I will now charge my clients a fee to support open source projects

manuelbieh profile image Manuel Bieh ・2 min read

No matter if you're a Startup that has just been founded or a large corporation with a company history of 100 years or more. When you're building software today, it's inevitable that you will be using Open Source software, libraries, tooling, or frameworks to base your product upon. It's a solid foundation you can reliably build your product or software on to save you and your company thousands of hours of work by leveraging the mostly unpaid work of other enthusiastic software developers from around the world.

In the vast majority of cases Open Source projects probably started as a hobby project or still even are built and maintained by hobbyists without receiving anything but street credibility and kudos by the community. Most companies are totally fine to pay tens of thousands of Euros in license fees for "enterprise" software from Oracle or SAP but when they're asked to donate only a couple hundred Euros a year for an Open Source project that half of their codebase relies on the answer most of the time is: why should we?!

There have been some efforts recently to change that at least a little bit. GitHub just released GitHub Sponsors to offer a way to financially support Open Source maintainers, there is the great company Open Collective whose goal it is to make it easy to fund Open Source projects and the JavaScript consultancy Formidable is not only heavily involved in the development of Open Source software, they also recently announced they're Paying Cold, Hard Cash For Open Source Contributions.

As an independent Freelance Developer I was wondering how I can support the Open Source community other than by doing some Open Source contributions myself so I had this idea: starting with my next project I will ask my clients for an hourly rate that is 1 Euro higher than I originally negotiated or I would usually charge. I will take that money (up to ~160 Euros per month) and support those projects on Open Collective that I'm basing my work upon in my client's project.

I already had this idea roughly one year ago but forgot about it eventually. I will change that now and I encourage you to also do that! If our clients don't see a necessity to support the developers who spend their own, personal time to save us and especially our clients hours and hours of time (and thus money!), we need to find another way to make Open Source projects sustainable!

Follow me on Twitter to receive updates about my experiment!


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Please don't get me wrong, its a good idea. I'm just trying to see the other side of the fence with this.

I wouldn't expose it to a client (in the way you state). Rightfully, why should/would they care about you wanting to give some money to a free library and ecosystem. A tool that you use to meet the end goal.

Personally, I would just let clients know as part of your proposition that you use OSS and donate to their upkeep and spin it as "By using OSS it allows quicker and safer delivery" or something to highlight the benefits. Whether you then up your base cost, or absorb it yourself (As you say, it could be 1%, no point in losing business over it)

Hopefully my rambling is somewhat clear! I get the enthusiasm, I really do.


Yes, I get your point and I think there's a lot of truth in it. Why should they pay a Euro more!? It's an experiment, though. Let's see how it will turn out!

I think one of the reasons I'm (trying to) do it transparently is because I can get an idea of how the company works and how the people working there think. If they're not willing to pay a symbolic euro for open source software they're using in the products they're making thousands if not millions of Euros with, I'm not sure if they're valuing other people's time and work enough that I will want to work for them.


Maybe ask yourself why you wouldn't give 1% of your revenues to open source projects. After all, you decide to use them and you make money off them. Like Rich said, the client doesn't really care and might go with another developer that doesn't charge that extra %.

It doesn't prevent you from being transparent. The pitch is even better: "By choosing me, you also contribute to open source projects because I will donate 1% of the revenues generated by this piece of work".

It doesn't matter if your client is making thousands, millions. If that's the case, then you should sell your services for more, which makes your own donation even easier.


I would almost say it makes the most sense to explain it all out like Rich says then either split it or match whichever you think would actually happen with the company, perhaps propose 3 options 1) you both donate 1% 2) you each split it each giving 0.5% or 3) you personally donate 1% on your own side alone but you could emphasize how great it would be for you to do one of the first 2 as you would be directly donating more for the devs to improve the software you are using or at least basing other work on.


I get what you are saying, and I don't disagree with you. Myself, I think most clients don't understand what Open Source Software is, and honestly, they don't care. They come to us and ask us to do their project, we quote them a price and deliver the completed project. They just care that their project does what they need it to do. Now that isn't saying we should hide the fact we use open source. If a client asks, you can tell them, and then, as they clearly understand the concept, you can also say, "...And We support the developers whose tools we use." Otherwise, you probably don't tell them, "We develop your project on a Mac (Or PC)". If I have new business cards printed, they don't tell me 'We'll be doing your job on a Jamison XR-590r printer. The tools that are used probably aren't what matter.


