TL;DR: We’re contributing to more open source projects!

waterfall oss

In January we committed to donating 3% of our revenue to open source. We’re happy to say that we are continuing this pledge and expanding the number of projects we are contributing to!

In our earlier blog post we mentioned our belief that open source maintainers deserve much greater support for their work. Since then we’ve seen some glimmers of hope that other companies are starting to realize this as well. GitHub announced donations through it’s new “Sponsors” feature. Also, the Linux Foundation launched a new program, Community Bridge to link companies and open source projects to help eachother. These are both great efforts, though we’re still a long ways off from solving the sustainability issues today.

Three learnings

We’ve learned that project maintainers have diverse needs. Some folks were happy with our recurring monthly donation while others didn’t like scheduling the funds. We hadn’t considered that recurring donations might be interpreted as additional pressure on these maintainers. The fear being that we’d withhold our monthly donation if we didn’t agree with the Pull Requests they closed that month (we wouldn’t). So for those who asked, we made one time upfront donations which wasn’t a problem.

We also learned that our decision to donate a percentage of revenue was a good one. As a startup, our profits vary wildly from month to month as we often have to make investments of time/money to run experiments. By sticking with a % of revenue, the open source donations were treated like any other cost. In more specific accounting terms, we included OSS funding in our COGS (Cost of Goods Sold), well before we calculated net income / profits. I imagine this is a better outcome for the maintainers too since they aren’t seeing varied donation amounts month to month and can plan with more certainty.

One other surprising learning was that PayPal was actually the most useful payment method! Open source projects accepted money in so many different ways that the variety itself was problematic. Some maintainers wanted direct credit card donations, while others preferred ACH transfers, and yet others accepted donations through platforms like Open Collective or Patreon. We chose to use PayPal whenever possible for two reasons. First, PayPal allows backup funding sources. So if we max out our credit card in a given month (a thing that happens) it can automatically pull funds from our checking account. Second, if our credits cards change, we don’t have to go back and re-enter the billing details for every recurring donation. PayPal was a common enough option that it saved us lots of administration time, but we hope and pray for a better user interface. Modifying a recurring payment via PayPal seems intentionally hidden, but it is there.

What changing?

The first thing that’s changing is that we’re going to be donating to more projects, nearly double the number! There are lots of projects that need more resources, like ESLint which saves us tremendous amounts of time. We’re glad that we can contribute in our own small way and hope others do as well.

We’re also going to be increasing the amount we’re sending to all the projects we’re currently donating to! Hooray 🎉 ! Each six months we’ll evaluate these donations to determine if we’re still using the open source library, it’s value to our company, and how much help they need. Some projects like Let’s Encrypt are vitally important but have millions of dollars in funding already.

One thing we hoped to find but didn’t is the equivalent of an “index fund” for smaller projects. For example, we’re a Javascript shop and would like to fund more deserving projects in that space. The OpenJS foundation is the closest thing to that, but it’s not clear how much of our donation would actually go to these projects and if any would fund smaller projects.

Get involved

Running a startup means perpetual experimentation, so we’re comfortable setting this direction and checking in down the road. We hope that talking about our process helps your companies take the leap and start donating to open source as well. We’re very excited to see GitHub expand their sponsorship program, and Open Collective gaining steam. We hope you consider donating time and/or money to projects you care about, as that’ll build a more sustainable future for all open source software!

We’re happy to answer any product / business questions. Send us 💌 a note or tweet to us and we’ll get back to you ASAP!

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Photo by Blake Richard Verdoorn // Unsplash