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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 7th 2020

    The nnLab currently runs on a machine provided by Steve Awodey and due to the immense volunteer work by our admin, Richard Williamson. But that machine is dying, and there is plenty of reasons to wish for improvements in our installation. Richard is looking into all of this, thankfully and voluntarily.

    While this is great, many things would be easier if we had 1) some financial resources to spend on the nnLab and 2) more people with time and energy to work on it – keep it alive and improve it.

    Last time we had a discussion like this, there was a flood of replies by people who offered financial contributions. I’d like to come back to these offers. But it’s less trivial to collect a bunch of money than it may sound. Certainly I am not well-versed in the matter, nor very keen on dealing with it.

    Looking around, I got the hint that the way to go in the present case would be to set up a “non-profit entity”. People who’d like to support the nnLab would send money to this non-profit entity, and some admin of that entity would decide how to use that money to buy/rent equipment and/or services.

    Now, turns out that it’s also not trivial to set up a “non-profit entity”. I don’t feel that I can really look into this alongside other tasks that I have.

    Therefore my question here: Does anyone reading here have experience with this? Does anyone here see themselves offering (help) to set up a non-profit entity “Help the nnLab”?

  1. Thanks very much for raising this, Urs. I have for a long time felt that this setting up of a non-profit entity is the right way forward, and that all bureaucratic effort put into it is worth it.

    I live in Norway (and am a Norwegian citizen), and here it is quite easy to set up such an entity I think. I would in principle be willing to set this up. However, my feeling has been that it is not optimal for the entity to be registered in a country which does not have English as its language. Ideally, I think it’d be best to set it up in an English-speaking country where there are several regular, long-term nLab contributors. I think the US and the UK are probably the only countries really fitting this criterion currently. Every time we raise this, Mike, Todd, and other US residents say that the bureaucracy is overwhelmingly difficult in the US. In the UK, we do have both David Corfield and Tim Porter. Last time this was discussed, I briefly investigated the UK process, and it didn’t seem too bad to me.

    Would one of you, David, or Tim, perhaps be willing to carry this process out?

    If not, I can try it in Norway, but I do foresee potential problems with being dependent on one person.

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 7th 2020

    Thanks, Richard. I didn’t know that you have thought so concretely about this.

    For what it’s worth, I have residency in the UAE, where English is second official language. If that helps?

    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeNov 7th 2020

    Never wanting to make things too simple for you, the UK government tells us of a variety of vehicles, Setting up a social enterprise.

    That ’community interest company’ is a possibility perhaps – just 11 chapters and 3 annexes to read up on here.

    Or should it be a unincorporated association?

    But then there are charitable institutions, including charitable incorporated organisation (CIO), charitable company (limited by guarantee) and trust.

    Since our goals are two of those listed ((b)the advancement of education (f)the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science), charitable status is possible.

    That narrows it down to 5 choices.

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeNov 7th 2020

    I see Wikimedia UK has charitable status. That allows donors to reclaim tax.

  2. I think Urs has mentioned PayPal as a possibility in the past, so I took a look at the following https://www.paypal.com/uk/webapps/mpp/not-for-profit-2. It looks like it would be possible to set up a ’not for profit’ PayPal account registered by Urs (if willing), and for that I think the simplest possible type of UK entity (’unincorporated association’) together with a written constitution would be sufficient.

    Does this sound OK, Urs?

    If so, would you be able to set up the unincorporated association, David?

  3. There are some alternatives to PayPal it seems, which might be superior: Stripe for example allows a little page to be embedded to make a donation, which might be useful in some circumstances.

    One thing I’m uncertain about is that AWS (Amazon Web Services) requires a credit card for bills. Thus the flow with use of PayPal would be that people donate using PayPal, and then Urs extracts the money into his credit card account as needed. I am not sure if this is OK for Urs with regard to tax.

    If this solution doesn’t work, we’d have to ensure that the not-for-profit entity is able to obtain a credit card in its name. I’d guess that needs something stronger than an ’unincorporated association’.

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020

    Thanks for the pointers. That would be nice if PayPal is an easy solution.

    Regarding transferring from there to my account: Of course I could easily do that in itself, but would it not defeat the purpose of the exercise, which is to avoid taxing of all donations as they are but channeled through to the actual payment elsewhere?

    But maybe AWS could be paid via PayPal, with a credit card offered only for security?

    • CommentRowNumber9.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020

    See also: Patreon. ko-fi. The former means people can sign up to have an automatic small deduction each month, which is perhaps better for continuing income.