Developer: it's got all of the bells and whistles.

Company: okay I don't care what it's got, does it work and make us money.

Developer: ...

Analyst: Yes looks like users are clicking the money button.

Developer: by the way, we donated your money to a chosen cause you know little or care about, no not a charity, an open source project.

Company: ...

New Developer: Hello!


As I stated earlier: if the company has an issue paying up to 160 euros per month for software projects which help them make hundreds of thousands, if not millions of euros in revenue per month, I really have an issue working for that company.

In that case I'm very happy to leave (or not even start at) that company.


Contrary to my light hearted satire, I think companies should care about the stack (because it's integral to thier servival) and if they do they won't mind the donation. Read that satire how you will but open source is the power of people and mad ideas come to life. But I'm happy to laugh about the situation.


How about billing them openly and allowing them to opt out?

"Your bill includes donations to the following open source vendors, who made this work possible."

List the vendors and numbers.

If it is worded just right, if you make them understand that their product was made possible by open source volunteers, I think most people will not opt out, unless they really have to. (Some small businesses may have to, and that's okay.)


That's a very good point, opt in vs opt out of very interesting. Countries with opt out organ donation have much higher rates of said donations vs opt in countries like the US.


Why not just gpl your code and sue companies for all of their profits when they use your code in non-gpl code bases? That's what ghostscript is currently doing. I believe they'll be getting 700 million at the end of the day. You can still charge corporations for product support too.


Lawyers are expensive


And you still have money after paying the lawyers, compared to MIT projects, and the lawyers did all the work, so 🎉!


I love the idea. We could add such provisions to grants and the like also.

It might make sense to be transparent about this, e.g. by posting
some public proof of payment.

An amazing set of ideas along these lines is discussed at
Harberger Taxation and Open Source -
A novel approach to creating a self-sustainable digital commons


Just as a thought experiment, what if instead of charging that 1% more, you asked them to donate that to that project?

If a business agreed to do it, there may be a chance that they would keep donating after you stopped being involved in the project.

And also the business could appear as a sponsor of such project and get some good publicity.

I don’t think there are many businesses that would agree to something like that, but I’m pretty sure a few would.


When a contractor or worker comes back to me after negotiations with any kind of overage, I become very sour.

From my perspective it would be better to tell them up front during negotiations that you do this as part of the way you offer your service.


That was my idea, yes. It would/will be part of the negotiation process.


That's great! I think that is exactly right. It also gives a really great opportunity to educate the client about how a lot of the work is actually done. The people who are actually making the deal on the client-side probably don't understand the full amount of work and sourcing that goes into a project.


I don't check this in every open source project around there, but I think most of the bigger ones already have a lot of sponsors and support from big companies.Babel is backed by a lot of big players in the software industry already. Others projects are made by big companies like React or VSCode, where money is not a problem.
Anyway, I think if you want to donate to open source projects you should donate on your own, not increase the price of your product to do that, it doesn't look good if you state that way.


Seems like standard operating costs. Some client requests require additional licensing costs and those costs are just forwarded onto the client. While in this case there is no licensing dictating the cost your holding the client to pay for the cost to deliver their solutions.


I am skeptical about the part where if we mention to client that we charged 1 EUR extra to support OS. They may move to the guy who charges same but does not mention that part. We have a long path to go to convince people about OS. But yeah it's a good start.


I don't know. It's more a symbolic thing. Depending on where you're located 1 Euro might be relatively much. In Germany it's roughly ~1% (or a little bit more) than the hourly rate of an average freelancer. Not sure if they'd hire somebody else because they can save 1% there. And if they really do, I'm pretty sure it was very good to not be hired by them in the first place.


I agree, it might be seen as charging fees for something free. Personally I would pay, maybe some clients are not eager to for something free. Great idea, I will keep it up in my mind if I ever make some free lance jobs, OS projects are the heroes we need.


My 2 cents here. As a freelancer, I assume that you are a contractor and go through a quoting and billing process? I'd suggest a revision of terms on your quote that says that when using OSS, you contribute a reasonable amount to the project for use and that in cases where this use applies specially to a project this will be billed as an expense. You should do something like this with any paid special use libraries that you use as well. If 20% of your customers need a 200 euro/year tool you should only pass that cost to that portion of your customer base (either through rates, direct billing, etc).

