Funding Yourself As A Free Software Developer

I’ve been meaning to spend more time on developing free software, helping out new users on IRC and writing more tutorials to get others started. All of these cost time, and time is money - so I’ve set out to set up donation accounts. In the hopes of helping other developers who struggle to fund their work, I’ve written up this article to talk about my experience. This is a living document! As you explore this yourself, please send me your thoughts on each platform and turn me on to interesting platforms I missed.

I’ll be focussing on platforms allowing for recurring donations, as these are more useful for procuring a stable income.

Platforms

BountySource

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BountySource lets people donate money towards an issue on Github your projects. Once an issue gets fixed, you can claim the "bounty" that was on this issue. This can also help in making clear which issue you should aim for next, and can increase interest in contributors for your project.

There’s also BountySource Salt, which is a recurring donation platform. Projects or teams can use this to gain monthly income to sustain the development of their project(s).

Support for this platform is offered through the IRC channel #bountysource on Freenode.

The BountySource platform itself is also free software, and the source code for it can be found on github.

You can find BountySource at https://www.bountysource.com/.

LiberaPay

This service seems to be completely free as in freedom. They even publish their source on GitHub. Their own funding comes through donations on their own platform, instead of taking a cut of each donation like most other services.

It’s possible to connect other accounts to your LiberaPay account. While this feature in general is pretty common, they allow you to link to sites which are interesting to show as developer, such as GitHub, GitLab, and BitBucket. They also let you link to a Mastodon account, if you have one.

To let people know you’re accepting donations through LiberaPay, you can use one of the widgets they make available for you. This will show a donate button which will link to you profile. Do note, this is not a regular HTML button or cleverly implemented anchor tag, but a JavaScript-based button.

Another thing LiberaPay lacks is a rewards system. Most other platforms allow you to set reward tiers, which allow you to give certain benefits to donors.

You can find Liberapay at https://liberapay.com/.

MakerSupport

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  • The site requires a 3rd-party hosted jQuery.

  • You have to solve a Google reCaptcha in order to register a new account.

MakerSupport seems to be another option, aimed at content creators who might need freedom of speech more than others. It seems to be less focused on software development, as you cannot link to any of the major git hosting platforms.

There are options here to set up "tiers" for your donors; which is a convenient way to provide them with perks for their support. For a free software developer, this might be something like access to more direct support from the developer.

Sadly, registration wasn’t as smooth as most other platforms. My preferred username, "tyil" is too short. There’s no indication of the requirements of any of the fields, you just get a popup on submission of the form saying a field is wrong.

Additionally, the registration form requires some 3rd-party JavaScript to work, and a Google reCaptcha to be solved in order to get the submit button to show up. As I have set up uMatrix in my browser, this cost me some extra time to finish registration.

Setting a profile image proved to be a little harder. First off, I’m still using uMatrix so I had to allow a 3rd-party (Amazon, in this case) XHR requests. Secondly, their error when uploading a "wrong" format is also not very user friendly, as it won’t give you any details on why it’s disallowed, nor what images are allowed instead.

Note

It seems they check the extension of the uploaded image’s filename. As far as I can tell, you’re allowed to upload files that end with .jpg and .png.

You can find MakerSupport at https://www.makersupport.com/.

Patreon

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  • Requires 3rd-party Cloudflare-hosted JavaScript sources to function.

  • You have to solve a Google reCaptcha in order to register a new account.

Patreon is possibly the most famous donation-based funding platform available right now. Its popularity is a good thing, since this means there’s probably many donors already using this platform.

At Patreon, you can set up so-called goals. Goals are the thing I haven’t found with other funding platforms. It allows you to set a goal for an amount of money, and add a reward to this. This way, you can inform your donors you will be creating a certain kind of content once a one-time goal has been reached. Basically, you can show your donors what you’re going to do with the money they’re donating to you.

Another interesting thing that I haven’t seen on other platforms is the option to charge donors per creation, instead of per month. While this may seem less fitting for software developers (unless you want to get paid per commit, I guess), it’s an interesting feature that’s pretty unique. If you publish many tutorials, guides or other posts, this might fit you very well.

You can link your account to other services, similarly to other platforms, but it seems to only allow you to be linked with proprietary social media platforms.

You can find Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/home.

(Dis)honorable mentions

Hatreon

I’ve included this because I found people talking about it on IRC. However, it seems to be nothing more than a joke that’s gone too far. Its main reason for existing seems to be to get away from the political correctness found with earlier crowdfunding platforms, yet their site is invite-only, so those who are actually interested can’t even use it. It seems that pledging is currently disabled as well, and has been for at least 10 days.

But that’s not all

Just setting up an account on a funding platform isn’t enough. There’s more to keeping a healthy and happy supporter base.

Spread awareness of your work

Whether you’re writing articles or publishing new releases of projects, tell the world you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing. If nobody knows about your project, they won’t be able to give any kind of appreciation for it. Use social media outlets, public forums, mailing lists, anything! Tell them what you made, why it’s useful and how they could use it to improve their digital life.

Warning

Ofcourse, don’t spam it to unrelated communication channels. This will only backfire.

Using the rewards system

On the platforms that support a rewards system, make use of it. There’s some little things you can do that go a long way with your supporters. For instance, you can offer things like stickers to donors that donate a certain amount of money to you. These are reasonably cheap to produce and ship, and many people like these.

Another idea that seems to strike well with donors is having a way to talk with the person they’re supporting directly. This can be done by giving them access to an IRC channel for you and your donors. You can use another platform for this, but most free software enthousiasts are already on IRC, and there’s few real-time communication alternatives that they’re already using.

Don’t stick to a single platform

There’s multiple platforms out there, use them! Not all of them have the same userbase, and you can reach more people by giving them more options to work with.

Let people know you’re accepting donations

If people don’t know you’re even accepting donations, chances are pretty high you won’t get any. Or if it’s too hard to figure out how to donate to you, people will simply not take the effort. Make sure people can easily find out that you’re accepting donations, and how to donate to you.

Show what you’re doing with donation money

Have a page with information about what you’re using with the money. This can be as simple as just saying you pay the rent and buy food with it. Most donors don’t mind too much what you’re doing with the money they donate to you, but a few do appreciate having this information available to them.

It can be as simple as adding a /donate link to your site where you explain how to donate to you, and what you do with the donation money.

Warning

Don’t let it turn into an annoying advertisement though, this will surely have an opposite effect.

Further reading

There’s more places to go for tips and tricks in getting funds to sustain your free software development work. I’ve listed a couple of these here for those interested.

RFC

I’d love to receive feedback on this, as I think being able to get donations easily for the work free software developers put in to their projects is important.

Getting to know more platforms and giving them a small write-up should help out other developers like me looking for the best platform for their use case. I’d also like to hear from developers already using a platform, to extend this article with more useful information on how to successfully get donors for their work.

If you want to contact me, do take a look at the Contact section, and let me know about your experiences with funding.

And if you liked this post, consider donating ;)