I recently started accepting development contributions to a project of mine on Github. I've had a PayPal donate button on there for about a month prior and received a few donations already.

Now that other developers are also contributing to the project how would you suggest donations are fairly distributed?

It's not a lot of money, but it does seem unfair if a co-contributor adds a massive addition and the project owner is the only one that benefits from donations.

Would just adding separate donate buttons for each major contributor be the easiest? The only thing with that is with this solution it may confuse people who wish to donate.

Any good ideas?


3 Answers 3


A reasonably complete answer depends on the original stated purpose of the donations.

If the donations were to supply you, as the original author, with some recompense for making the project available as open source (per the old "shareware" model), then it would seem unfair - and possibly legally questionable - that you receive the full benefit of these donations once other people are making source code contributions. However, if your Donate button is accompanied by a clear declaration that this is the case, then future donors will be making donations on that understanding.

On the other hand, if the donations were to cover infrastructure costs (which should be minimal, given you are hosting on GitHub), then the issue is less one of distribution and more a legal one.

Either way, you probably need to set up an umbrella organization to deal with these donations at arm's length - separating them from your own personal finances. You are probably setting yourself up for an administrative burden which will cost more than you are likely to receive in donations. You will probably need to consider the following

  • lawyers to draft a contribution agreement
  • dealing with distributing monies - potentially in multiple currencies,
  • keeping the personal details of your recipients secure (payment methods etc)
  • possibly dealing with (multiple) tax law requirements
  • coming up with a formula which determines how much each contributor receives
  • reporting that the monies have been distributed correctly, and dealing with auditing requirements

Frankly, unless this is likely to generate significant revenue, I would probably remove the donation button at this point and consider the money received so far as a thank you for the initial work.

  • Thanks for the response. Currently the donations are just a "thanks for your time, you want to buy me a beer" kind of thing. I've currently done basically all the work (99.9%) and just wanted to ask this question now before I run into issues going forward. I think I'll make the Donate button clear that proceeds only go to project owner and will take the button down if it starts causing issues. The little bit of pocket money is a nice to have though and people have actually asked me to put it there in the first place - so win-win. Aug 18, 2015 at 15:22
  • So long as its clear to donors where the money goes, that's seems fine.
    – kdopen
    Aug 18, 2015 at 15:43

As advertised.

Following the principle of always be transparent, you need to share out the money as you've advertised you'd share it out.

If you put some text next to the Donate button that says

all donations go to the project maintainer

then the donations go to you, and they're yours to do as you like with. That doesn't exclude giving some to contributors, but it means if you want to keep it all, you can.

If you put no caption by the Donate button, then people have just given you their money freely and willingly, and you can do as you wish with it. It would be ethical, at this juncture, to share out the money between contributors.

Sharing it out

Coming up with a formula is a good way to share out money, because nobody can accuse you of bias. Perhaps a formula would look like this:

money = (total money / 2) * (issues closed / total issues)

Using this, you get half the money, and the remaining half is divided between contributors according to how many issues they solved out of your total issues.

  • 1
    Thanks, I'm basically going to do what you suggested and make it totally clear where the donation goes. I don't want to get into paying money over international borders (through the PayPal account I'm using) as it carries tax implications which I really don't want to deal with. Aug 18, 2015 at 15:26

As long as it's clear to whom a donor is donating, it should be fine. If you have a donate button labelled (why not) "Donate to this projects maintainer, Zoidberg", you should be good.

If you feel you should forward some of the donations to contributors, you are free to do so.

If you label the button "donate to project x" then it gets trickier, because project x is (presumably) not an entity you can donate to, and it would be misleading at best if all donations go to you.

Some projects (feexian for example: https://www.freexian.com/services/debian-lts.html ) have systems in place where donations are distributed for work/assignments done.

Monetary support is not generally a reason for people to write patches, and usually they are submitted either for fun, or for an itch to scratch. Putting a monetary value on a patch is difficult, probably more time-consuming than the actual donation is worth. I wouldn't advice going this route.

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