How should we encourage donations for software?

Posted 17 Jun 2003 at 11:07 UTC by gt3 Share This

Lone programmers are often the people writing many of the "free" software that you and I use everyday. How many times have you thought to yourself, "Man, what a great program this is", as you were at the project's Web site downloading the latest version, completely ignoring the "Pay-Pal Donate" link? My question is, should there be some sort of standard for making donations to free software projects?

According to the Free Software Foundation, "free" software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of "free" as in "free speech", not as in "free beer." What I have in mind are the open source programs that we use all without being required to purchase them.

I get E-mail from fans of some of the software that I release with full source code, free of charge. Usually the E-mails involve requests for new features, and I often throw their suggestions in a "todo" list that gets put at the bottom of my priorities. For many of us, paying work must come first. I've only tried asking for donations on a Web site once in my life, and it failed miserably. Other programmers I've spoken to have had similar results. To me, it's even more embarrassing to ask for donations than it is to not receive any. But with some kind of standard, programmers wouldn't come across as begging.

Corporations usually donate for advertising reasons, but what incentive do individuals have to donate? It's a shame that people would even need extra incentive to make a donation to their favorite projects. Sites like have their own tactics for getting people to donate, such as offering gifts like coffee mugs and T-shirts to those who donate.

Of course, no one would want to pay for unready or useless software. One such site, Source Support, addresses this issue and provides, one of many, good ideas to encourage donations. According to the site, " provides a system to pay programmers, artists, content creators and just about anyone that can provide a solution to challenges submitted by users. For example, let's say that there is a large group of people out there that want 'Program X' ported over to 'Operating System Y'. First, someone submits the challenge on Others who see the challenge and are willing to donate for the cause can submit any amount they want with the hope that the added funds will persuade someone to come along and take on the challenge. Hopefully the challenge will be met and it becomes a win-win situation for both the donors and the person/team that completed the challenge. The donors get 'Program X' running on 'Operating System Y' and those who completed the challenge get paid. Finally a good way for a Open Source programmer make some cash for their efforts."

There are many other ideas that should be looked at too. Perhaps, donations could probably be treated more like tips, but instead of tipping a certain percentage of a bill, as you might do in a restaurant, you'd tip the programmer based on a some common scheme. I don't want people to feel obligated to spend money on free software, that is one of its main appeals. Certainly, no one wants free software to turn into shareware lameness, but no one wants it to turn into "abandonware" either. I strongly believe that programmers would be willing to churn out more hours of work on these types of projects if they could breathe a little easier about their finances. So we really need donations to be taken (and given) more seriously to improve the quality and quantity of the software out there.

It depends what you do and how you present it., posted 17 Jun 2003 at 11:50 UTC by Stevey » (Master)

 Post frequent pointers to a wishlist, or donations page? ;)

 In my projects I've often received requests for new features which get added to a list much like you suggest. I've found myself saying "Yes that's a good idea and it will come .. when I have time".

 More than once the submitter has volunteered to "pay" for this in some material way, to ensure it was implemented quickly. The payment has ranged from documentation writing, image creation, to postcards and donations.

 In addition to that I do have a standard blurb upon my homepage which says that I'll write specific, custom, additions to software in exchange for gifts too - that's attracted a lot of interest from companies.

 One of the reasons I like the wishlist approach is because it allows people to see what has been bought, and it shows that the donation is spent upon something that will be useful to me, programming books mostly or films.

 I guess you can see a different approach by looking at sites like Bram's BitTorrent donation page.

 Personally I would donate things to projects I used and appreciated if I thought they deserved it and if I could see what happened with the money/equipment. I feel much happier knowing that the donation is going to cover bandwidth, or expenses than if it just gets added to the developers pockets. (This is more true in the multi-developer projects; I don't have a problem donating to pizza funds..)

 If there's a donations page I want to be able to look at the number of previous donations and scale accordingly. For example a small project that's already earned $500 would only get $10 - but a large project which has only received $40 would get $50.

 Whilst I love receiving things myself - the best way of repaying my time and effort is to send me an email of thanks.

There are many different ways.. , posted 17 Jun 2003 at 20:58 UTC by hacker » (Master)

I posted an article on something very similar recently. Give it a read and comment there, if you wish.

Also, there's the infamous HOWTO Pay for Free Software document, which presents a few very enlightening ideas.

Both of these should give you some different avenues to consider. Good luck.

HOWTO Pay for Free Software, posted 18 Jun 2003 at 05:29 UTC by hypatia » (Journeyer)

It's even nearly finished now...

If people want to pass this link around when the question arises, feel free. As soon as it's finished (which I intended to do six months ago and then someone told me I had to do a thesis this year...) I'll licence it freely and contribute it to TLDP. Until then, suggestions and linkage are more than welcome.

Frustrated..., posted 18 Jun 2003 at 05:59 UTC by vivekv » (Journeyer)

Folks - I have had a mixed feeling about this. I can see a lot of very good ideas here in fact I am plesantly surprised by the work done by Mary Gardiner. But the fact of the matter is that appreciation is a lost art leave alone paying! I have a few articles and software (nothing big just small tools but nevertheless..) on my website and I can probably count with my ten fingers the number of appreciate mails I have received so far.

Sorry about the rant... Just wanted to let out steam...

generate your own wealth, posted 18 Jun 2003 at 08:32 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

a totally alternative approach is to invest your time and money into "cash-cow" revenue streams. developers such as yourselves are smart enough to learn money management and investment skills.

if you plan now and start now, you can end up with investments (such as real-estate) which will pay you an income that you don't have to work for.

and you can do what you like.

if you get rich enough you could invite other programmers to participate in your investments.


who else wants to invest in real-estate and never have to work again?

