Thoughts on Open Collective?

I’ve only looked at the site briefly, but it appears to be geared towards creating open, transparent projects, and funding them. It seems like that overlaps with Snowdrift significantly! Is anyone more familiar with Open Collective and its goals?

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tldr: your intuitions are right, but it’s a good bit of productive non-overlap as well as overlap

I’ve interacted briefly with some of the folks there. At https://wiki.snowdrift.coop/market-research/other-crowdfunding, Open Collective is the primary recommendation we have in the sustaining category while we aren’t operating.

Open Collective is FLO itself, so can be self-hosted. Charges 5% still to use their processing I think, another 5% if they host (10% total then).

The model is excellent in many ways. They serve as a legal entity to collect funds for projects that don’t have such an entity otherwise. They also offer some transparent accounting/reporting (managing who gets the money within the project). There’s no future in sight where we do much of that, even though it could be long-term potential.

As a funding model, it’s just plain old unilateral donations, no mutual assurance. For projects, they don’t actually have a real FLO-dedication but are aligned and have many FLO projects there.

They’re pretty good on most measures as a company themselves, but they are VC-funded with the inevitable focus on delivering some exit to those investors (unless they just die).

I’m much more inclined toward dialogues, partnership or similar with them than with most others out there. Rather than just be a direct competitor that isn’t solving any problems really, Open Collective is perhaps the one org that really seriously is already solving real problems in this space (as opposed to just capturing donations that would happen anyway or undermining FLO by encouraging paywalls like Patreon does).

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I’ve wondered about this too, so thanks @chreekat for bringing it up, and @wolftune for the perspective. I’ve been supporting QubesOS and Social.coop via OpenCollective for a while.

I’ve introduced myself on their Slack channel. :slight_smile:

We should have an OpenCollective account for Snowdrift! I’m sure they would bend on their minimum requirement of having a GitHub repo with 100 stars (or I bet we could get those extra 15 stars pretty easily.)

We should also evangelize for OpenCollective to implement crowdmatching themselves, or to use our platform if it ever becomes functional. And we should focus purely on building a funding platform, so we don’t waste time solving problems that other people are solving!

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This morning, I attended Open Collective’s open standup and then chatted a bit afterward. Here’s my takeaway.

I agree there’s a lot of mutually beneficial non-overlap between our projects. Their intent is not to be the legal entity that accept donations on others’ behalf, but to facilitate such entities, which they call “hosts”. That is, Open Collective is a platform for facilitating management of fiscal sponsorship. They do have one host specifically for open source projects (two, actually; a 501c3 and 501c6 for non-US projects), but they would also be happy to have the OSI on board as a host.

In fact, I think we should urge the OSI to go about doing that. Then it would definitely make sense for Snowdrift to exist on OC’s platform as a collective hosted by OSI - since that fiscal arrangement already exists.

We should keep moving with our plan to directly integrate with Stripe, but in the future we could also consider integrating with OC as a funds-transfer partner. Projects that raise money via Snowdrift crowdmatching could still have that money pass through their OC host.

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Thanks for the clarity and being proactive with that connection. I would probably love a scenario in which we are able to operate through Open Collective[1] instead of directly with Stripe.

Is there a chance that working through Open Collective could allow us to enable the original vision of a wallet style approach to crowdmatching?

I noticed that OC just added a “virtual card” function which we have wanted ourselves (where I could gift someone $5 of credit that they can distribute through crowdmatch pledges as they desire). That inherently requires a wallet-style functioning!

While some people may prefer the monthly-budget-cap approach, my vision for the psychology of crowdmatching works better with the wallet style. People say, “I’m willing to put $10 into crowdmatching and see how it goes”, and then if it runs out fast, instead of being disappointed, they may then find themselves surprisingly thrilled at how effective crowdmatching is being for the projects and happily deposit more to their wallet. I want people to not think about anticipating and planning how things will go into the future but to feel willing to try initially and then see. And “Ok, I spent my $10, how much more do I want to put in?” as a one-time decision is more likely, I think, to lead to effective crowdmatching than, “I hit my monthly budget, I guess I’ll be okay increasing it…”.

I’d also like to use the transparent budgeting stuff OC has. But besides us as a co-op, I’d like to see that sort of tool and transparency used by all the various projects we support too.

My main concern in collaborating more strongly or having crowdmatching implemented there is the importance of maintaining the understanding that crowdmatching only makes sense for public goods.[2]

If we can maintain our framing and holistic approach while working with or inside OC, I’m not opposed to the idea. As I’ve mentioned from conversation with Shauna Gordon-McKeon, we’d rather succeed politically and fail technically than the other way around. If we can work with OC technically without undermining our political goals, that seems a potential win-win.


  1. But not through OSI because we go far beyond OSI's software-specific scope. Our OSI support is through our full-launch, not intended to continue into complete operations. ↩︎

  2. or mostly-public goods, it's about the concept of why it makes sense, and there's fuzzy cases like roads themselves that are 95% development and maintenance even though there are small per-use costs incurred. ↩︎

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I am in no way certain on the point of enabling wallet-style crowdmatching, but it is an excellent question. I suspect it would depend entirely on the status of the host entity, and that it would not be easy.

