How do I raise enough money to work on my project full time?

September 14th, 2010 in Business, Career, gnome, open source, PlanetGNOME

“How do I raise enough money to be able to spend all my time working on my favorite free software project?” is a question I hear often.

I have a few ideas and I’m very interested in hearing others as I think the world would be a better place if we all could afford to do work we loved and thought useful.

  1. Focus on the difference you’d make. First off, I wouldn’t approach it as “I need to raise money to pay myself.” Unless you are raising money solely from people that love you, whether or not you get paid is probably not going to sway them one way or the other. You need to tell them what $100,000 a year would do. How would your project be great then? Who would it help? How would it make the world a better place? How would it help this particular type of sponsor?
  2. Believe it. You need to truly believe your project would benefit from the money and your work. If you aren’t convinced, you won’t convince anyone else.
  3. Figure out how much you need. It helps to have a goal. Would you quit your day job if you had $20,000 in funding? $100,000? $200,000? (Don’t forget costs like health care, vacation time, etc.)
  4. Identify different types of sponsors. Are you going to raise money from developers? Or software companies? Or philanthropic grant givers? Also think about how much money that type of sponsor is likely to give. Be realistic. Maybe they gave a project $100,000 once but they gave five other projects $10,000. You are probably going to get $10,000 if you get anything. Then figure out how many sponsors you’ll need. Figure out where those people are and how you are going to get introduced to them.
  5. Create a pitch. You need a really good web page, a good email, an elevator pitch and unfortunately, you probably need a slide deck too.
  6. Tell the world. Don’t ask everyone for money. But tell everyone about your project and what your goals are. (Hint: your goal is not to raise money but to make your project better. The money is a means to an end.) Use your elevator pitch. Listen carefully to their questions, their skepticism, their ideas. Evolve. Make your pitch better. Figure out how to pitch it to different types of people.
  7. Sell your project. Don’t forget to talk about your project. You aren’t just asking for money, you are selling the potential of your project.
  8. Collect stories. Studies have proven that people are willing to give more money to save one child identified by name and ailment than they are to save 100 kids. Personal stories are moving. Find a couple of stories of how your project has made a difference.
  9. Learn about them. You are not going to get any money from someone whom you don’t understand. Know them, know their business, know what they care about, know how they view you.
  10. Work with an organization that can help. For example, maybe you want money to work on your favorite project and you found companies that are willing to sponsor it but they don’t want to manage it. Would they be willing to funnel the money to you through a nonprofit organization that also supports your type of project?
  11. Ask. Talk to lots of potential sponsors, ask them for money, apply for grants, look for opportunities. If you don’t ask for the money, you will never get it.

What else would you recommend?

P.S. If you are looking to raise money to work on GNOME, please consider the GNOME Foundation your ally.

10 Responses to “How do I raise enough money to work on my project full time?”

  1. antimonio says:

    What if the project’s implementation is an idea that, if revealed, would make others implement it instead of you? Then you cannot announce it properly in a webpage.

    stormy Reply:
    September 14th, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Most free software projects are trying to solve a problem. So if someone else would just do it, I’d say that’s great!

    stormy Reply:
    September 14th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Seriously, I think the problem is usually execution, not having good ideas. So I think the risk that somebody else will do it before you is very, very small.

    antimonio Reply:
    September 15th, 2010 at 4:04 am

    I agree. It is *usually*.

    But this is not a usual idea :)

    Lucas Rocha Reply:
    September 15th, 2010 at 4:50 am

    I agree with Stormy. When it comes to software (and probably other areas), ideas with no (good) execution are not worth much. I read a related article a while ago exactly about that:

    http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2010/01/cultivate-teams-not-ideas.html

  2. Eric Pritchett says:

    Stormy, the ted talk at http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html really change the way I look at things. It’ll be worth your 15 minutes I promise! The way you structured your points seems loosely related in some regards.

  3. Jonh Wendell says:

    This is just utopia…

    Jon Nordby Reply:
    September 15th, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Linus Torvalds, Paul Davis and Lukas Tvrdy (random 3) proves you wrong, among many, many others.

    @post:
    Selling in a project is a skill of its own. And it, like all other skills, requires time and effort to acquire, and apply. To many people, that might be the limiting factor, not lack of good advice. Perhaps there is a need and space for someone, profit or non-profit, to handle all that stuff.

  4. antimonio says:

    Wow Lucas, that was a nice read! Now I’m going to watch Eric’s suggestion :)

  5. Scotty says:

    The answer, of course, is that it’s usually a lot easier just to get a job with a company who’s working on that software. Of course not all OSS has corporate contributors, but most of the big ones do.