[p.s. you have no idea how much the thought of "walking up a down-escalator" scares the shit out of me, these days]

Real estate set to tank, posted 18 Jun 2003 at 11:04 UTC by davidw » (Master)

It looks like some experts disagree with your dreams:

property investment, posted 18 Jun 2003 at 17:05 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

thank you very much! report reference _very_ much appreciated. that means that _after_ the expected crash is again a good time to buy. l.

Tipping, Donating, and Sponsoring, posted 18 Jun 2003 at 17:29 UTC by kai » (Journeyer)

When we are talking about volountarily giving money to Free Software projects or individual contributors it is useful to draw an analytical line beteween tipping, donating, and sponsoring.

In the act of tipping a Free Software author I'm expressing my gratitude and I hope to encourage him/her to keep on developing the software and maybe even listen more closely to my feature-requests in the future, especially in case of a large tip. Tipping a Free Software author, however, is not common. I think this has two main reasons: a) tipping a Free Software project is not commonly accepted social practise and b) a convenient, wide-spread technical procedure to do so is lacking.

For tipping Free Software to become socially accepted practise we have to lessen objections against the idea within the community as well as communicate the why to the general public as clearly as possible. Maybe a campaign could be started with a button/icon to put on your personal page saying something like "I tip Free Software. How about you ?" (similar to the "works in Any browser" campaing) with a link to a page with information about tipping Free Software.

For a Free Software tipping procedure to be convenient, it has to be possible to make small tips ($0.5 to $5) easily, not involve disclosure of credit card information over the internet (which is not widely accepted by the public, e.g. where I'm living), have proportionally low costs of transactions, be conducted through trusted entities with as solid foundation in the community, especially philosophical, not be technically difficult, and allow tipping across contry and continent borders without additional trouble or charges. It works well for some, but I don't think PayPal is the solution.

Tipping Free Software is normal. You're not some kind of weirdo if you do. It's easy and everybody can do it.

By donating money, the focus is on helping a better cause, often involving charity. When donating money to the UNESCO you'd usually do it so the children in poor countries will have a brighter future, not out of pity for the people working at the UNESCO headquarters. Likewise, by donating to an educational institutaion you hope that the attending students will receive a better education, have more chances in life and put society forward. The same goes for Free Software: by donating to a Free Software project you're not helping some "begging" author. Free Software is a common good. It's continued development is in the public interest.

Donating to Free Software projects will advance society.

Nevertheless, I'm very in for a Free Software mutual help fund or some guild-system, helping fellow programmers who are temporarily in need (e.g. some contributors in Argentina are having a very hard time due to the economic crisis). This is not what the general public will (or should) care about, though.

In sponsoring a project you hope to gain reputation (for your business) by expressing high ethical standards. The importance of ethics in consumer-decisions is rising in the US as well as in other societies.

Sponsoring Free Software will improve your companies image

The HOWTO is excellent by the way.

every mighty programmers run his own non-for-profit shop..., posted 19 Jun 2003 at 14:47 UTC by badvogato » (Master)

In 10 generations, we shall see a difference, i hope. This assessment is based on John Ruskin's "Unto This Last" Theory.

1) John Ruskin, Unto This Last (1860)

Political economy (the economy of a State, or its citizens) consists simply in the production, preservation, and distribution, at fittest time and place, of useful or pleasurable things. The farmer who cuts his hay at the right time; the shipwright who drives his bolts well home in sound wood; the builder who lays good bricks in well-tempered mortar; the housewife who takes care of her furniture in the parlour, and guards against all waste in her kitchen; and the singer who rightly disciplines, and never overstrains her voice, are all political economists in the true and final sense: adding continually to the riches and well-being of the nation to which they belong.

But mercantile economy, the economy of 'merces' or of 'pay,' signifies the accumulation, in the hands of individuals, of legal or moral claims upon, or power over, the labour of others; every such claim implying precisely as much poverty and debt on one side, as it implies riches or right on the other.

If, in the exchange, one man is able to give what cost him little labour for what has cost the other much, he 'acquires' a certain quantity of the produce of the other's labour. And precisely what he acquires, the other loses. In mercantile language, the person who thus acquires is commonly said to have 'made a profit'; and I believe that many of our merchants are seriously under the impression that it is possible for everybody, somehow, to make a profit in this manner. Whereas, by the unfortunate constitution of the world we live in, the laws both of matter and motion have quite rigorously forbidden universal acquisition of this kind. Profit, by exchange. Whenever material gain follows exchange, for every plus there is a precisely equal minus.

Unhappily for the progress of the science of Political Economy, the plus quantities, or - if I may be allowed to coin an awkward plural - the pluses, make a very positive and venerable appearance in the world, so that everyone is eager to learn the science which produces results so magnificent; whereas the minuses have, on the other hand, a tendency to retire into back streets, and other places of shade, - or even to get themselves wholly and finally put out of sight in graves: which renders the algebra of this science peculiar, and difficulty legible; a large number of its negative signs being written by the account-keeper in a kind of red ink, which starvation thins, and makes strangely pale, or even quite invisible ink, for the present.

exhaust improvements of old languages and old games, posted 19 Jun 2003 at 15:03 UTC by badvogato » (Master)

before playing lousy new types which never solves old problems given enough time ... when you earn enough for this year, stop working and play go. forget about marketing to adults adulterous minds. play with young people and you'll find what the next generation really need to guard up their innocence and ingenuity against the old market...

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