    • CommentRowNumber10.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020
    • (edited Nov 10th 2020)

    Seen those, yes, but does it help here? Patreon et al is for financing the receiving entity as a profit entity, not for that entity to channel the donations further along.

    It’s easy for me to collect donations to myself. But these will be taxed as my income. Then when I next go and rent nLab equipment from that “income” it’s all being taxed again.

    The point of a “non-profit entity” is to avoid this successive evaporation of donations.

    • CommentRowNumber11.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020

    Hmm, I would have thought the receiving entity for the Patreon (et al) donations could be the non-profit entity. But maybe that’s not possible, I haven’t looked into it.

    • CommentRowNumber12.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020
    • (edited Nov 10th 2020)

    Re #8: thanks for clarifying regarding tax. Frustratingly, AWS does not currently allow payment directly from PayPal. Then we will need a credit card in the not for profit entity’s name. At least one of the options that David C linked to allows this I think, I will look into which one when I get the chance, unless someone does it first!

    • CommentRowNumber13.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020

    If it’s true that the cost of the AWS server is less than or about 100 USD per month, then this doesn’t need much donating anyways, I can just pay that.

    I was thinking that the collection of donations could be used for larger expenses, such as some serious software overhauling. I know you have been looking into this in your spare time, but if we could finance you and/or some company to look into it professionally full-time, that might finally get the nnLab installation out of the doldrums.

    • CommentRowNumber14.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020
    • (edited Nov 10th 2020)

    Sounds good (though I don’t think we should need or expect that you pay it). For me it’s more of a time than a financial limitation, and I think it’s good for someone like me who follows daily activity on the nLab and nForum to have final responsibility for the software, but I can certainly imagine hiring in people to add features when I don’t have time for it for example, e.g. the preview functionality currently. I definitely think we should try to set up a not-for-profit entity in whose name we can open a bank account with a credit/debit card; let’s just identify which kind of entity will allow us to do this.

    • CommentRowNumber15.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020
    • (edited Nov 10th 2020)

    Okay, so we still need someone to set up that non-profit entity “Help the nnLab”.

    In #6 you are asking David C. to look into it. Is it an easy thing for anyone to do? Does it not require a fair bit of paperwork?

    I’d be more than happy if David could just do it, but I am just wondering if it’s not a tall order. My intention with starting this thread was to see if any reader lurking here might have experience with or inclination towards looking into such matters.

    • CommentRowNumber16.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020
    • (edited Nov 10th 2020)

    I think for the simplest versions at least it is not very much work, though it is a while since I looked into it in the UK. As I mentioned, I don’t mind myself looking into it in Norway, where the process is pretty efficient, but everything (bank account, etc) would be in Norwegian, which strikes me as a long-term obstacle. Nevertheless, if David C prefers not to and nobody else shows up, I can try to do it in Norway if people wish.

    • CommentRowNumber17.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020
    • (edited Nov 10th 2020)

    If you (Richard) are willing to be in charge of what’s being done with the donations – which I gather is the case per your message #14 – then it is probably convenient if you also represent that “non-profit entity”.

    • CommentRowNumber18.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2020
    • (edited Nov 10th 2020)

    It seems quite straightforward to set up an unincorporated association. You don’t have to register, just agree a constitution. The main thing would probably be setting up a bank account:

    If an association has money, it will probably have a bank account. That will have been set up in law as an account in the name of two to four individuals. The bank will look to those people as individuals to run the account. Technically, they are trustees for their members, but the bank is not concerned with a beneficial interest. The same considerations apply whether contract involves a transfer of money or some non-monetary obligation.

    • CommentRowNumber19.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeNov 12th 2020

    This looks handy for advice on a constitution.

    • CommentRowNumber20.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 12th 2020

    Thanks for the pointer. I can try to write a skeleton constitution later today.

    But maybe I need to know: I take it that you (David, alongside Richard’s clearly stated intention above), are committed to the project?

    It looks like we need three signatories (at least) of which at least two will need to sign any transaction the entity makes. So maybe you, Richard and myself?

    • CommentRowNumber21.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeNov 12th 2020

    Sure, I can sign.

    Are Mike, Todd, David R. reading?

    One small issue is that to open a UK bank account for the association in the names of at least two people, I think we’ll need another UK resident. But I would have to check on that.

    • CommentRowNumber22.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeNov 12th 2020
    • (edited Nov 12th 2020)

    Great. I am happy to give feedback on a draft; maybe just post it here? Yes, I am committed to doing this.