Here’s the brief description of the process that OC mediates, step-by-step:

  1. Hosts accept donations on behalf of collectives
  2. Collectives submit invoices to their host - anything from “$20 for Digital Ocean” to “$2,000 for Professional Programmer’s salary”
  3. Hosts ensure that their ledger indicates they have the appropriate funds allocated to the collective in question, then pay out the requested amount.

In other words, they facilitate precisely what OSI and similar organizations already do.

I really doubt that they’d have any great advantage over us when it comes to the legal hurdles of provisional, un-earmarked funding.

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So, I guess if we are not relying on OSI in the long-term, then the point is that, in order to consider the wallet approach, we would have to be a host and accept all that liability, same as if we just worked with Stripe directly and did a wallet approach by being ourselves the fiscal sponsor for any projects we include?

Perhaps their new “virtual card” gift-card function has to be designated to a specific host?[1]

I see social.coop is hosted directly by OC via https://opencollective.com/opencollective-host

US C corp to temporarily host open collectives before they have a proper host

I guess they are treading carefully in that area and hoping to minimize their long-term liabilities as a fiscal sponsor. That makes them seem less remarkable to me, less really filling an important gap. They still seem to be aligned and worth building alliance with and seeing where that leads.


  1. And, following that assumption, we could implement a gift-card approach if we said that gift cards only work for projects we are willing to fiscally sponsor, which would be only us for the foreseeable future but could expand… ↩︎

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This topic is deeply in need of revisiting (and I’ve been meaning to engage with this for many months).

Open Collective continues to be the closest to us in the market space. On top of their existing foundations, and the creation of a 501(c)(6) host called Open Source Collective[1], they (relatively) recently took two major moves in our direction.

First, they partnered with GitCoin and made https://fundoss.org — and this is by far the closest to what we’re trying to do. So much so, nothing else has ever come close. I think it’s all Ethereum-based, but I need to get more clarity. They originally seemed to be all in an echo-chamber of just Ethereum passed around among Ethereum-related projects. But they seem to have successfully branched out to have some projects that are actually relevant to people who aren’t just doing work in that space.

They call the funding model “democratic funding” and “quadratic funding”, and it’s fair to think of it as a type of crowdmatching. Instead of egalitarian approach that emphasizes large quantity of small donors, the main bulk of funding comes from large donors. The democratic part is that the large donors are matching directing funds toward the small donors’ preferred projects. The higher your donation, the less influence you have on where the funds go. This is complex but has advantages. It makes use of large capital, which is a real practical value today, but it does so with less power and influence from the large donors compared to plain grants.

Their funding is one-off pools with 100% of funds being donated at the deadline, no actual matching, no mutual assurance except for the choice of how the pool is distributed. No sustaining pattern, only the chance to do another round from scratch later (though they could potentially adapt it to sustaining).

Second, Open Collective is publicly discussing their tensions with VC investment. They are stating a desire to find a way out of their conundrum that doesn’t involve selling out their values. They would like to go in some co-op direction. See Early musings on "Exit to Community" for Open Collective and Pathways for Open Collective’s “Exit to Community”

Their VC investment approach was always the most stark issue and difference with us. They started not that long after us, relatively speaking. They got operating effectively because they had $3 million to fund people to actually build the whole thing. Even after years of operating, it took until 2020 for them to get to a profitable state. Now, they still have the investors to pay off. And they didn’t plan for exit-to-community or such from the beginning. So, there’s a lot yet to see where this goes. But all in all, they got functioning, and we haven’t. And I’m sure if we had $3 million, we could have easily gotten fully launched, no issues.

What to make of this now? Probably should engage much more in actual conversation with OC. If there’s a possibility of collaboration or of just pushing our concerns enough to get them to really do everything we care about, maybe that’s the way to go and we actually end our focus on building our platform. Or maybe we identify reasons that our mission can only be achieved by us continuing our plans somehow (figure out how to get enough volunteers or grants or something to finally accelerate and launch). Suffice to say, it’s definitely harder today to feel that there’s nobody else doing what needs to be done.

The other stuff from before is still the case: OC’s focus on fiscal/legal hosts for projects is great, and something we’ve both struggled with for ourself and not wanting to get into as well as their clear budgeting tools, these are things we’ve not wanted to handle. They have been engaged with questions of democracy, ethics, and so on, in ways that few others in this space are doing.

I think we need to have some serious conversations about considering our work in light of this. What concerns do we have for our own goals that wouldn’t be served enough by just working with or within OC? Could we get OC to support our vision of crowdmatching? Do we have enough reason to believe that we could achieve something they cannot? Given their partnerships with other sites like FundOSS, could it be feasible for us to operate as a separate front-end to projects that are actually hosted through OC? I’m sure there’s other questions to consider as well.


  1. OSCollective seems to be a bit leaning toward corporate-controlled software somewhat though ↩︎

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