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Looking Back on Two Years of GitHub Sponsors

This article is a look back on GitHub Sponsors as it has been almost two years since I started recruiting GitHub Sponsors.

In this article, I write about the reason why I started GitHub Sponsors, the design of the tier, the result and gratitude of doing it, changes by doing it, and advice for those who will do it in the future.

My Tweet notifying you that I've started GitHub Sponsors

Why Starts GitHub Sponsors

There are several reasons why I started GitHub Sponsors.

  • I wanted to try using GitHub Sponsors.
    • GitHub is the web service I use the most, so I wanted to use the new features.
  • I wanted to have a way to financially contribute to open source.
    • As was the case with the Promise book, the lack of a way to pay for open source is also a problem, so I wanted a place to solve this problem.
  • No fees.

GitHub is the service I use the most, so I wanted to try out GitHub Sponsors as a new feature.

The other major reason is that I believe that open source users should have a way to pay for open source.
It is important that users of open source have the option to sponsor (financially support) the open source as a way to contribute to it.

There are many ways to contribute to open source, such as bug reporting/fixing, adding features, writing documentation, triage of issues and discussions, design, marketing, etc.
One of the ways to contribute is through financial support.
As one of the ways to get involved, I think it would be desirable for Contributors to be able to choose the option of providing financial support.

The idea itself came about when I released the JavaScript Promise book as an open-source book, and readers found the bug that there was no way to pay for the book, I thought of this when I fixed it.

I use GitHub Sponsors because I often release products for myself (developers) as open source, and GitHub Sponsors was just the right way to create an option for support.

Designing Tiers for GitHub Sponsors

GitHub Sponsors offers monthly and one-time payment options.
You can set up to 10 different tiers (10 different amounts) for each of the monthly and one-time payment methods.
In the beginning, only monthly payment will be available.
In April 2021, Custom Amounts and one-time payments has beed added, allowing sponsors to point to any amount.

Finally, Tier of my Sponsors is set as follows.
The tier type itself has not changed much since I first created it.

  • โœจ Supporter $1 a month
  • โ˜•๏ธ Coffee Supporter $5 a month
  • ๐ŸŒ Domain Supporter $10 a month
  • ๐Ÿ“– Book Supporter $30 a month
  • ๐Ÿ’š JSer.info Sponsor $100 a month
  • โค๏ธ Open Source Sponsor $300 a month

๐Ÿ“ JSer.info is my website in japanese. This blog is similar with JavaScript Weekly.

The actual page can be seen at the following link.

I believe that people who are willing to be GitHub Sponsors are willing to continue to support me because they want me to continue our activities.
I think it's brave and amazing to continue to support them.

In order to continue working on this support, I set my tier design to have as few immediate benefits as possible.

There are two main reasons for this.

  • For the purpose of long-term activities: I envision continuous support and continuous activities.
  • To avoid being tied to a specific project: certain benefits tend to be directly linked to a specific project.

While the immediate benefits (priority support for Issues, chat support, etc.) have the advantage of being easy to encourage action, it is difficult to consider what will happen in the long term.

Since the motivation of both parties (the sponsors and the sponsored) is affected by the benefits, I believe that it is difficult to intuitively grasp what will happen in the long run.

On the other hand, if there is no visible benefit, it is a little more intuitive for the sponsored party to continue some kind of activity (in this case, open source activity) as an answer to the sponsored party.

The ability to continue open source activities depends on people's money/time/health/motivation.
However, donations give positive feedback on health, and the fact that there are several studies that show that the money from the support can be used to save time, I am optimistic about this area.

In my case, the other reason "To avoid being tied to a specific project" is also related to motivation.
I believe that the benefits of being tied to a specific project make it easier to create a sense of responsibility for the maintenance of that project.

Creating such benefits seemed to have a tendency to become a burden for me, so I tried not to incorporate benefits that are tied to a specific project as a Tier.

Only "๐Ÿ’š JSer.info Sponsor" is somewhat special, because JSer.info was intended to minimize costs from the beginning, JSer.info has been around for more than 10 years, JSer.info Policy, and so on.
I thought that my awareness wouldn't change much with or without GitHub Sponsors, so I put them in a separate box.