    I am slightly concerned about the practicalities of setting up a bank account with an unincorporated association (e.g. I have read that one sometimes needs signatures from several people every time one wishes to do anything with the bank account), but haven’t had time to properly investigate it yet. But I think we will need a written constitution in all possible cases.

    • CommentRowNumber23.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 12th 2020

    Yes, that’s what it says behind that link that David gave in #19: That at least three signatories must sign the creation of the account, and at least two must sign any transaction.

    • CommentRowNumber24.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 12th 2020
    • (edited Nov 12th 2020)

    By the way, if one of you wants to go ahead with drafting a “constitution”, please do. But if not, I can try to look into it later today.

  4. In principle I don’t mind, but I don’t think I’ll manage it before then, so feel free to go ahead, and I can give feedback/suggest edits if needed.

    • CommentRowNumber26.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeNov 12th 2020
    • (edited Nov 12th 2020)

    I’m reading, and happy to discuss. A reasonable point of reference might be the constitution for Compositionality, although that is perhaps not the exact model we need.

    • CommentRowNumber27.
    • CommentAuthorGuest
    • CommentTimeNov 12th 2020

    Apologies for being a little late to the discussion. If it’s still relevant, I’ve helped set up two category theory related nonprofits recently. I’d be happy to try to use these organisations to help the nLab directly, or provide advice on setting up your own.

    In terms of administrative support, I think the best option would be using Topos Institute. We’re a US-based nonprofit research institute roughly based around applied category theory. We start operations in January, and our initial faculty will include David Spivak, Valeria de Paiva, Evan Patterson, and myself. John Baez and Eugenia Cheng are advisors. Needless to say we’re all incredibly appreciative of the nLab.

    We have professional accounting and HR systems, and I’m sure we could use them to support the nLab. Donations can easily be marked for nLab usage only. Since we have 501(c)(3) status, we’re tax-exempt in the US. (We may eventually apply for tax-exempt status in the UK too, but I can’t give a timeline on that.) There may presently be a minimum size on donations that are practical for us to handle; if you have an idea about the size and frequency of donations I can look into the details. It’s also possible that we may able to help with computing resources/small operational costs, and support grant applications.

    If you’d prefer a UK-based organisation, there is the Compositionality CIO, which presently handles the finances of the Compositionality Journal. I believe the trustees are presently Bob Coecke, Simon Willerton, Jeremy Gibbons, and Joshua Tan, so they jointly hold access to the bank account. It’s a volunteer run organisation. I’m not sure exactly what the tax exemption status is; as far as I know our expenses are so low that it’s not been relevant for us and our donor.

    Regarding setting up a new entity, setting up Compositionality in the UK was a lot simpler than setting up Topos in the US (which matches Richard’s comments in #2). (That said, I’m not sure how much of this is because Topos is a much heavier-duty entity, handling multiple magnitudes more funding.) Nina Otter wrote our constitution. One problem we had was that it took over a year to set up a bank account because we couldn’t find a UK bank that would let us set up a charity account if we had any non-resident trustees. As a result, we had to call a general meeting and switch around our trustees so that they were all UK-based. Perhaps it’s worth checking with a bank if you might run into the same problem. Would be happy to talk in more detail about our experience anytime.

    Brendan Fong

    • CommentRowNumber28.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeNov 12th 2020

    I mentioned on Twitter that the nLab could have a print on demand merchandise store (eg Redbubble, just because I know they ship internationally) that sold “official” products. Like mugs, tshirts, stickers etc. People seemed to be interested. I can create designs, other than the new logo, if need be.

  5. Just a quick note that what Brendan suggests sounds like a great option to me, and regardless we should definitely accept his offer of help! The main question I would have is that if we wish to host the nLab in AWS, we’d need to use a credit or debit card. Could the Topos Institute already take care of that? Or is there perhaps a different cloud setup the Topos Institute is already using which might be suitable for the nLab too?

    • CommentRowNumber30.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeNov 13th 2020

    Thanks very much for that information, Brendan. I suspected the UK bank account might be an large issue. They’re very concerned to meet anti-money-laundering regulations.

    • CommentRowNumber31.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 13th 2020

    Hi Brendan,

    thanks a lot for the message.

    For those like me not versed in these matters, could you maybe say more concretely what you could advice we should do?

    You write:

    We have professional accounting and HR systems, and I’m sure we could use them to support the nLab.

    and that sounds nice, but I am not sure what it means to “support” the nLab here. (Just me being slow, please bear with me.)

