Commercial sponsorship and Open Source sustainability

Recently, GitHub announced an initiative called GitHub Sponsors where open source software users can pay contributors for their work directly within GitHub.

There has been quite a bit of debate about whether initiatives like this are good or bad for Open Source.

On the one hand, there is the concern that the commercialization of Open Source could corrupt Open Source communities, harm contributors' intrinsic motivation and quest for purpose (blog post), or could lead to unhealthy corporate control (blog post).

On the other hand, there is the recognition that commercial sponsorship is often a necessary condition for Open Source sustainability. Many communities have found that to support their growth, as a part of their natural evolution, they need to pay developers or embrace corporate sponsors.

Personally, I believe initiatives like GitHub Sponsors, and others like Open Collective, are a good thing.

It helps not only with the long-term sustainability of Open Source communities, but also improves diversity in Open Source. Underrepresented groups, in particular, don't always have the privilege of free time to contribute to Open Source outside of work hours. Most software developers have to focus on making a living before they can focus on self-actualization. Without funding, Open Source communities risk losing or excluding valuable talent.