Saying thanks to open source maintainers

After signing up for GitHub Sponsors, I had a nagging feeling that somehow asking for money from other people to support my open source work was inappropriate. But after much reflection, I realized that phrasing the use of GitHub Sponsors as a way to express patronage/support and appreciation for my work instead of sponsorship stopped me feeling bad about it. It also led me to reflect on to what degree people can express thanks to open source maintainers.

This blog post is entirely from my personal perspective and thus will not necessarily apply to every open source developer out there.

Be nice

The absolutely easiest way to show thanks is to simply not be mean. It sounds simple, but plenty of people fail at even this basic level of civility. This isn't to say you can't say that a project didn't work for you or you disagree with something, but there's a massive difference between saying "I tried the project and it didn't meet my needs" and "this project is trash".

People failing to support this basic level of civility is what leads to burnout.

Be an advocate

It's rather indirect, but saying nice things about a project is a way of showing thanks. As an example, I have seen various people talk positively about pyproject.toml online, but not directly at me. That still feels nice due to how much effort I put into helping make that file exist and creating the [project] table.

Or put another way, you never know who is reading your public communications.

Produce your own open source

Another indirect way to show thanks is by sharing your own open source code. By maintaining your own code, you'll increase the likelihood I myself will become a user of your project. That then becomes a circuitous cycle of open source support between us.

Say thanks

Directly saying "thank you" actually goes a really long way. It takes a lot of positive interactions to counteract a single negative interaction. You might be surprised how much it might brighten someone's day when someone takes the time and effort to reach out and say "thank you", whether that's by DM, email, in-person at a conference, etc.

Fiscal support

As I said in the opening of this post, I set up GitHub Sponsors for myself as a way for people to show fiscal support for my open source work if that's how they prefer to express their thanks (including businesses). Now I'm purposefully not saying "sponsor" as to me that implies that giving money leads to some benefit (e.g. getting a shout-out somewhere) which is totally reasonable for people to do. But for me, since every commit is a gift, I'm financially secure, and I'm not trying to make a living from my volunteer open source work or put in the effort to make sponsorship worth it, I have chosen to treat fiscal support as a way of showing reciprocity for the gift of sharing my code that you've already received. This means I fully support all open source maintainers setting up fiscal support at a minimum, and if they want to put in the effort to go the sponsorship route then they definitely should.

Producing open source also isn't financially free. For instance, I pay for:

  1. The hosting of this blog via Ghost(Pro)
  2. Obsidian Sync to keep my open source notes available on all my devices so when I have an idea I can write it down
  3. Obsidian Publish to share my open source notes
  4. Computer upgrades (including ergonomic upgrades like keyboards)
  5. My personal time away from my wife and child, family and friends (which my open source journal exists to try and point out for those who don't realize how much time I put into my volunteer work)

So while open source is "free" for you as the consumer, the producer very likely has concrete financial costs in producing that open source on top of the intangible costs like volunteering their personal time.

But as I listed earlier, there are plenty of other ways to show thanks without having to spend money that can be equally valuable to a maintainer.

I also specifically didn't mention contributing. I have said before that contributions are like giving someone a puppy: it seems like a lovely gift at the time, but the recipient is now being "gifted" daily walks involving scooping 💩 and vet bills. As such, contributions from others can be a blessing and a curse all at the same time depending on the contribution itself, the attitude of the person making the contribution, etc. So I wouldn't always assume my contribution is as welcomed and desired as much as a "thank you" note.