The holiday season is a time to
panic and have eggnog-fueled meltdowns relax with family, give gifts, and eat far too many carbs. It’s also traditionally been a time when charities see big bumps in donations. Giving even has its own day, “Giving Tuesday” to follow the weekend bounded by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. There are plenty of charities to give to, but if you use free and open-source software, why not give back to the projects that create those tools that you use without charge?
The phrase “freedom isn’t free” is usually applied to the military, but it also applies to free software. After all, somebody is paying for the server that a project lives on. If a project offers a bug bounty, that money comes from somewhere. As community projects, open-source software relies on the community’s contributions (labor) and donations (money).
If you poke around any free or open-source software project website, you’re sure to find a donation link. But if you don’t feel like fishing around, here are a few organizations that help the open-source and free software movements.
You can thank GNU for nearly everything in a basic Linux system. The C compiler (that’s used to compile the Linux kernel), the cron scheduler, commands like ls and mkdir, are all part of the GNU operating system. Without GNU, Linux (yes, it’s technically GNU/Linux, but the world prefers brevity) as we know it wouldn’t exist.
The Free Software Foundation in Boston is the organization that oversees the GNU operating system, as well as the GNOME desktop. The foundation is also behind the GNU licenses, and helps enforce the licenses. (A large proportion of free software licenses are released under the GNU General Public License.) The FSF also works to advocate for free software and user rights.
The FSF is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and has a 98 percent rating at Charity Navigator. In addition to greenbacks, the FSF takes old cars, stocks, Bitcoin, and Litecoin.
I remember when Firefox was this newfangled browser back in 2004. Firefox is now on its 50th version. Though Chrome commands a big lead in browser use (partially thanks to Android), Firefox offers a good alternative from a nonprofit organization.
Mozilla doesn’t just make Firefox and the Thunderbird mail client. Mozilla does a lot of work advocating for an open and free Internet. And if you use the Tor browser for privacy, you can thank the Firefox code base.
The Mozilla Foundation is a 501(c)(3) and has a 91 percent rating at Charity Navigator. Mozilla can take donations by credit card or PayPal.
You may not think of the nonprofit behind Wikipedia as an open-source organization. But remember, the photos, articles, videos, and audio are nearly all community-supplied. While that’s not open-source software, Wikimedia is making knowledge open and more readily available.
It seems like every other month Wikipedia runs a call for donations at the top of your browser window. And let’s face it: Just about everyone uses Wikipedia to look up quick definitions and facts, or to burn an hour reading up on the history of Cleveland. If you’ve ever felt a slight tinge of guilt about not donating, now’s the perfect time to absolve yourself of that burden.
The Wikimedia Foundation is a 501(c)(3) and has a 91 percent rating on Charity Navigator. Wikimedia can take credit cards, PayPal, or Amazon Payments.
The EFF isn’t strictly an open-source organization, though it does provide open-source tools. If you’ve ever heard of Privacy Badger or HTTPS Everywhere, you know of an EFF project. It also financially supports projects like Let’s Encrypt. (Mozilla is also a Let’s Encrypt supporter.)
The EFF spends a lot of its resources in the courts and advocating for privacy and an open Internet. If you’re not happy about government electronic surveillance, the EFF is one of the groups fighting the legal fight.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charity with a 96 percent rating on Charity Navigator. You can donate to the EFF with a credit card, Bitcoin, or PayPal.
The FreeBSD foundation supports and promotes the development of FreeBSD. FreeBSD is an alternative open-source OS to Linux, and has been around for a long time. If you’ve ever spun up a FreeNAS box to serve files on your LAN, you can thank FreeBSD.
The FreeBSD Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charity and takes donations via PayPal, Click and Pledge, Bitcoin, and good old-fashioned paper checks.
Software in the Public Interest, Inc.
Software in the Public Interest serves more as a fiscal sponsor than a proper foundation like the organizations listed above. That’s not all bad, though. There are several projects that SPI supports, including Arch Linux, Libre Office, X.org, Debian, OpenWRT, and FFmpeg, just to name a few.
Based in Palo Alto, California, the Open Source Initiative is an organization that works to educate and promote open-source software worldwide. While it doesn't directly have software projects under its wing, it does help the community by maintaining clear definitions of what constitutes open-source. For instance, copyleft licenses like the GNU General Purpose License, all qualify as open-source, but not all open-source licenses qualify as copyleft or meet the Free Software Foundation's definition of free software.
OSI also maintains an exhaustive list of open-source licenses, and what version (if applicable) of the license should be used.
The OSi is a 501(c)(3) and you can donate with a credit card or with Flattr.
Other ways to donate
Besides giving money directly to a project or foundation, you can always use the lazy-man’s method and donate by proxy.
For each purchase you make using Amazon Smile, Amazon will make a small donation to a charity of your choice. All of the charities I listed here (SPI, Mozilla, FSF, EFF) can be found on Amazon Smile, which means you can donate year-round.
To use Amazon Smile, just be sure to start shopping from smile.amazon.com instead of www.amazon.com.
Unixstickers is a sticker and apparel retailer that donates a portion of your purchase to various charities depending on what’s in your cart. If you get a Linux Mint t-shirt for $25, Unixstickers will donate $1.75 to Linux Mint. If a $3 Tor sticker is more up your alley, the Tor project receives 19 cents from your purchase.
If a project doesn’t accept donations, Unixstickers donates the money to a charity of the project’s choice. If the project doesn’t choose one, Unixstickers chooses a different charity each month as a catch-all for uncategorized donations.
The biggest downside is that Unixstickers is based in Italy, so shipping on some items can take a little while.
The holidays can be a bit hectic and always seems to result in money flying out of accounts at record speed. But even the most modest donation can help. Just think about it as buying some dedicated programmer a cup of coffee. After all, by helping open source, you’re really helping yourself.
This article was updated to include links to the Open Source Initiative.