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Four months ago we launched Liberapay, a recurrent donations platform whose primary goal is to help fund the development of free software. In this post we explore why that’s difficult, and the solutions we’re proposing for the two steps of the process: getting the money, and distributing it.

Many projects have trouble with the fundraising itself.

A big reason is that there are psychological barriers on both sides (the open source projects on one hand, and their users on the other).

In the eyes of many people donations are not a valid business model. To some of them it even feels like begging. Our answer to that is simple: seeking donations isn’t asking for charity, it’s more like allowing the customer to choose the price of the service. It’s pay what you want, and there’s nothing wrong with it, in some ways it’s even better than other pricing schemes.

We’ve also identified another hurdle: information circulates badly in the open source community, especially when it comes to money. There’s no social network you can use that will keep you updated on which projects need funding. To address this issue we’re trying to build communities, to bring people together and keep them informed through newsletters (those aren’t operational yet).

So you’ve found people to support your work, great, now what? Any sizeable project has multiple contributors, and determining who should get how much is a big challenge.

To solve it we’ve come up with an innovative way to distribute donations to contributors: a team system that allows members of a project to share income, without having to set up a legal entity, and without creating resentment.

The basic principle is very simple: each member decides every week how much of the team’s income they take! We call that “take-what-you-want” remuneration. There is no hierarchy, not even an owner with special powers. The amounts are public, so everyone can see how much each team member is taking.