Photo: Stickers from some of the projects who contributed to this work.
Open source projects in the scholarly domain exist at the intersection of academia, technology, and the public interest. The diversity of the communities involved results in unique opportunities for financial support, but also potentially in the tragedy of the commons — a situation where multiple stakeholders use open scholarly resources but collectively fail to sufficiently support them.
There's no one path to financial sustainability that is right for all projects. Many projects begin in academic contexts, run by students and volunteers, and eventually gain funding via donations and grants. Two examples are NumPy and the Dat Project, which were initially run by volunteers and have been supported by donations and private philanthropic funds. Other projects seek investment from venture capital firms to scale their work.
As the open scholarly ecosystem matures, the community is exploring how to maintain long-term sustainability to maintain operations while building the potential to scale.
In this section, we demystify types of fundraising processes for open source projects in the scholarly space, and set up structures for people to share information. Open scholarship is not a zero-sum game. By making transparent the processes behind our work, including fundraising, we hope to increase the impact of open scholarly practices.
Why do you need funding in the first place?
Funding allows open source projects to build tools and accomplish their missions around open scholarship as they outgrow the capabilities of volunteer creators and managers.
Financial resources to support operational logistics and pay contributors and experts enable projects to grow their reach and/or extend past the bandwidth of their originators. Public interest and scholarly projects may not fit the model of the unicorn startup, but in many cases they aim to build successful businesses and scale to reach new customers and audiences. At the least, open source creators want to keep their projects going.
If you run a project or are part of a small team, you may be the primary fundraiser even if you lack experince raising money. In the open source and scholarly landscape, people often wear multiple hats. Fundraising can be fun and rewarding, but it can also be frustrating and intimidating for folks new to the work.
Fundraising has its own special language. Talking money is hard, and we don't all come to these conversations with the same vocabulary. Here are fundraising terms that came up in our discussions.
Grant — Funds that are disbursed or gifted by a foundation, government, or business to another party. Each grantmaking entity has its own restrictions and requirements that dictate who can receive the funds, what the funds can support, and what type of reporting is required.
Program Officer (PO) — A person who oversees a grantmaking program. This person may be your first point of contact with a grantmaking entity and will help guide you through the process of applying for funding.
Investment — Funds given with an expectation to profit.
Venture Capital — Investment in a quickly expending project or business with the expectation of high profit and the acceptance of high risk.
Bridge Funding — Financing to span a temporary funding gap in a project.
“The Pinch” — The time/experience when one source of funding is winding down, and you’re looking for another source (i.e., “feeling the pinch”).
Tragedy of the Commons — A situation where multiple stakeholders use open scholarly resources but no one group or combination of groups fully supports the work.