2023 Network Announcements and Reflections

Dear CfA Brigades and Volunteers,

As we begin the year, I’m writing to share some reflections, appreciations, and forthcoming changes to the Network program at Code for America.

I’d like to start by acknowledging that the significance of the Brigade Network cannot be overstated. There is no doubt that Code for America’s Brigade Network has had an enormous impact on how government works. As I’ve stated before, we have always believed that people working locally, whether as volunteers, local leaders, or elected officials, all guided by and centering those who are most impacted by the systems we aim to change, are a key part of the civic tech movement.

And the potential of this community, created through the Brigade Network, is limitless. The volunteers, Brigades, and Fellows who have dedicated their time and talents to this movement have helped define Code for America and the civic tech space–proving that technology can be used for good at the local level and creating a network of alums who are serving in government today.

Meanwhile, Code for America has put a stake in the ground about where we believe we need to focus our strategy. Across all of our programs, we are intentionally pursuing work that is advancing equity and alleviating poverty through the mindful use of technology. We believe that this community of civic technologists is better positioned than ever to move our movement closer to that vision in cities and counties all across the country. We have some ideas based on our learnings over the years about how to best do that.

As we start the year, we’re clear-eyed about the realities of working at the local level, grateful to the contributions and leadership of Network staff, and hopeful for what is possible with a more focused approach in 2023 to make an even greater impact on people’s lives.

With sincere appreciation,



Given how our work has evolved, and the decrease in funding available to support a decentralized network, in 2023, we will embark on a set of changes to our relationship with the Brigade Network that we believe will enable us to more efficiently collaborate in ways that deliver significant impact in advancing equity and alleviating poverty and enable Brigades to more easily sustain your own local initiatives. In 2023, we will do three things:

  1. Transition to Independent Brigades: Code for America will be transitioning away from handling Brigade finances, as we believe there are better options at this point to help Brigades establish financial independence.
  2. Refresh Formal Relationship Structure: Together with newly independent Brigades, we will explore new ways of supporting you and being in relationship with each other.
  3. Partner on Digital Equity: In 2023, we will build upon the work and success of the Digital Equity collective action event at last year’s Brigade Congress to improve outreach and enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program. We hope this becomes a model for how we can partner in targeted ways moving forward.

For more detail of our thinking, strategic shifts, and next steps please see below:

How Code for America’s Work Has Evolved Over Time

Code for America’s vision has endured since its founding: that government can work for the people, by the people, in a digital age. Over the years, we’ve remained laser-focused on this vision while experimenting with the most efficient and effective way to achieve it. There is no doubt that Code for America’s Brigade Network has had an enormous impact on bringing this vision to life.

Alongside the work of the Brigade Network, in 2015 we began experimenting with supporting in-house staff to work shoulder-to-shoulder with community organizations and governments to build digital tools and services, change policies, and improve programs directly. This work has enabled us to help millions of clients and unlock billions in benefits–a scale that we only ever dreamed was possible.

As our impact via direct service grew, our organizational structure, ways of working, and core capacities shifted to support that type of delivery–and it has become harder for us to do that while providing effective and efficient support and fiscal sponsorship for a large, decentralized base of volunteers, especially without significant multi-year resources available to support the necessary infrastructure for Network convening and engagement.

How Volunteer Engagement Has Evolved Over Time

We know that Brigade leaders have felt signs of volunteer fatigue and a less connected Network, largely due to the distance, uncertainty, and challenges created by COVID. In 2021 and 2022, driven by this learning and a desire to bring our work with Brigades into closer alignment with our in-house direct service work, we invested more resources in our Network program than ever before to develop and implement the ReVisioning strategy.

We learned that this post-pandemic environment has challenged volunteer engagement for more reasons than just COVID. Volunteerism is down across industries. There are growing privacy and security concerns with volunteers partnering with governments. Also, it has become even more difficult to fundraise larger, multi-year investments for a national volunteer network because of these larger shifts in volunteerism, and we experienced a decrease in philanthropic support for the Brigade Network. This seems to be a major challenge all volunteer-driven non-profit organizations have today.

At the same time, we have seen how Brigade volunteers can play a key role in driving direct impact, like increasing the uptake of vital government services, when it is done in deep collaboration and partnership with Code for America and local organizations through programs like the 2022 Impact Sprints.

Some highlights include Code for Tulsa’s functioning text messaging-based service that keeps people updated about their court cases, Open Maine’s work to enhance election transparency by digitizing paper campaign finance forms, and Code for Boston’s work to improve access to the Air Source Heat Pumps program in underserved communities. We also see it in the work of volunteers who are engaged in our Get Your Refund program and the emerging effort to close the participation gap in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

How We Propose To Partner with the Network to Advance Equity and Alleviate Poverty in 2023

Given how our work has evolved, in 2023, we will embark on a set of changes to our relationship with the Brigade Network that we believe will enable us to collaborate in ways that leverage the best of what Code for America can offer from an organizational perspective, with an emphasis on partnering with local volunteers and organizations in ways that deliver significant impact in advancing equity and alleviating poverty through the mindful use of technology in cities and counties all across the country.

In 2023, we will do three things:

  1. Transition to Independent Brigades: Over the next six months, Brigades will transition to independent entities, and we will work with each Brigade to explore options for more effective fiscal management. Some Brigades may elect to partner with one of the many great organizations whose primary mission is fiscal sponsorship. Others may elect to establish an independent 501(c)(3). Whatever the path, we will work with Brigades to support a smooth and successful transition to independence. A number of Brigades already operate financially independently and can provide models for transition.
  2. Refresh Formal Relationship Structure: Together with newly independent Brigades, we will also explore new ways of being in relationship with each other that better align with our mission and respective interests while creating the space for you to more easily continue your own local initiatives. For example, we want to explore partnership agreements, marketing agreements, licensing agreements, or other methods for formalizing our work together that tap into our respective strengths and shared goals.
  3. Partner on Digital Equity: In 2023, we aim to prototype solutions in lock-step with outreach partners and newly independent Brigades in up to 3 states to improve outreach and enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program, building upon the work and success of the Digital Equity collective action event at last year’s Brigade Congress. This Digital Equity effort is one way that Code for America will bring together volunteers, newly independent Brigades, and organizations in partnership to deliver impact for people. We hope this becomes a model for how we can partner in targeted ways moving forward. Will you join us?

Staff Changes

As we evaluated our program and development strategies, we recognized that we would need to eliminate three positions on the Network team to set ourselves up for long-term sustainability. This is never easy, and we want to share a note of gratitude to the staff whose positions were eliminated in this process, and their invaluable contributions to building, nurturing, and convening the broader Network over the years:

  • Em Burnett has been a longtime member of the Brigade Network and joined the Network team in February 2021 and played a key role in the design and development of ReVisioning. Em, thank you for your inspiring facilitation, clear-eyed approach to problem-solving, and steadfast leadership. Em’s last day at Code for America is February 28.
  • Jill Bjers has been a part of the Brigade community since 2013, having co-founded and led the Open Charlotte Brigade, serving as a member and chair on the National Advisory Council from 2016-2019, and participating in the 2019 Community Fellowship program. Jillzey joined Code for America in November 2021 and was the lead event producer for the 2022 Brigade Congress. Jillzey, thank you for all that you’ve poured into the Network. Jillzey’s last day at Code for America was January 31.
  • Sung Kim joined Code for America in August 2022 and jumped right into the mix, designing and delivering on a national day of action in St. Louis that helped us deepen our understanding of the barriers to the Affordable Connectivity Program and the design choices that are causing a low participation rate in the important program. Sung’s last day at Code for America was January 31.

Finally, we want to thank Ben Treviño, Senior Program Director, Network, for his invaluable contributions to Code for America throughout his two-year tenure. Ben has received an opportunity he cannot pass up in Hawaiʻi with the Hawaiʻi Leadership Forum, and his last day is February 28th. We want to thank Ben for his leadership, vision, and the intentionality and care that he brings to his work and for his colleagues, volunteers, and partners.

Mari Anthonette Miranda, Jess Manapul, and Mellina Stoney on the Network team, with dedicated support from the Finance team, will spend the next 6 - 8 months working with individual Brigades to work on the efforts around fiscal sponsorship. Along parallel paths, the Network team, along with members of the executive team and current Brigade leaders will explore how we will shape the next iteration of this important relationship between Code for America and Brigades and volunteers and work that emerges related to Digital Equity and ACP. James Armes will support any technical partnerships with newly independent Brigades and volunteers related to ACP. Evonne will lead and support the team in her role as VP of Programs.

Immediate Next Steps

I know that this community has experienced a tremendous amount of change in the past few years and that this news may raise questions and reactions that we want to make space for in the coming weeks. There are a few ways for us to connect and share questions and thoughts. We will share an FAQ and hold a series of forums:

  • 2023-02-10T00:00:00Z: Immediate reactions and questions
  • 2023-03-03T00:00:00Z: Forum #2 (originally scheduled for 2/16 but has been postponed)
  • Future forums TBD

Zoom link: https://codeforamerica.zoom.us/j/84871319841?pwd=ZDR5RE1sanI5ZW5JMUxRdzVHbDY3UT09

If you would like to submit a question or concern to be included in the FAQ or the Forum, please respond to this post or email eburnett@codeforamerica.org. In the meantime, a Network team member will contact leaders of each Brigade to schedule time to talk through what these changes mean specifically for their Brigade.

Code for Philly became a member of the Open Collective Foundation in December 2019 (yes that December 2019) and our experience raising and deploying funds as a community has been exponentially better since. The Open Collective platform has enabled a way more collaborative approach to fundraising that has empowered everyone in our community to help, and the process for directly reimbursing volunteers is far quicker and smoother. You can even use virtual debit cards to pay for things directly instead of making volunteers front expenses.

Take a look at Code for Philly’s collective page here: https://opencollective.com/code-for-philly

Our volunteers and organizers haven’t had to worry about money every since we set up on Open Collective, and we never even made an aggressive push to fundraise since COVID shut down all the in-person programming we originally set out to fund the very month we started.

While losing Code for America’s fiscal sponsorship and having to find another option probably feels like a really intimidating task if it’s not something you’ve thought about before, I can tell you from the other side of it that it is surprisingly quick and easy with Open Collective—and your brigade will be in a better position immediately. Code for America has done incredible work supporting and growing the network, but frankly being a quality fiscal sponsor was never their focus area and they’ve never been particularly good at it. Open Collective on the other hand is 100% focused on applying modern technology and human-centered design to being the best fiscal sponsorship platform possible, and they are constantly delivering on that and innovating. @patcon and I filed a GitHub issue making the case for virtual cards years ago and they implemented it—how cool is that? They work like we do, and do this all day

I for one am incredibly excited to see what the whole brigade network could do on Open Collective

Migrating to OCF is easy

…and can get done end-to-end in as little as a week

  1. Review OCF’s FAQ on transferring from a different fiscal sponsor
  2. Go to opencollective.foundation and hit Apply
  3. Once approved, you’ll need to notify Code for America that you’re switching to an external fiscal sponsor
    • There’s a separate MOU for brigades with external fiscal sponsors that many brigades have been under for years
  4. Code for America can then transfer any balance you have over to OCF
    • You will need to pay OCF’s 8% fee on existing funds transferred into the platform—it’s worth it for the value provided and alternatives will end up costing more one way or another

Tips for using Open Collective

  • Design some fun recurring contribution tier levels
  • When companies post jobs to your community’s Slack, DM them that your community values companies that support civic technology and refer them to your Open Collective page, highlighting that a recurring contribution of any amount will put their name+logo in front of the community as supporters of civic technology
    • When companies that have sponsored post jobs, post a note highlighting that they’re supporters of the community
  • Use Open Collective to organize special projects that donors can support directly
  • Use Open Collective to post event pages that people can purchase tickets to
  • Generate virtual cards for recurring fees like hosting/zoom bills
  • When pursuing sponsorships from major institutions in your area, take advantage of being able to hand the collective page to internal advocates at the organization
    • They can take the URL to their bosses and have everything they need to move a contribution forward at their own pace without any back-and-forth with you
    • Highlight that the platform is fully transparent—the funder and the whole community can see the contribution and anything it gets spent on, so no special reporting is needed.

I’ve been thinking about using Open Collective platform for several groups I help with – this is such a great introduction post, thank you! I’m glad to hear it’s been working out for you, that’s very reassuring :clap:

I’ve been wondering which fiscal host to go with – I’m glad you’re suggesting one in particular! (Open Collective Foundation). Could you share a bit more about what makes this one a good choice for CfA brigades?

(side note: choosing a fiscal host feels a lot like choosing a Mastodon server – a sea of options and not much guidance hah)


It’s pretty simple, Open Collective themselves operate two 501c3 hosts in the US: Open Collective Foundation and Open Source Collective. The latter is specifically for software projects and the former is for everything else! All the others hosts I’ve come across are outside the US or for specific networks/missions. So OCF is AFAIK the only one brigades fit under the umbrella of

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Such sad news.

If any Brigade is look for something more than Open Collective and looking to do government contracting, please let me know. I’d love to set you up with an introduction to BetaNYC’s parent nonprofit, Fund for the City of New York.


Having experienced both Open Collective and CfA fiscal hosting of Code for the Carolinas, I do agree with Chris that Open Collective provides a very smooth operational experience.

I’d like to point out two limitations that may be relevant to some Brigades.

  • If your Brigade does advocacy, in the sense of influencing government policy or budgets, read the fine print. Open Collective does not support organizations that do advocacy.

  • If your Brigade is very new or small and mostly relies on one person’s leadership, keep in mind that Open Collective requires two administrators on the account.

These are both sound policies that make a ton of sense. They just might not be consistent with how some Brigades currently operate.


Sad news but also not out of left field.

The change in fiscal support won’t impact Code for BTV much on a regular basis. However, I fear then this means the end of Brigade Congress. Without CfA supporting brigades in connecting with each other in-person, I think the network will continue to lose energy… large brigades that are already self sustaining like BetaNYC, Code for Boston, Code for Philly, Hack LA, probably will be fine. Small brigades where the weight of keeping the brigade going falls to just a few, or just one volunteer will likely suffer as those individuals become less energized and motivated by peer connections. Peer connections provide a lot of the magic for a distributed network like the brigade network. I guess we’ll see … hard to say with certainty what will happen.


