Github Sponsors - Show Support For Your Favorite Open Source Contributors

Janne Kemppainen | | Image: GitHub

GitHub just launched its’ new GitHub Sponsors service which will let you financially support contributors of open source projects. It works just like Patreon but it is integrated in the GitHub service which should make sponsoring more accessible and visible for the end users.

The service is still in beta so we will probably see some changes down the line. The initial launch has only support for individual users supporting individual OSS contributors. I say contributors instead of developers as the program is not limited to coders only. GitHub states the following in their announcement blog post:

Anyone who contributes to open source—whether through code, documentation, leadership, mentorship, design, and beyond—is eligible for sponsorship.

There are plans to add support for teams that are working on a single project and also for companies to support developers. They are starting small and adjusting the service based on the feedback they gather from the beta.

If you want to get sponsored you can join the beta waitlist on the GitHub Sponsors page.

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At least at the beginning there are no fees involved and GitHub even covers the payment processing fees for the first year. That means that during the first year 100% of the sponsorship money goes to the developers. On top of that they also have the GitHub Sponsors Matching Fund which “matches up to $5000 per sponsored developer in their first year of sponsorship.” [source]

They state that in the future they may charge a small fee but that is probably only to cover the transaction costs etc. and I don't see GitHub trying to transform it to a money maker for them as it's not really at their core business.

The value I see in this deal is that GitHub will be able to show how its’ support to open source. Especially since after the aqcuisition by Microsoft many developers were worried about the future of open source and were prepared to shift to other platforms such as GitLab.

Microsoft has really changed its’ stance toward open source software in the recent years with the lead of the CEO Satya Nadella. The shift in attitude has been huge if you consider that in 2001 Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft at the time, called Linux “cancer”. There were however some early signs of a change towards OSS when Microsoft decided to open source .NET, a few years before Nadella became the CEO.

I think this is a good move from GitHub (and Microsoft). They will strengthen their position as the place to be for open source software.

They will still make the majority of their revenue from GitHub Enterprise and organization plans and they don't even plan on making direct profit from the sponsorship. If they start charging for the payment processing fees too then their costs would basically consist of maintaining the software.

Basically, the sponsorships are only part of the bigger picture in their list of features that try to make the developers happy and keep them on the platform.

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How does the sponsor program work?

Users that have been accepted to the sponsorship program can create tiers for other users to select. These will be monthly recurring payments and it seems that at the moment it is not possible to create one-off payments. If you'd like to tip a developer only once I think you could just select a tier, pay for it and then cancel the subscription.

The tiers are up to the individuals to decide and they can offer different levels of perks or even services. Typically the lowest tier gets you a sponsor badge on your profile for others to see. The highest tiers can be anything from consulting to having your company logo shown on a website.

Below is an example from Daniel Stenberg, the creator of curl. For example his lowest tier gets you the sponsor badge while with the highest tier you get a mention and acknowledgement as a personal patron.

GitHub Sponsor with tiers

You can sponsor the developer of curl

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While in general I think that this is a good idea there can be some issues such as how the sponsored money will be distributed among developers. I don't think that many will be able to support themselves fully with open source contributions on the platform other than maintainers of really popular repositories. For the majority this will probably be coffee money.

Especially in bigger projects it might be difficult to share the income without making someone jealous. How much should each contributor get?

It is difficult to predict how this all will turn out to be in the end. Does GitHub intend to gain massive adoption and market share with this move in order to play the other companies out of the game? I wouldn't like to think so. Perhaps Microsoft wants to manage a strong developer community which it might gently nudge towards it's cloud services.

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I want to keep an open mind think that GitHub is honestly thinking about what is best for the open source community. Integrating donations into the platform á la Twitch makes it easier for anyone to show respect to people that create the software that they depend on.

If, at some point, I start to make money from this blog I could see myself contributing to the development of Hugo which I've been using to build this site.

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