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How is work on open source funded today? Survey results part 5

Keenan Szulik
by Keenan Szulik
on May 18, 2018

Earlier this year, we launched our first professional open source survey. Our goal? To gain deeper perspective about what can be done to make open source—especially as it is used in professional settings—work better for everyone. We wanted to understand what professional users of open source look like and what matters to them. And we wanted to understand the needs, problems, and passions of those who create and maintain the software they use.

Our hope was that we could find some common ground, a win-win for both those who use and maintain open source software.

We received over 1,200 responses, and now we’re sharing our key findings and more details about our dataset. In our last post, we discovered that 83% of respondents were willing to pay for support and professional assurances around the open source software they are already using. What’s more, we found that company size was not a factor in willingness to pay for supported open source, with companies of over 500 developers only being 0.5% more likely to pay than companies with fewer than 25 developers.

This caused us to wonder: if the demand is there for supported open source, what about the supply? How are maintainers funding their open source work now?

Insight 5: Most maintainers are required to self-fund their open source work, or they receive no external funding

Despite the broad use of open source software, the means for funding its development remain unsatisfactory and inadequate. How do maintainers fund their work today? Here is what we found:

Over 60% of respondents said that they are required to financially support their open source work with their own funds, or that they receive no external funding at all.

How is work on open source funded today_ (4)

Our survey data shows that self-funding or no funding for work on open source is—sadly—the norm.

Of the external funding options, employer-supported open source work ranks highest, with 49% reporting receiving funding via their employer. This method has its upsides and downsides, of course.

The downside? If an employer is funding the work, it often minimizes the autonomy of the maintainer. They may only be able to work on open source with a small percentage of their time, and they may not be able to choose what they work on or how much time they spend on it. They also may be doing their employer’s bidding versus contributing in the way they think would create the most value or bring them the most joy.

On the upside, it is a great sign that many employers are funding open source work. This also means that employers are already paying for open source in a way—perhaps they could make a more comprehensive, efficient, scalable investment by purchasing a Tidelift Subscription.

Get open source software you can depend on.

There are many other funding avenues maintainers could consider, like offering consulting services or raising funds via crowdfunding or donations. But less than 12% of respondents say they've had success raising money in any of these ways.

Take venture capital, for example, from which just 1% of respondents have received any form of funding. Or look at crowdfunding and donations, which only 6% of surveyed maintainers have used successfully as an income source. And keep in mind: our survey asked maintainers which models they had received any money from, not the models from which they’d earned a living wage.

Though some of these funding models may be extremely effective for select projects, it is clear that not many of them are working at the broad scale of open source as a whole. But aside from a lack of funding, how do maintainers feel about their work on open source? Is it easy to fit into their schedules or do they struggle to find time for their projects?

We’ll dive into this in our next post! In the meantime, let us know if you’d like to receive updates, and follow us on Twitter.
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