    Is this suggesting that we would not necessarily need to set up any legal entity ourselves if we’d be content with using a donation mechanism via your organization?

    You also write:

    if you have an idea about the size and frequency of donations I can look into the details.

    I have no idea what people will donate once we tell them that there is a way to donate. I gather from what you say it’s small donations that are harder to deal with than lager ones?

    Since I have just no idea, maybe let’s turn this around: If you could tell us conditions (such as upper/lower limits on donation size or frequency) under which you could easily see yourself providing help, then I suspect we would be able to adjust to these requirements, for a start.

    • CommentRowNumber32.
    • CommentAuthorGuest
    • CommentTimeNov 13th 2020

    Urs writes:

    For those like me not versed in these matters, could you maybe say more concretely what you could advice we should do?

    I suspect Topos is likely your best option. Indeed, a big part of our motivation in creating Topos is to support valuable scientific activities that we believe don’t presently find strong institutional support, such as the nLab. We have very strong common goals around advancing category theory research and making it more available. So I’m very excited to volunteer help, and hope that we can make the admin very easy for you, so that you all can focus on the nLab itself.

    Let me be more concrete, after the following caveat.

    Urs also writes:

    I am not sure what it means to “support” the nLab here. (Just me being slow, please bear with me.)

    Sorry for being vague. My excuse is that while I believe the case for Topos supporting the nLab is extremely strong, I can’t promise specifics without consulting others. So please take what follows only as an indicative vision that I can help advocate for, should it suit you.

    Urs writes:

    Is this suggesting that we would not necessarily need to set up any legal entity ourselves if we’d be content with using a donation mechanism via your organization?

    Yes, exactly. The arrangement could be something like follows.

    If someone wants to donate funding to the nLab, they would make an electronic transfer or write a cheque to Topos. We would receive this money, and write a receipt to the donor as necessary. In our accounting system, we would mark these funds as “restricted for nLab use”.

    To spend this money, we could pay bills directly, or you could pay first and submit requests for reimbursement. I imagine what’s easiest depends on the type of expense.

    Urs:

    If you could tell us conditions (such as upper/lower limits on donation size or frequency) under which you could easily see yourself providing help, then I suspect we would be able to adjust to these requirements, for a start.

    The fewer transactions, the less paperwork. Paperwork costs volunteer time, admin/accountant fees, or both. So it would be inconvenient/expensive for us if you asked the top 500 nLab users for $5 each, or if you had 50 nLab subscribers paying $5/month. On the other hand, eg. a few payments of $1000 every now and then would be quite easy for us to handle.

    But we do want to help, so if you think something like the former is more likely than the latter (or maybe there’s a completely different scenario, like grant funding), we can work together to figure out how to make it work (eg. setting up some system that would automate the paperwork, which is currently largely done by hand).

    Richard writes:

    The main question I would have is that if we wish to host the nLab in AWS, we’d need to use a credit or debit card. Could the Topos Institute already take care of that? Or is there perhaps a different cloud setup the Topos Institute is already using which might be suitable for the nLab too?

    We could definitely provide a payment card. We have discussed creating a cloud setup (maybe AWS), so it’s also very possible we could share one – I’ll have to speak to Evan and others to find out exactly what our requirements and plans are.


    Finally, since Urs asked for advice, while letting us help out will hopefully be significantly less work for you, I can see two (related) ways in which Topos might be less favourable.

    1. Independence. If you run nLab funding through Topos, then Topos stands between you and your money. So you’ll need to interact with us whenever you want to receive a donation, or make a payment. This is convenient at times (eg. we deal with tax compliance), but inconvenient at others (eg. no nLab credit card). You’ll also be subject to our allowable expense policies (not onerous, but eg. no first class flights).

    2. Bureaucracy. The nLab is a beautiful example of a community-run and community-owned structure. Topos is sympathetic to this, but you will have probably already sensed that (for various reasons, eg. legal accountability) we have found need to be more formal. We’ll likely have to figure out a structure for authorising purchases and submitting receipts. This will be as lightweight as we can make it, but it’ll likely be slightly more formal than what you would need in a smaller, independent organisation.

    Brendan Fong

    • CommentRowNumber33.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeNov 14th 2020

    This sounds to me like a very generous offer that we should take up. Thank you!

    • CommentRowNumber34.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 14th 2020

    Brendan, thanks for providing more details and for the general offer. I agree with Richard and David, this sounds good.

