Funding Critical Human Infrastructure: Getting Started On The Path

In my last post about Critical Human Infrastructure, I laid out some background context for the term, and provided a baseline for the discussion: Critical Human Infrastructure just means caring about Humans too.

So many of our funding initiatives focus on sustaining open source projects, without also focusing on sustaining the humans who create and maintain those projects. I described this as a "Human-shaped-hole in your program design." As strong as this statement may sound, it's not permanent, and it doesn't mean you have to start over. It just means you need to round out your approach.

Pick a spot and start digging in.

It can be challenging to know where to start with any new funding initiative. In a way, it's the same problem many of us faced when we first got started in open source: "There are so many projects, where do I begin?!?" When you decide to start funding humans as well as projects, your funding options go up significantly. It can be intimidating, especially because it's more personal. You've moved from funding a software project to funding a human with needs and emotions and bills to pay.

Don't let this slow you down. Think of it as the choice between "start anywhere" and "start nowhere." If you're doing the work, you can always improve on the work you're doing. If you're not doing the work, there's nothing to improve upon. (Side note: This advice applies also to writing, creating slide decks, and writing code. You can always edit words, improve slides, and fix code, but not until these things exist.)

In the interest of getting you started on the path, here are three things you can do today.

Spend one hour looking at contributors.

Pick just one dependency to investigate, preferably a big one. The bigger the project, the more likely it is to have a lot of contributors.

Spend the next hour looking through the list of people who contribute to the project. If the software is hosted on GitHub, you'll find this information in the Insights tab. Spend some time getting to know these humans a little better. Click through to their profiles. What else do they work on? Do they have blogs or social media accounts that you can follow? What do they talk about? Do they have a way to sponsor their work?

Open an issue to say thank you. