GitHub Sponsors and OSS Sustainability

Recently I received an invite to the GitHub Sponsors program so I figured I’d make a sponsorship page. Building my sponsorship profile was fun!

My Sponsorship Profile.

Having to define dontation tiers was an interesting exercise because I had to figure out reasons that would convince (will they?) people that the donation is worth it somehow. What can I offer in my spare time? What are supporters getting in return? Is it valuable?

Will it work?

Getting people to donate is a very hard thing to do and it is definitely harder for those who are not well known public figures.

Not to mention that asking for a donation feels a bit like asking strangers on the street for money, maybe for a service that you deliver to somebody else. 🙃

Tiers and Current Sponsors

After a bit of thinking, I eventually decided to create a tier for symbolic donations of $5/mo and a few tiers for library support ($150/mo), company sponsors ($250/mo) and actual library work ($2000/mo).

To date I have 1 “library support” sponsor and got one $2000+ private consulting deal through one of my open source repos.

This is not much but nice nonetheless.

Thanks to Twitter and OSS, over the years I have grown a nice network and working on free open source has paid back in terms of opportunities and leads – especially now that I am self employed and I work as a consultant.

That said FOSS work per-se hasn’t been financially sustainable and I have put it on hold for a while. Now I only work on side projects and OSS at random times and for fun, so much so that I started a (very WIP) personal Open Source Contributor Manifesto and Policies to communicate this to others.

Who do I Sponsor?

Since when I went self employed I have started to sponsor a few developers who are maintainers or authors of libraries that I have used in clients projects.

I have also been thinking about starting to transparently charge an Open Source Tax to clients. This would be a little extra that I would then donate to open source.

As a solo developer you end up appreciating the value of FOSS way more:

My Opinion on FOSS Sustainability

Clearly FOSS provides value but I doubt that it will ever be sustainable for the many of us. In fact I think that it is probably time to stop hoping for it to become sustainable :)

FOSS should either be an act of giving-back and sharing with the community or, for the ones who’d like to make a living off of it, a product that comes with companion paid solutions:

Your paid service should solve a problem. Examples are:

  • Cypress → Cypress Dashboard (metrics, smart test runs orchestrations, flaky tests management etc.)
  • Storybook → Chromatic (deployment, review, and test)
  • Next.js → Vercel (hosting)

I know from experience that companies pay for services, easily.

Obviously this requires twice as much work² as you need to come up with a useful piece of software and a service to support it but that’s part of the game I guess 🤷‍♂️

…and I think that’s why many ambitious folks are creating OSS-centric companies and getting funding from VCs.

Other Alternatives to Donation-Based Systems

GitHub Sponsors and donation based platforms are great for some but ultimately I think that a path to OSS sustainability could be to reward developers based on usage stats (installs or consumers/licenses) or provide services around OSS.

For example I have this tiny project that has 71k downloads a month. In this space it is nothing but nonetheless it is definitely providing value to some. How could this translate to a few bucks? 🤷‍♂️

Non-profitable OSS with 71000 monthly download.

I am also co-author and have been maintainer of styled-jsx a library with 1.5M download per week that is used by companies like TikTok, Hulu and earn $0/mo from this.

If I was paid per usage probably I would be making a nice living and could work on this stuff full time :)

Support and Training

Selling support and training are probably other viable options for people who want to live off of Open Source Software. I doubt that this is a viable option for the ones who work on OSS in their spare time. The tough truth is that many OSS contributors have a full time job!

Getting Hired

There are companies that use and produce Open Source Software all the time. An example are Vercel or Gatsby. Getting a job at such companies could potentially mean that you wouldn’t have to work on OSS in your spare time anymore.

Crowdfunding

Starting a campaign on crowfunding sites could be a good way to boostrap FOSS development.

A successful example of this model is ProseMirror’s campaign on Indiegogo. They managed to raise $50000 to support the development of the project.

npm Inc.

npm Inc. is in a unique position because they own the biggest and most popular package registry and because they don’t yet provide a service to package owners for monetizing their software.

I really hope that they are monitoring the donation based space and eventually will come up with a better solution for everybody (even the small fish) that is not yet another donation based platform!

Update forget this, npm has been acquired by GitHub :)

Sponsorware – A Success Story

If you want to read about a success story check this out https://calebporzio.com/i-just-hit-dollar-100000yr-on-github-sponsors-heres-how-i-did-it.

My takeaway from it is that eventually you end up becoming a marketer more than a developer but I guess that’s part of the game 🤷‍♂️