    If we all agree we should try this, what would be the next step to take on our side?

    (Regarding expense policy: I don’t envision travel expenses, but how about the hiring of an IT-company, say to add some feature to the nLab, would that be possible through Topos?

    • CommentRowNumber35.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeNov 14th 2020

    Personally, I envisage a nontrivial number of small contributions, but apart from that I very much appreciate the offer and would be happy to take it up.

    • CommentRowNumber36.
    • CommentAuthorGuest
    • CommentTimeNov 16th 2020

    Urs writes:

    Brendan, thanks for providing more details and for the general offer. I agree with Richard and David, this sounds good.

    If we all agree we should try this, what would be the next step to take on our side?

    Thank you all for running a resource that has shaped my life as a mathematician! I’m excited to be able to help support it.

    I’ll check with the others at Topos, and get back to you within the next day or two with confirmation we can provide this, and some ideas about next steps. Since David R mentions there might be a nontrivial number of small contributions, I’ll see if anyone has a good idea how we can deal with this efficiently too.

    (Regarding expense policy: I don’t envision travel expenses, but how about the hiring of an IT-company, say to add some feature to the nLab, would that be possible through Topos?

    Yes, this is perfectly fine. The purpose of our expense policy is to ensure we use funds in a way compatible with our mission to act in the public interest, for both its own sake and for the confidence of potential government auditors, donors, and the general public. Hiring an IT company to improve the nLab is certainly in line with this.

    Brendan Fong

    • CommentRowNumber37.
    • CommentAuthorTim_Porter
    • CommentTimeNov 16th 2020

    Some years ago I was involved with the setting up of the K-theory foundation. We considered setting that up in the UK, but that looked too complicated and it was done in Maryland. As I did not know if the laws etc relating to non-profits in the UK had changed I have not given any input up to now, but it seems to me, the discussion is going in an excellent direction.

    • CommentRowNumber38.
    • CommentAuthorBrendan Fong
    • CommentTimeNov 18th 2020
    Looks like we can go ahead! Now we just need to figure out the practicalities. Do you have any further sense of timelines/amounts/volume for donations and expenses?

    The simplest arrangement could be the following. First, it would be helpful to have an nLab representative who can work with me to keep everything in order. Then to donate or to spend money, someone can simply jointly email the two of us to arrange for the transaction. I'll rely on the nLab representative to approve expenses. For transparency, we'll create a publicly-viewable Google Sheet which lists donations (amount and date) and expenditures (amount, date, and purpose), and log all transactions there.

    If at any time the arrangement is not working out, the nLab representative can ask us to transfer all remaining nLab funds to another legal entity that represents the nLab.

    Is this a good place to start?
    • CommentRowNumber39.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeNov 18th 2020

    Sounds good to me

    • CommentRowNumber40.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2020

    Dear Brendan,

    thanks a lot for all this! You have bootstrapped us here from a vague possibility to a working reality.

    Do you have any further sense of timelines/amounts/volume for donations and expenses?

    The scale of donations is anyone’s guess at the moment, though we may soon find out.

    On expenses there is currently envisioned 1) monthly payment of server rent of ~50-100 USD/month, 2) hiring of an IT company to help with some heavier tasks on the installation, which will cost in units of 1k USD (and we’ll have to see if size of donations makes this feasible at all).

    First, it would be helpful to have an nLab representative who can work with me to keep everything in order. Then to donate or to spend money, someone can simply jointly email the two of us to arrange for the transaction. I’ll rely on the nLab representative to approve expenses.

    Or does it make sense for donors to earmark their donation for a certain purpose?

    Namely, I was thinking to make a webpage with a list of intended projects and their projected costs (such as “pay rent for the server” or “hire a company to code a preview functionality”) such that donors could label their donations to be for one of these purposes.

    This way, the decision on our end would not be so much which money to spend (the donors would have decided that), but only on how to spend it properly (like which cloud/IT company to choose). For that we need somebody with some technical expertise. I’d be happy if Richard could be that “representative”, unless he says he is already too busy otherwise.

    For transparency, we’ll create a publicly-viewable Google Sheet which lists donations (amount and date) and expenditures (amount, date, and purpose), and log all transactions there.

    If at any time the arrangement is not working out, the nLab representative can ask us to transfer all remaining nLab funds to another legal entity that represents the nLab.

    This sounds perfect. Thanks for doing all this!

    We’ll try to sort out the choice of that “representative” and then get back to you.