I think this is the part where people are free to decide what kind of Tier they want and have different ideas about it.
Therefore, this is not the right answer, but I wrote about my Tier design again.

๐Ÿ“ If I were to design the tiers now, I think it would be easier to reduce the number of tiers because of the Custom Amount (users can freely decide the amount).
However, since there was no Custom Amount at first, and the Amount cannot be changed later, the Tier design is as it is now.

In addition, the current Sponsor Dashboard shows the following tier ideas.
If you are planning to set up a tier, you may want to refer to this as well.

The results of recruiting GitHub Sponsors

At the moment (2021-10-28), I have about 100+ people supporting me with GitHub Sponsors. (Thank you very much!)
Estimated monthly income of GitHub Sponsors is $1000+.

The specific number of sponsors and Monthly Estimated Income ($) have been changing in the following way.

Graph showing the number of GitHub sponsors

Number of sponsors per month on GitHub Sponsors

Monthly Estimated Income

Estimated monthly income from GitHub Sponsors in US dollars.

About 20 people have continued to support GitHub Sponsors since the beginning of the project, and the number has been increasing at a steady pace since then.

Basically, it's been a steady pace, but I think the increase in March 2021 and June to July 2021 is due to people mentioning GitHub Sponsors in their releases.

The reason for the large change in Monthly Estimated Income between December 2020 and June 2021 is that Cybozu and VELC have sponsored me.
They have each written articles about their GitHub Sponsors as companies.

Edit: After publishing the Japanese version of this article, the number of sponsors increased.

๐Ÿ“ The report image used here is created with a tool called github-sponsor-report. This report does not include data from people who quit in the middle of the report, so the actual number should be higher or lower. So, please take a look at it for the atmosphere.

The github-sponsor-report is open source, so if you want to make your own GitHub Sponsors dashboard, please use it! You can use it to create your own GitHub Sponsors dashboard.

Benefits of being supported by GitHub Sponsors

First of all, thanks to all the GitHub Sponsors out there!

One thing that has changed since I started as a GitHub Sponsor is that the financial/psychological burden of ongoing maintenance costs has eased.

I've always been very cautious about increasing maintenance costs.
I have always been cautious about increasing maintenance costs, especially for domains and subscriptions, but I think GitHub Sponsors has reduced this burden considerably.

Specifically, I had a policy of not getting a domain name unless there was something wrong with it, but thanks to the existence of ๐ŸŒ Domain Supporter, I was able to get a domain name without hesitation when I created philan.net.
(Now I am trying to move the backend of philan.net from Vercel to AWS, so it was a good decision to get a domain name.

Also, I'm an ACM member to read Oreilly's books by subscription, and I can pay $99/year without hesitation, thanks to the existence of ๐Ÿ“– Book Supporter.

With the financial burden offset, I felt that the psychological burden of development and learning was reduced.

New things I've started after recruiting GitHub Sponsors

GitHub Sponsors has not only reduced my workload, but has also given me more opportunities to work on new things.

philan.net is a perfect example of this.
I was thinking about GitHub Sponsors itself, and was researching the history and structure of donations.

The philan.net project I started was to create a system to manage donations and put it into practice, because the best way to learn more about how donations work is to try to donate.

I looked at the ratio of the amount of commits to repositories created before I started GitHub Sponsors (2019) to the amount of commits to repositories created after I started (2020).
The repositories I am dealing with here are Public repositories only, so Private repositories are not included.

The following figure shows the number of commits made to each repository in each year of 2019 and 2020.

@azu commit count 2019 - 2020

Spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1OZz4GvORzt2YORbiJPX_QzjggoviJAV2vNDJeubQfE4/edit?usp=sharing

Source Code: https://github.com/azu/github-commit-count-per-repository

The number of repositories committed in each period was as follows. (Only Public repositories are included).

