Something I've talked about recently with a few folks is that TPF has "too much" money. Specifically, TPF has reported an increasing balance at the end of its last couple fiscal year. Nonprofits are not supposed to consistently make a profit (no kidding), and this has a bad smell. I don't think there's anything fishy going on, mind you, it just doesn't look right.
Part of the problem comes from a large $35k grant paid to TPF by NLNet for Parrot. TPF got the money from NLNet back in 2005 (IIRC) and it took a while before that money started flowing out of TPF.
In discussions with a couple folks in TPF, they've said that they'd really like to spend the money, but they don't have avenues to do so. As most folks know, conferences and workshops are generally profitable for the organization (Frozen Perl netted around $1k) so that's not a way to spend money.
Then there's the grants program. I'm on the grants committee list and I've seen all the grants that've come through for the past couple years. The problem with the grants system is that there's not nearly enough grant applications coming in. Then of the applications that do come in many are simply unrealistic. Either they are too vague, too niche, or too hard, and so don't get approved.
I've been thinking about this recently and I think that this failure mode is basically built-in to the current grants system. First, TPF has a sort of unwritten rule that it won't fund travel, because there are so many Perl folks who'd like to go to so many Perl events that it would be hard to handle. I think there's definitely some truth to this, though I could see a use in funding travel specifically for project hacking (which TPF has done from time to time).
Another unwritten rule is that individual grants will not be more than $10k. This also makes sense, as $10k is a lot of money to give to one proposal. So what's the problem?
I for am unlikely to ever apply for a grant under the current scheme (ignoring the fact that I'm ineligible because I'm a grant manager), even though I could probably come up with something TPF would be willing to fund.
The problem is that I just can't see how a grant could be an incentive for me. I already put a fair bit of my time into FS/OSS projects just because I want to do so. I'd love to put in much more time, but I have things like a mortgage and family to consider. Realistically, the only way I'm going to put more time into my projects is to take a sabbatical from work, or at least work part-time for a while.
But if you look at the work/money ratio for past grants there's no way that could happen. Even if I aimed for something like %60-80 of my current FT income, a grant could not come close. It'd be more like 20-30%. So the grant provides no incentive for me. I suppose I could still apply for one anyway, but I don't feel right about that because it would just be funding work I would do anyway!
I'm sure many other developers have the same issue. So what is the point of the grants program, if not to make work happen that wouldn't otherwise happen? The acknowledgement of one's work is nice, but I already get that in many other ways, and if I'm looking for acknowledgement in the form of cash, I'd expect a heck of a lot more than a couple thousand dollars (Amazon and others, contact me privately for an address to which you can mail a big fat check).
Personally, I'd be perfectly happy to see TPF fund three months of full time work on any Parrot, Perl 5, or some other project likely to be of great benefit. Of course, the number of people eligible for this sort of grant are few in number, but it might achieve more in the long run.