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Charityware (cha'rit-ee-weir) n. Shareware for which the author either suggests that some payment be made to a nominated charity or a levy directed to charity is included on top of the distribution charge. Synonym: careware. [source: jargon.net]


What is the context of Charityware?

More and more software is available for free. Often with all the source code included. Not only do you get good software without paying, you also get a chance to adjust it to your needs and pass it on. Great!

If you are using free software and enjoy it, don't you feel you should do something in return? Many people do. Well, what can you do?

  1. Send a thank-you note to the author. That will encourage him to continue work on the program. My experience shows this works very well, since it doesn't cost anything, and the author will feel good about doing the work.
  2. Send money or something valuable to the author. This would encourage him even more. In practice most people hesitate spending money for something that is supposed to be free. It becomes more complicated when there is a group of authors. I believe this works in specific cases only.
  3. Sponsor the work on the program in some way. This not only encourages the author, but also helps him with the work. This works very well, also when there is a group of authors. A lot of work on Linux is sponsored.
  4. Do something for the author indirectly. The author indicates what he would like you to do, which could be donating to charity. This encourages the author and helps a good cause at the same time.

That last one is called Charityware. It can be combined with the others, they do not exclude one another. Sending a thank-you E-mail to the author is the least you can do!


Does Charityware really work?

I can only speak about my experience with Vim. I started using the Charityware concept in 1995, with Vim version 4.0. I had done volunteer work on a project in Uganda, and wanted to continue supporting the work for the AIDS orphans. When I got replies from Vim users that they wanted to reward me for my work on Vim in some way, I told them that they should donate to the project in Uganda. Users said they liked that idea, thus I made this the policy for Vim.

I have received many donations for the orphans in Uganda through the Charityware concept. Very irregular, sometimes nothing for a month and then several at once. Some small amounts, some quite big. I can't mention the exact amounts, because not all donations go through me, and it is not always clear if a donation was done because of Vim. An estimate is that we received $2000 in 1997 and $4000 in 1998. A remarkable portion comes from Germany.

It is not only the money. The Charityware concept also helps to make people aware of the need of other people. If I would not have started this, few people would know about the project in Uganda. For many people it takes time to get used to the idea that there is more to life than making money and taking care of yourself. I have had reactions from people who could not afford to donate, but were moved by the goodness of the concept. In some way Charityware changes people a bit.


Should you make your software Charityware?

It is certainly worth considering. Check these arguments whether it is a good alternative for you:

When you decide to go for Charityware, what good cause can you use? Best is if there is something that you are in contact with personally. Users will better understand the goal then. Otherwise, find a small organization that you trust and needs more money and attention. I discourage supporting large organizations, especially if they already have enough ways to contact potential sponsors.


Variations on Charityware

I do not force Vim users to make a donation to the project in Uganda. And there is no amount specified. This gives a lot of freedom to the user, but he may read the note about AIDS orphans and then forget about it.

Alternatively, users can be told that they must make a donation, and specify an amount. This remark can be put in a place that does not go unnoticed for the user. Hopefully this will generate more donations, but be careful not to annoy the user. You must set a minimum, otherwise the enforcement to donate is meaningless. It will be difficult to decide on an amount though.

Much stronger would be to enforce the payment by blocking some or all functionality until the donation has been made. This conflicts with the goal of doing good things, since poor people would not be able to use the program. This is not a good option.


Author: Bram Moolenaar <Bram@moolenaar.net>

This paper was handed out on the Linuxworld Expo, February 2000, New York city.

More information about charityware can be found on Charity-ware.org.

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