Philosophically, I agree with your approach if you use roughly the same packages on each project as part of your toolkit and they create value and savings for you clients. In that case, your value on a per hour basis is being enhanced by the OSS and it makes sense to pass that on as such. Where it makes less sense is when and if you have significant variability in what packages are used, the extent of the package use, and the value proposition to the project.

I haven't done freelance in many years, but honest transparency makes sense. The customer has a interest in the continued support and availability of the tool chain and we should justify it as such.


Awesome idea. I'm not a freelancer, but I really like it and wish my company would do the same (spoiler: it won't).


Have you tried asking? Some companies would probably even support Open Source with a few hundred Euros per year, they just aren't conscious that it is even possible.


2 things to seriously consider:

  • LiberaPay.
  • Peer Production License.

When someone signs a contract, they agree to pay a price for the task done, if you use opensource or not, if product works as expected one is fine. You are using opensource to make your life easier so you should pay from what you earn. If you charge me extra for open source, what would be your reaction if I say don't use opensource write everything on your own. It is hard but fact is that I am paying price to something what I need from you. If you need some open source why not pay your self.

Infact as a developer someone else is doing what you are supposed to do if that doesn't exist you would be doing yourself


I challenge you (or the hypotetical company from your comment) to put on the table that constraint: Don't use OS at all.

Go with this constraint to ANY DEVELOPER and you will see how you run out of budget before day 1.


It's a nice idea in theory, but I think it's ultimately impractical and/or biased to certain developers.

For instance you want to donate to Babel. Well the babel-core npm package uses 6 3rd party open sourced npm packages, at the time of writing this. Are you also going to donate to those developers or will you hope the Babel devs pass it along?

Then those npm packages babel-core use could also be using even more open source npm packages. You could be looking at potentially hundreds of open source npm packages in any given project.

Don't get me wrong, it's a nice idea, but I see it only being a thing for the bigger more popular open source projects. While the smaller ones will be ignored.

If there was a way to make sure everyone get's their fair share, this would be a great idea.


I like the little bee in your photo.


Thank you! ;)


Great idea,
I think that another great way to support OS projects and the developers especially if you use them regularly is to actually take some time [ read money ] and contribute to it.

I know it's not always possible and that's where the idea of charging clients a small fee fits in well. I agree that this should be totally transparent, if the client is fine with the proposed price, 1% extra shouldn't influence his/her decision, if it does you probably don't want to work with such a company.

Hopefully makes some sense :)


Or just do what Krita does: sell the software on Steam and/or Windows Stores and also sell preset kits, despite the fact that you can get the software for free on their own website. If i recall, they say it helps.


Really interesting idea. Would be cool if you could report back about the reception after a few tries. Well done!


While I think the sentiment of doing something like this is great. I don't believe it should be exposed to the client in any way beyond a small blurb on your site that you do this with your profits.

I can only see this hurting you on an interaction with a client. For a client that is not familiar with OSS, I can imagine the thought, "So you piece together a bunch of freely available software in order to accomplish this, then charge me for it?"

Overall, making the commitment to contributing to projects you use is great. It just isn't a thing that clients will probably care about.


I love the idea! Let me know how it works out. :)


That's a very good idea !


Thanks! I hope it'll work!


You can do the same without being overly aggressive. By "forcing" them to make a donation you are creating unnecessary conflict with your clients. But if you calculate your cost and place the "donation" in the cost structure of your service.

You can say something like, "for each service provided X% will be donated to open source". Now the client will see that you care for "Open Source" (that's a value that he can agree with you) and "you" are paying for it with less profits. You are paying for it, not them.

It is just psychology, but selling the product in that light can make people deciding between you and another developer easier because you care for Open Source even if you are more expensive. They are many companies doing that and it works.

Ej. Tom Shoes, B1G1, Warby Parker, etc.

Even though we care for open source, nobody "has" to care for Open Source, they don't have a moral obligation to care. Also (I want to thread lightly here) you can seem arrogant to your clients and that you don't care about them because you are asking for something more than the cost of your services.

Good Luck with your experiment, I hope everything goes well.


Very good idea! I'm following you on Twitter, let's run time and see, best regards from Venezuela!


An excellent idea! Love it!


I remember the time when people were coding (open source) for fun in their free time because it was a joy.


That is a great idea! I will have to do that too. Thanks!


Do open source maintainers count as non profit / charities? 'cause selling the 'x euro per hour to Charity's is a much easier sell.