Has Your Open Source Community Raised Money? Here’s How to Spend It.

Getting cash is hard, but spending it is easy, right? Actually, utilizing funding can be a challenge.

At Open Collective, we’ve got front row seats for observing how open source communities handle finances, and we’ve learned a lot about what works. But surprisingly, we also see some money just sitting there untouched.

It’s time to get your money moving! Whether you’ve got $50 or $5000 to burn, read on for great ideas.

I’m an expert with meowney, trust me.

Pro tip: Through your Open Collective, you can pay out not only for expense reimbursements but also for invoices, which makes it a lot easier to fund people’s time.

Come Together Face-to-Face

Meeting in person can really elevate your community to the next level. You can have rich discussions, build relationships, and put faces to the online names. Community makes a huge difference in engagement and excitement.

$ustain: a conference for open source software sustainers
  • Host a one-day conference in your city. Sell tickets, collect sponsorship fees, and use funds to cover food, promotion, and travel costs.
  • Pick an existing conference, and help cover costs to get a bunch of your contributors there together.
  • Fund someone’s time to organise meetups in cities where a number of contributors live, or where your sponsors are based.

Inspiration: Women Who Code Atlanta does a lot related to meetups and events. Check it out!

Community-Building & Outreach

Engaged supporters each have their own network of friends and colleagues— help them spread the message to more people.

Preact is all about that swag
  • Print stickers and t-shirts. Swag is a jumping-off point for people to tell their friends about your project (“Hey, what’s that sticker on your laptop?”), and a fun way to build a sense of identity.
  • Encourage contributors to give conference talks, and help cover costs to get them there. Especially if they talk about their work on your project!
  • Send out a newsletter to your backers. This will help them stay connected, and inspire them to bring in more backers from their networks. You can maintain your own mailing list by exporting backer emails, or send messages to backers@[collectivename].opencollective.com to reach them.

Increase Development Velocity

The more your project delivers, the more enthusiastic your community will get — and the more new people will get on board.

CycleJS showing how it’s done
  • Improve the developer experience. Resource a fixed amount of time regularly to go through issues and pull requests. A clean house is an inviting environment for more contributors.
  • Buy some test devices. Older model phones or tablets can help optimize code for different user experiences.
  • Thank people for significant work. People contributing to open source rarely expect payment. But if someone delivers a valuable piece of work, you can thank them with money or a gift.
  • Buy developer time. Break the tradeoff between taking paid consulting work and spending time on your project. Pre-committing a chunk of time to the project makes it easier to complete long-term goals.
Webpack’s funding enabled Tobias to make the jump

Bring in Different Skills

A project’s needs evolve as it scales, often into totally new areas of work. Instead of spending time doing stuff you’re not as passionate about, bring in people who are.

  • Facilitation: Community support, onboarding, discussion moderation, answering newbie questions.
  • Design: making the software and website visually stunning, leveling up the UX/UI, updating you brand.
  • Documentation: help guides, how to contribute, roadmaps, FAQs.
If you use money to pay someone to do support, you can get back to focusing on the code. — Gregor from Hoodie

Money Making Money

If you use initial resources to bring in more resources, you’ll create a virtuous cycle. Funding work in this area can more than pay for itself, but it will need a boost to get going.

  • Social media & blogging: Having an active presence online and put out quality content. Interacting with your community will continuously grow your audience, and funding can help you resource it.
  • Sponsor relationships: Deepen your partnerships with existing sponsors, and dedicate time to pitching to new ones. Make it someone’s job to understand what sponsors value and where the win-win could be.
Key feature: you can customize your ASCII art!
  • Cross-linking: Optimize the links between your website, repo, and collective page. Consider an NPM install message encouraging donations and a contribute button in your website footer.
  • Offer services & packages: Unlock bigger funding tiers, with products like VIP support, office hours, and advertising deals. You’ll need to invest upfront to clarify what you’re offering and ensure delivery.

Support the Ecosystem

People who donate want the open source ecosystem to thrive. If you win, they win. The same applies to you as well, so pay it forward!

  • Donate upstream and downstream. Support your project’s dependencies, extensions, and libraries.
A successful open-source project is typically built upon the shoulders of other lesser known projects. These dependencies are typically more specialized (less eyeballs, less potential for financial support)…. Not supporting the dependencies presents a risk to the upstream project. — Geoffrey Huntley
  • Improve inclusivity & diversity. For all kinds of reasons, some people will face more barriers to getting involved — but we all win when different kinds of contributors are welcomed in. Support in this area could be mentoring and education, creating a code of conduct, donating to local charities, offering childcare at events, or doing outreach into new communities.

For more inspiration, explore some Open Collectives and check out their expenses. If you’ve got money accumulating, get out there and put it to work!