  • The total number of repositories with commits in the two time periods of 2019 and 2020 is 322.
  • Of those, 92 repositories had continuous commits in either of the two periods.
  • The total number of repositories with commits in one or the other period is 230.
    • This includes temporary repositories (e.g. testing) and new repositories.
  • The total number of commits in 2019 is 8073.
  • The total number of commits in 2020 is 10656

Continuously committed repositories include JSer.info, textlint, and JavaScript Primer, etc.
On the other hand, the newly created ones after the launch of GitHub Sponsors include philan.net, HonKit, Secretlint, etc.

This is not very accurate because it includes commits by bots such as dependabot, but I think the amount of commits to new ones is still increasing.
It seems that some percentage of them are still committing.

I've written a lot of things, but to summarize, the number of commits has increased even after starting GitHub Sponsors, and the number of repositories I've published has also increased.

I've been able to challenge myself to create new things, and the ones that have some kind of demand are still being maintained.

For those thinking about GitHub Sponsors.

For Developer

There are some people who do not want to receive money for their open source activities.

I know there are reasons for this, such as not wanting to feel obligated or responsible for receiving money.
However, if you try to design your own tier, you may find that it reduces the burden on your feelings, so please consider it.

Of course, this does not mean that everyone should be a GitHub Sponsor, so please reconsider when the need arises.

Also, I recommend that you don't feel too guilty about asking people to support you.

The people who are actually using your library or referring to what you have written must feel the value in it.
Asking for support from those who feel value is a healthy way to maintain the activity.
Conversely, those who feel valued may be looking for ways to help.

Jeff Geerling said same things:

For other maintainers: Don't feel guilty asking people to support you. Whether they'll admit it or not, if they're using your project, they are getting value out of it. And in the case of organizations building on top of your projects, usually a lot. Don't get all spammy (there's a reason we distrust salespeople...), but definitely ask people to assist you financially.
I'm thankful for GitHub, Patreon, and my sponsors this year | Jeff Geerling

Finally, it's only recently that people have been able to provide easy financial support for open source, so there's a lot to be said for not actually doing it.

For Sponsors

It's great to be a sponsor of someone.

It doesn't matter how big or small the amount of money you are supporting, it means a lot.
In particular, I felt that the montly support is more meaningful than the amount of money (at least that's how I felt for myself).

I also started writing this article to explain how I feel about being supported to those who support me.
Since my tier does not have a clear set of returns, I am writing articles like this one and the year-end report, but I am grateful for their support.

For Company

GitHub Sponsors and Open Collective allow companies to support specific people and open source projects.

If you are an employee and need to explain to your company why you are sponsoring an open source project, the following article describes various approaches to support.

It is said that over 90% of companies use some kind of open source software/library.
If you don't know what to support, talk to people who use open source, such as software engineers.

If you are using some form of open source as a company and are interested in open source as a part of the software supply chain, the following reports and documents are recommended.

It describes the problems and risks of the lack of open source maintainers. In other words, you may be able to find out what you can do to support the safe use of open source.

If you want to know more about the economic impact of open source on a larger scale, I recommend the EU report on open source for more details.

Conclusion

It's been about two years since I started recruiting GitHub Sponsors in October 2019, so I thought I'd take another look at GitHub Sponsors.

I wrote about why I started recruiting GitHub Sponsors, what I thought about it, and how it turned out.
One of the purposes of this article is to explain the impact and value of the program to those who support me.


You can register your own GitHub Sponsors on the following page. If you'd like to help, that would be great!

Top comments (2)

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abcsxyz profile image
AbcSxyZ

Really interesting to read your experience. It seem it's slowly launching, but it's going in the right path, congrats :)

Definitively the open source ecosystem is not finacially healthy, but your exploring new way to achieve that and it look promising. Could we see a world where the majority of developers will work for open source and can live from it ? I hope so !

Do you know why people are sponsoring you ? For some of your projects (your books ?), or for contribution for external repo ?

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azu profile image
azu Author • Edited on

Thanks.

Do you know why people are sponsoring you ?

There are two main reasons.

I've written a blog about JavaScript over ten years.
JSer.info is similar to JavaScript Weekly.

Also, I've created and maintained textlint.
It is similar to ESLint but it is for natural languages.
In specially, Japanese tech company use this linter.
Also, many open source use this linter.

Example.

๐ŸŒš Friends don't let friends browse without dark mode.

Sorry, it's true.