    And then we should start setting up a webpage “nLab – Donations” to give this new mechanism a public (inter-)face and for the details of it to take shape.

    • CommentRowNumber41.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2020
    • (edited Nov 19th 2020)

    I’d be happy if Richard could be that “representative”, unless he says he is already too busy otherwise.

    I’d be happy to do that. I am indeed very busy, but I am usually able to carry out small tasks fairly quickly; this should fit into that category!

    And then we should start setting up a webpage “nLab – Donations” to give this new mechanism a public (inter-)face and for the details of it to take shape.

    I can put such a page up once we are ready.

    The main thing I’d suggest to put funds into in the immediate instance is the setting up of the nLab in AWS. Ideally I’d not use big companies like Amazon, but the way the infrastructure of the internet is today, it is only AWS, Google, and other big tech/telecommunications companies that have the scale to provide a quality service, and almost every software entity, small or large, is using them; this may change in the future, but it would be a paradigm shift, and is not on the immediate horizon. As I mentioned before, for this I’d need a credit or debit card to be made available which I could use in the AWS account, or else, as Brendan mentioned, the Topos Institute could set up a general infrastructure with an IAM user for us, so that we do not actually handle billing ourselves. Thus I’d consider it a high priority to decide what we will do in this regard, Brendan. I have a lot of professional experience from using AWS, and could try to collaborate with the Topos Institute on setting up a general infrastructure if wished; but of course it’s completely fine if you already have sufficient expertises in that regard :-). I am also fine to set up our own AWS infrastructure (actually we already have it) if a card can be arranged.

    • CommentRowNumber42.
    • CommentAuthorBrendan Fong
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2020
    Sounds great!

    Regarding AWS, Evan Patterson is in charge of that from our side, so perhaps the three of us can talk sometime and figure out the best way to work together on this. Evan's done a bit of this stuff before, but we'd be grateful for your advice. Is a video call a good next step? If so I can send up an email thread to find a time.
  6. Sounds good! Video will be difficult for me as I mostly only have free time at odd hours, but we could try to discuss it over email as a first step?

    • CommentRowNumber44.
    • CommentAuthorBrendan Fong
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2020
    Okay, let's do that.
    • CommentRowNumber45.
    • CommentAuthorTodd_Trimble
    • CommentTimeDec 19th 2020

    I’m in the process of catching up with missed nForum messages, and just saw this. What’s the status?

    • CommentRowNumber46.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeDec 19th 2020

    I’d very much like to have some low-level of raising of funds via merchandise, but I need to be told how one can set this up to funnel funds towards the official account.

    • CommentRowNumber47.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeDec 19th 2020
    • (edited Dec 19th 2020)

    Status is that Brendan has kindly set up an AWS account for us which will be billed to the Topos Institute. The idea is that we (the nLab) will collaborate with the Topos Institute to raise funds as required, but we have not come far enough/had the need yet to discuss precise details. In summary, the Topos Institute have relieved us of the administrative task of handling the money and of taking ultimate responsibility for this, which has been the main issue; this is a great step forward in my opinion!

    All we need now is for me is to find some time to complete the migration of the nLab/nForum from the old software to the newly written code hosted in AWS…!

  7. Re #46: If you’d like to take responsibility for organising this merchandise, David, I don’t see any barriers to beginning right away. I’d suggest to:

    a) check that Urs, as de facto leader of the nLab, is OK with it;

    b) get in touch with Brendan to discuss the financial organisation. I’m sure he will be able to provide you with what you need.

    • CommentRowNumber49.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeDec 19th 2020

    Hi Richard,

    great to hear that you and Brendan have been making good progress on getting the AWS migration started.

    Looking back over the last comments, it seems our exchange from #41 is still the latest on getting a donation-mechanism into place:

    And then we should start setting up a webpage “nLab – Donations” to give this new mechanism a public (inter-)face and for the details of it to take shape.

    I can put such a page up once we are ready.

    Probably such a page should be an nnLab page, much like the HowTo-page – maybe: Donations.

    But do you know what it needs to say?! (Topos institute account details etc.?)

    Does the Topos institute have a page that informs about how to donate to them? We could build on that, and just add some way to earmark donations to be for nnLab purposes.

  8. Hi Urs, I don’t have account details, but I think it best to let Brendan take the lead on this. The Topos Institute has some existing funds of its own, and Brendan will be able to guide us on what he feels we should do. If a donation page hosted by us is the best way to proceed, we can set it up.

