Donations and open source teams

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Many open source projects accept donations as a way of funding their development efforts and I’m wondering how these donations are typically distributed among team members. Currently the donations for Zempt have covered paying the bills (like hosting and domain registration) and have been split between Bill and myself. But as the project grows and we add other team members I realize that I have no idea what I should do with the donations.

I’m hoping you can help, so I’m throwing some ideas out and asking for your comments and suggestions.

When you make a donation to a team of open source developers, how do you expect the money will be used? Are you aware of any schemes for distributing the funds? OSCommerce allows you to donate directly to a specific team member instead of donating to the project itself. What do other groups do?

Nollind Whachell
June 23, 2003 5:24 PM

"When you make a donation to a team of open source developers, how do you expect the money will be used?" I think it totally depends upon the development team and what they are trying to achieve. For example, if a small group of people is creating a small program in their spare time, then donations could go to the expenses accumulated while working on the project. However, if the team realizes that a much larger application could be made from their small program and they are getting the donations to support such a leap, then they could start working full time using the donations to pay not only monthly expenses but their own salaries which would allow them to work full time on the project. As I said, it totally depends upon the project. More than anything though, I think people just want to get some "feedback" that their donations are being put to "good use". If you are comfortable enough with this approach, as some sites are, listing a monthly breakdown of where donation funds are going makes a lot of people happy because they see their dollars at work. It doesn't matter so much where it has gone within the project, but that it is being put to "good use" that matters. I'm assuming people trust you to distribute the money properly since you know best what expenses need to be covered and who is contributing the most within the project. Still, I'm unsure of your financial situation with regards to donations. If you are saying you have extra funds left over each month, over and above the monthly expenses, then I'd keep a small percentage of it as a reserve in case of unexpected costs and distribute the rest as salaries for work on the project. Just figure out a rate for everyone, based upon their work, and distribute the funds based upon that salary percentage. Hell, I don't know about you but I'd love to see more people "investing" in others so that they could make their "passions on the side" their main source of livelihood. For this to occur though, people have to get paid themselves, if they want to work on their passions full time, since it means giving up their salary from their normal job, yet they still need to pay their own personal living expenses. It would be nice to see an "open source" world where people could work on things they believed in and be "rewarded" for that passion.

Adam Kalsey
June 23, 2003 9:55 PM

It sounds like a bit of background would be helpful for those not familiar with Zempt. Zempt is an offline publishing tool for Movable Type that is developed by Bill Zeller and myself. It's not likely to ever become a full-time job for anyone involved. Our total donations to date have totalled less than $30, so it's not a matter of paying salaries or even distributing large sums of money. I agree that people want to know what their money is being used for. That's something that I could add to the site. As for investing in open source development, that's an interesting concept. Brad Choate told me about a similar idea he had a while back. There are also companies that make money by developing open source software and then providing consulting services around it. The consulting development is often poured back into the core product as well.

June 25, 2003 3:39 AM

If I make a donation I'd expect you to use it however you like! (I did, btw, not much, coz I'm unemployed, and broke:) )

Tom Erikson
November 24, 2005 10:20 PM

When I make donations, I don't have any specific expectation on what the developers do with the money. The donation is yours to do whatever you want with it, since you're the one who did all the work to earn the donation. However, if I were donating to the red cross or a specific charity, I'd be more concerned with how they're spending the money.

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