Recently, after transparently sharing BookStack funding data I’ve had a few questions from others regarding how I’ve gained sponsors. There’s no magic hack I’m afraid, but below details my own experience and thoughts on this. This is reformatted from a response I previously provided to another open source maintainer. To be clear, I’m not currently sustaining myself on sponsorships/donations right now, but they do make up most of my current income.
Personally I have never reached out to anyone to forwardly request a donation/sponsorship (Apart from submitting to the GitHub accelerator program recently). Each of my larger sponsors have different stories attached.
My largest sponsor, who sponsors as a business anonymously, is a user of the platform and the business owner is a fan who is also active in our community. I believe they sponsored just to support the project, nothing in return (Have done a little private support since though, upon my offer).
I have another open source project as a sponsor. A founder of that business has been supportive of BookStack since we added integration with their project. They once provided me some advice via a video chat many years ago, but continued to look positive on bookstack and became a sponsor soon after making the sponsorship options generally available. Generally, think they’re just a kind supportive individual but could also be in their interest to support uses of their platform.
Two others are hosting providers, so there’s some benefit to showing them on our site/repo (Benefit of higher sponsor plans). One of them doesn’t actively advertise BookStack hosting though, so doesn’t get much benefit, but think they mainly do it to support the project because they also use it internally (I think) and like what I’m building.
I’ve had offers of hosting agreements but have always rejected them, and I now point to my sponsorship options as an alternative.
I get lots of one-off and smaller-value-monthly donations from community members. Probably a mix of general supporters and business that donate to give something back. These really help bolster and diversify the sponsorship base. I spend quite a lot of energy/time providing community(free) support, I get a sense that donations often come in off the back of those, although it’s hard to always map those up. Not sure it covers the time spent but definitely an affect there, and might have helped convince larger donators.
Ultimately though, a different project can be for quite a different audience, so donator/sponsor audience/patterns will be quite different. For example, if you provided developer tooling I’d imagine your software has to grow into a business via an individual developer promoting it, whereas BookStack is often introduced at a non-developer departmental context.
Open Source, and donations, is not a business strategy though. It’s always tough. The best successes I see are that where the authors can build an audience, community and profile around themselves that they can then utilize for the project. Individuals don’t donate to codebases, they donate to people and their stories. Companies donate upon their own interests.