    • CommentRowNumber51.
    • CommentAuthorRichard Williamson
    • CommentTimeDec 20th 2020
    • (edited Dec 20th 2020)

    PS - But David’s merchandise proposal should be able to proceed independently of this, as the payment will presumably be handled by the maker of the merchandise; David probably just needs the Topos Institute account details, which Brendan can give him.

    • CommentRowNumber52.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeDec 20th 2020

    OK. If anyone (esp. Urs) has some concerns about merchandise, we can discuss on a new thread. I was only thinking something like things with the logo to start, on eg Redbubble. I designed the logo so there shouldn’t be any issue with that. I will look into the various platforms to see what the best seems to be for our purposes.

    • CommentRowNumber53.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeDec 20th 2020

    While I admit that I can’t connect to the idea of merchandise, any initiative to further the existence of the nnLab should be welcome. Generally, what the nnLab needs to stay alive is people taking an initiative, as Richard and Brendan have thankfully been doing here.

    It does seem like we’d need some further hints from Brendan to further follow along the path of an nnLab financing mechanism via the Topos institute that he sketched out for us. (I don’t have any more understanding of that than anyone can see in this thread here – I wish I had.)

    • CommentRowNumber54.
    • CommentAuthorBrendan Fong
    • CommentTimeDec 23rd 2020
    • (edited Dec 23rd 2020)

    Would the following work regarding donations?

    To donate right now, please contact us through the form (https://topos.institute/contact) on the Topos website, stating in particular that you would like to donate to the nLab, and the intended amount.

    We’ll then coordinate with you over email. To minimise administrative costs, we’d prefer if the donation size was a minimum of $500.

    From March 2021, we plan to have a simple donation interface on our website where we can accept payments through a credit card or PayPal etc. We’ll be able to accept smaller amounts through it. Unfortunately, it looks like the system will take a fee between 2% and 5%. (As I’m learning though, some degree of overhead is inevitable when moving money around responsibly.)

    Regarding merchandise, Richard’s suggestion sounds best to me: David could raise funds through merchandise sale, then send the proceeds as a donation to Topos in chunks of $500 through one of the processes above.

    • CommentRowNumber55.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeDec 24th 2020

    @Brendan,

    ok, that sounds reasonable, modulo managing a bank account.

    Looking around (cursorily) I see I can hold money in a Paypal account, ideally in US dollars, and if this sort of thing works, donate the money once each threshold of US$500 is reached.


    However, I would like to suggest that small donations might be someday allowed, not through Topos, since I’m sure there are many students who would appreciate being able to chip in $5 now and then, but not $500 in one go. Patreon seems to be all the rage these days, but it’s not the only one.

    • CommentRowNumber56.
    • CommentAuthorEric
    • CommentTimeDec 24th 2020

    Hi everyone,

    I’m just seeing this and it is great to see some real momentum building.

    As I was reading from the first few comments, my initial reaction was to suggest not trying to set up an independent nonprofit for the nLab and rather rely on an existing organization, so it sounds perfect to link up with Topos Institute.

    I know Evan from the Julia community, i.e. Catlab and I’m an old-timer (and co-author of Urs) who’s been around the nLab and n-Category Cafe since the beginning, but disappeared when I got sucked into a fairly successful career in financial services. I recently escaped that rat race though and have become a serial entrepreneur building several “fintech” (financial technology) companies and might be able to help Richard with some of the more technical / software related issues. I may be able to help out the Topos Institute as well. Last year, I helped a nonprofit in the health industry set up an API for automatic payments that would remove the size restriction on donations. It is fairly straightforward these days.

    Incidentally, I am working on some papers now and considering an attempted return to academics (long shot!), so helping out might earn me some karma points :)

    Brendan, if you’re interested, I’d love to get on a call with you and Evan and see if there is any way I can get involved with Topos Institute. It sounds awesome.

    Cheers, Eric Forgy

    • CommentRowNumber57.
    • CommentAuthorBrendan Fong
    • CommentTimeJan 5th 2021

    Thanks David and Eric! Eric, a call sounds fun. What’s the best way to contact you to schedule one?

    • CommentRowNumber58.
    • CommentAuthorMike Shulman
    • CommentTimeJan 6th 2021

    Just wanted to chip in here (after being MIA for a while) and say that I think the idea of support by the Topos Institute is fantastic. It sounds like you all have things fairly well in hand, but let me know if I can help.