I’ve not come across either of these limitations, I’ve sent a message to OCF administrators to confirm and will update this post when I hear back (see below)

Advocacy is in fact highlighted as part of OCF’s Mission & Values:

3 - Fostering civic participation within cities and communities.

… 4) hosting advocacy groups that bring people together to work for their community.

OCF response

OCF admins confirm that:

  • Per the Political Activity policy, collectives are specifically not permitted to engage in legislative lobbying on behalf of the collective (i.e. influencing the creation of law via direct efforts to influence legislators).
    • They are working towards making this more permissive but the reporting/compliance burden is heavy and systems need to be set up to track it.
    • They also noted that a lot more is permitted under the current policy than people tend to think.
    • The policy clearly slates that educational activities and influencing executive/judicial/administrative bodies is okay—so it’s fine to advocate for administrative policies / executive orders / projects etc which I think the vast majority of brigade advocacy work falls into
    • If you want to lobby for law it has to be under your personal name or an org set up to conduct lobbying
    • It’s kind of complex, OCF has someone you can talk to about it if you’re thinking of coming on board and have concerns about what sort of advocacy is in-bounds, message me somewhere and I can give you their scheduling link
  • Yes, collectives must have at least two admins
    • Perhaps small brigades could ask leaders of peer brigades to serve as their “backup” admin

Hi, here’s their detailed statement on political activity: Political Activity - Open Collective Foundation .

A key sentence where some Brigades might get tripped up. " Although technically 501(c)(3) organizations may be able to engage in lobbying to a small degree, our program does not allow Collectives to engage in it at all."


That’s a good catch, it’s a pretty small but notable gap from the policies brigades were already under with CfA.

However, they seem to draw the line at legislative vs executive bodies. So, working to influence your city’s administration is fine, but targeting legislative members to influence the creation of laws is not. So, things like influencing government policy and budgets would be fine if those things are driven by an executive branch (i.e. your mayoral administration)

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Thank you @arenteria , @chris , @JMMaok , @nFlourish , and @noel_hidalgo for this helpful information and all of your valuable insights to those of us who depend on CfA’s fiscal sponsorship. Through my involvement with GYR and being a Brigade Leader, I can see all sides of the coin. No one relishes change, especially a change that they had no part in initiating. I have been fortunate to get to know many Brigade Leaders, Volunteers, and Network staff throughout my going on 4 years here. My heart and support go out to Everyone! @elb , thank you for never failing to be a North star to our Brigades. @jillzey, your leadership will truly be missed. @sung , your insights will be a source I will continually remember. @bentrevino , your a true pioneer and I will always be grateful for the lasting positive impact that Empathy Circles, SEEDS, Direct Democracy, and the Ma’awe Pono Indigenous Research Methodology course has brought to my life personally and professionally.

I look forward to a fresh start and positivly exploring our ever evolving relationships.


I’m very sad to see this outcome.

It’s unfortunate, but this is likely the death knell for Code for New Orleans. We are very small. I’ve been leading the group solo for several years now and had no success bringing on new leadership partners. I’ve had no success engaging volunteers that stay on. I have new health and mobility challenges that make it impossible for me to do the work needed to fundraise and operate an organization in addition to my full-time job, which seems more and more tenuous by the day with all the layoffs happening. And I don’t have the energy either.

I’ve been involved with the Code for America Brigade Network since 2010. This network made Code for America what it is. It’s frankly quite depressing to see Code for America the organization now jettison the brigades.

Thank you to all of you in the network for your hard work these many years. Hopefully you can find ways to continue to serve in this new independent model.


Is there a Zoom registration link for the Feb 9th session?

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Great point and also note that FCNY has the National Center for Civic Innovation which has less New York centric branding. They were super easy to work with at ARGO ( A.R.G.O. – Medium )

What is Open Collective’s cost of fiscal sponsorship for government contracts versus private grants? Last I checked FCNY / NCCI was 9% private philanthropy / 12% government

For us, a partner project under the FCNY EIN, there is no difference in costs. It is a flat 9% overhead fee. That 9% really packs quite a punch.

I’m going to work hard to keep a Brigade Congress going. We’ll do something in NYC in 2024. You can put that on your calendar! We already have a venue.


Just added it to the post. It will be the same link for all forums.

As far as I can tell from their docs on grants and government contracts, there is no special fee so I think their normal 8% fee would apply. However they state that anything with complicated requirements needs to be reviewed case-by-case for their ability to administer it

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The OCF staff have agreed to participate in an AMA-style thread for the brigade network:

If you posted a question in here about them that I tried to answer, please re-post in there so we can collect authoritative answers @caseywatts @JMMaok @patwater31

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