers to work on the Foundation and its projects while also having their dayjob.
  2. Makes it easier to partner with other entities, both for-profit and non-profit.
  3. Makes it easier to prioritize the community needs over business needs.

How does being a non-profit “make it easier” for each of these?

It is common for many employers to need to have clauses in their employee contracts about not having secondary jobs, receiving payment for other work, or basically otherwise engaging in activity that could create a conflict of interest with their employer. Even the most progressive and relaxed employee IP agreements such as GitHub’s Balanced Employee IP Agreement (BEIPA) call out specific rules for navigating IP with regard to non-employer activities. As a non-profit that is not competing with a potential contributor’s parent company, we are intentionally trying to avoid situations that would be common sources for conflicts of interest.

In the same way that being a for-profit may introduce a conflict of interest for potential volunteers and contributors on an individual level, it also could have created a conflict of interest at the “organizational” or “company” level. We want to be able to collaborate with existing companies, businesses, and non-profit organizations, foundations, and so forth. It is our belief that heavy competition is the death of collaboration; therefore, in order to foster a collaborative environment, we chose to be a non-profit.

Being a non-profit also helps us be able to nurture a healthy relationship with the Nivenly Community. In a competitive environment, when the community and business needs come into conflict frequently the business needs are prioritized. The purpose of a non-profit is specifically to provide service(s) and other community benefit, which means that being a non-profit puts us more in alignment with our community by default than having a for-profit status.

We provide our open source projects and services assistance with:

  • Managing funding
  • Community management
  • Decision-Making
  • We file and hold trademarks for IP protection

With these, we try to make it easier for projects that are just starting out to have access to the tools they need - both human and legal - so they can be successful. We also want to make it possible for companies et al to contribute in a low risk way that avoids indirect competition. To put it another way, the individual projects themselves do not need to create an entity that would put their volunteers and maintainers at risk of violating any of their employment contracts, just to get certain legal protections met for the project.

Donations are not memberships

Key takeaway: memberships are different from direct donations.

Donations: When you as an individual or entity want to support the Nivenly Foundation but do not want to take part in governance (or would like to donate beyond your member dues). Support can come via direct or in-kind donations and can be to Nivenly as the parent org or made directly to any of its projects such as Hachyderm and Aurae.

Memberships: When you as an individual, project, or entity want to support the Nivenly Foundation and absofragginlutely do want to partake in governance. There are a few different paths to membership, and we’ll be covering them all in the next section.

The main takeaway is that you can support Nivenly via a membership and partake in governance and/or separately donate to Nivenly or any of its projects. Currently, the two projects are Hachyderm and Aurae, and between these Hachyderm is the hungry one, financially speaking. That means that most of direct-to-Nivenly donations and membership dues are supporting Hachyderm specifically. As we grow, and possibly take on other large projects, this is likely to change.

How to donate and where to buy swag

The Swag Store

Swag for Nivenly, Hachyderm, and Aurae is available on our swag store:

Nivenly Foundation Swag Store

Right now there are a lot of options as we let SpreadShirt do its thing, though we might slim it down once we know what the preferred options are as there are a lot of options that might be overwhelming. When you use the top nav bar to select a particular type of clothing or accessory (stickers, mugs, etc.) the results are for only the Nivenly store, not site-wide for SpreadShirt.


There are a few places to donate directly to the Nivenly Foundation and its member projects. Since many of our members have GitHub accounts, one of the easier ways to donate is via Nivenly’s GitHub Sponsor page.

That said, the Nivenly Foundation and its member projects all have their own sponsor pages on GitHub. You can also do a one-time donation via Stripe directly to Nivenly or, if you were previously using Kris N贸va’s Ko-fi to donate to Nivenly and/or Hachyderm, you should update to donating to Nivenly’s Ko-fi directly. We will leave Kris N贸va’s Ko-fi up and transfer Nivenly-specific donations out of it for the next month or two while people transition away from using her Ko-fi exclusively. When we are closing to closing her Ko-fi (for Nivenly anyway) we will post another announcement. For those donating specifically to Kris N贸va because she’s awesome: no changes needed.

Complete list of ways to donate to Nivenly and Nivenly’s projects:

What’s next?

The one long task we’re working on in parallel with all of our other tasks: finalizing our 501(c)3 status with the IRS. This is a time-consuming process, so we’ll announce, loudly and proudly, once it’s complete rather than a series of iterative updates. Based on our prior experience with this it should take roughly a year to complete, but we’ll be overjoyed if it happens sooner.

Beyond the 501(c)3 status, there are a couple organizational things that we’ll be working on in the upcoming months and during our first year overall.

  • Baking into the bylaws how new projects are onboarded into the organization. Effectively: “which member types vote and on what”.
  • Building process around, and getting started on, our technical opinion pieces.

Of course, these bylaws and any future changes to them will continue to be made in public.

The opinion pieces are something that we strongly feel will benefit the community. Essentially, we’re looking to create deep analyses of different, relevant, technologies to help the community grow their industry-specific knowledge. You’ll be seeing more about this as we approach our first publication.