How to Not Get Rich: An Empirical Study of Donations in Open Source
Open source is ubiquitous and critical infrastructure, yet funding and sustaining it is challenging. While there are many different funding models for open-source donations and concerted efforts through foundations, donation platforms like Paypal, Patreon, or OpenCollective are popular and low-bar forms to raise funds for open-source development, for which GitHub recently even built explicit support. With a mixed-method study, we explore the emerging and largely unexplored phenomenon of donations in open source: We quantify how commonly open-source projects ask for donations, statistically model characteristics of projects that ask for and receive donations, analyze for what the requested funds are needed and used, and assess whether the received donations achieve the intended outcomes. We find 25,885 projects asking for donations on GitHub, often to support engineering activities; however, we also find no clear evidence that donations influence the activity level of a project. In fact, we find that donations are used in a multitude of ways, raising new research questions about effective funding.