Let’s talk about money

When we were building the first version of Open Collective, we found that communities and their members often had a complex relationship with their finances. Almost everyone experienced some level of discomfort dealing with money. Some felt embarrassed asking for it. Others felt guilt spending it on their own project or getting paid for their work. And a few thought that they shouldn’t have to deal with money — that it somehow muddles the pure motives of their community.

A typical collective page on Open Collective reflected this distanced relationship that communities had with their finances. Their transparent financial ledger — showing the source of every dollar and how it was spent — was the last item on a long collective page. This positioning has always felt off to us.

Transparency is at the core of Open Collective. We get much of our inspiration from the Open Source Software (OSS) community — an ecosystem of millions of projects operating transparently. It’s like an infinitely fork-able relay race. Anyone can copy the baton and run with it as far and as fast as they like. No need to ask for permission. This freedom has unleashed unprecedented collaboration and produced most of the software that powers the Internet today.

Just like open source code, we believe an open financial ledger is another important piece of the puzzle as our society enables more transparent, collaborative, mission-driven communities. And if these communities have any chance of solving meaningful problems, they need to have the financial resources to sustain themselves. No need to shy away from collecting and spending money. It’s another resource, another tool that everyone needs in their toolbox. And with that tool, they need to learn the skills to wield it.

Much of the discomfort around money comes from not talking about it openly, limiting its access to only a few members of the community or negotiating its usage behind closed doors. By starting with transparent finances, we have already seen progress — over the last year, many contributors to open source projects, who had never raised funding before (and shared the discomfort dealing with money), found it easier to raise and spend it.

As our ecosystem grows, we are finding more collectives eager to highlight their latest expenses. Showing expenses justifies why you are asking for money. One feature that we are working on is to let people directly cover a pending expense, instead of donating generally to the collective.

Our collectives are learning that it’s ok to lead with what they need and share how they are spending their budget. They are learning that when managed properly, steady funding can amplify their impact.

We want to enable millions of these next set of communities, ones that’ll have a healthier relationship with money. And we think that starts with an open financial ledger. So, we doubled down and recently moved the ledger as the first section on a collective page. With this move, we want to encourage conversations about money to happen in the open. Let’s talk about the discomfort around money. Let’s give people and communities all the tools they need. Let’s free them to do what they do best — change the world, no permission needed.

An open ledger