    • CommentRowNumber59.
    • CommentAuthorEric
    • CommentTimeJan 11th 2021
    • (edited Jan 11th 2021)

    Thanks David and Eric! Eric, a call sounds fun. What’s the best way to contact you to schedule one?

    Great! My email is Eric.Forgy@outlook.com. I’m also on the Category Theory Zulip :)

    • CommentRowNumber60.
    • CommentAuthorBrendan Fong
    • CommentTimeJan 13th 2021

    @Mike: Thanks for the kind words and offer of help! We’ll work away, and let you know if anything comes up.

    @Eric: Great, sent you an email.

    • CommentRowNumber61.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeJan 14th 2021
    • (edited Jan 14th 2021)

    Welcome back, Eric!

    I don’t know anything about Topos Institute though. I opened the webpage. Unfortunately the webpage is infested with standard corporate-style propaganda on the front page, with hype words and ambiguous reference to real world content, so an insider information at what it really is (as opposed to flashy manifestos) would be appreciated. Could you help in that respect ?

    P.S. of course, having John Baez and Eugenia Cheng there gives us some comfort, but still the real present/mid-term scope of the project would be appreciated.

    • CommentRowNumber62.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeJan 14th 2021

    I would second this

    insider information at what it really is (as opposed to flashy manifestos) would be appreciated.

    and I think the question is addressed to Brendan, not Eric :-)

    • CommentRowNumber63.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeJan 15th 2021

    No, wait. Brendan is offering a substantial favor to us, at least to those of us practically concerned about the existence of the nnLab. He has already invested more of his private time for us than we had any reason to hope for. In return, we are not going to grill him here with rethorical questions.

    If you don’t know how the world works, email me and I’ll explain it to you. If you are trying to display other-worldly standards for acceptance of funding mechanisms, take a look at the HomePage to remind yourself of the nnLab’s past and current funding situation.

    This thread of mine here has been resolved as per Brendan’s message in #54: From March this year on Brendan will kindly offer us to make use of a simple donation interface that will allow people to make donations for the nnLab cause! That’s great.

    I should have replied after #54 and officially closed this thread. Sorry for being absent-minded. Thanks again to Brendan, whole-heartedly! This is fantastic.

    Now let’s wait for March and then move on with concrete practical improvement of the nnLab’s situation. Please take all discussion not furthering the practical cause of the nnLab out of this thread here. This thread of mine is meant to be about getting things done.

    • CommentRowNumber64.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeJan 15th 2021

    I thought Zoran was genuinely curious as to a substantial description of what Topos Inst. was going to do, intended for a technical audience, rather than material that looks like it was meant for investors. I’m also interested. But I will not push the issue.

    • CommentRowNumber65.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeJan 15th 2021
    • (edited Jan 15th 2021)

    Sorry, I just wanted to greet Eric (long time no see), I am new to this thread and I actually misunderstood the scope of what Eric 56 was proposing (“my initial reaction was to suggest not trying to set up an independent nonprofit for the nLab and rather rely on an existing organization”), not only a mechanism of payments, but which organization which will be in charge of nnLab (in the sense of financial and administrative decisions). I myself wrote several flashy business web pages in 2018/2019 when working on blockchain technology and I know very well how difficult is to see for an outsider what is behind those (but also how difficult is to write those to startup dreamers). My question had nothing to do with payment mechanism, it was question to Eric about abandoning idea of having non-profit organization and (I thought in my misunderstanding) becoming a function of Topos.

    This Monday I could have applied for easy-to-get 15 thousand euro 2-year personal project financing and I was having in mind to dedicate half of this to nnLab (as the money could not be used for things which are not predicted exactly now, like conference dates, I needed a subproject to consume part of the grant in a predictable direction, the money had to be precisely allocated in advance). But I felt I did not know enough what was going on in nnLab’s technical needs and have had no picture how to describe the things in the proposal so I gave up last week to apply at all (my other precisely predictable expenses were only to get a laptop and financing for ICM attendance in 2022). I am sorry not to alarm you on that (I knew of the proposal possibility in mid-December). I even have no feeling how substantial would say 7 thousand euro be for the period of 2 years. Maybe there would be another opportunity in future.

    Several years ago there was an idea to have some sort of nnLab conference to help future of the project to get new synergy. I do not know how Urs feels about it now, I think it was a great idea. Adeel was very enthusiastic at the time. I myself feel that we could better harmonize efforts if this could happen. At least zoom-level. I apologize if the remarks are in a wrong thread, I did not intend to slow down the issue of donor mechanism decisions nor was intending to discuss it.

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