Results from our survey of open source maintainers

We recently reached out to the core contributors of over 1200 open source projects that are part of the Open Source Collective (a non-proft fiscal sponsor that enables them to raise and spend money), with this call:

We’ve got resources and energy to help open source thrive. What should we prioritize? Now: Making it easy for open source projects to raise and spend money transparently. Future: Help with marketing? Maintainer peer support? Bigger sponsors? GitHub integrations? You decide!

The Open Source Collective’s mission is to help the projects under its umbrella and the open source ecosystem as a whole to thrive. We are here to serve core contributors, and we want to be guided by what’s important to them. So we asked them to rate a range of ideas.

Results of asking core contributors to rate ideas for supporting their open source projects.

Top Priority: marketing & attracting sponsors

In an ideal world, great software would speak for itself, and simply creating a page on Open Collective would be enough. But in reality, to get funding you have to communicate your value, tell your story effectively, and form relationships with sponsors. Coders want to code, and many want help with the rest.

“Prioritize marketing and sales help. Most of us probably have lots of users of our software. What we need is help converting existing users to donors and acquiring more corporate sponsors.” —core contributor

Our ideas:

  • Host events where companies who use and get value from open source can meet maintainers and form those important connections.
  • Hire someone with great fundraising and marketing skills, who also understands open source, to build relationships with sponsors and create useful resources and guidance for Collectives.
  • Connect with open source advocates, liaisons, and community managers inside companies to understand what they do, how much companies actually give, and how to work together to change make the whole culture around open source support sustainability.
  • Raise awareness of BackYourStack, our tool to analyze your dependencies and easily set up donations.
  • Help open source projects find out who their biggest users are and encourage them to get in touch about contributing (like a reverse BackYourStack).
“Motivate large companies that use our libraries at the core of their business to give back.” —core contributor

Maintainer Support Network

Over half of core contributors surveyed said they would be interested in meetups or calls with other maintainers. It’s not just about code, it’s about the humans behind the code.

Open source is all about peer to peer collaboration, yet isolation and burnout are huge problems in the community. At the same time, there’s a huge opportunity to share knowledge, support each other’s growth, and help each other’s projects and Collectives thrive.

So we’re going to make it happen! Stay tuned for an announcement with more details soon.

“You’re in a unique position to facilitate learning across, between, and amongst us. I want you to take advantage of that and grow the open source commons.” —core contributor

Feedback & ideas

We got a lot of great comments about what people value and what could be improved. Here’s a sample of what we learned.

What you love:

  • Transparency, transparency, transparency! Open Collective is the only funding platform that lets everyone see where money comes from and where it goes.
  • Fiscal hosting lets projects fundraise without setting up a legal entity, and gives companies a way to get the invoices they need to become sponsors.
  • Focused on ongoing collaborative communities, not individual creators or time-limited campaigns.
  • Filling a needed gap in the open source ecosystem—the missing piece of infrastructure to enable maintainers to make a living.
“Open Collective gives us hope that OSS maintainers can make a living out of maintaining their software. I have made more income from this than any other method of asking for donations.” —core contributor

What needs work:

  • Make the experience and interface more polished and smooth by improving the design and fixing bugs.
  • Reduce fees and minimize payment processor charges.
  • Offer more payment options, like direct bank transfers, Payoneer, recurring Paypal donations, SEPA, etc.
  • Better support for more income streams, like swag shops and issue bounties.
  • Improve the login process by enabling signing in with GitHub or other services.
“I feel like the biggest need is better interaction and understanding between backers and the projects they are backing, so having (tech) tools and (human) roles that nurture that interaction would be nice.” — core contributor

While many of these ideas are already on our roadmap, this feedback will really help us prioritize!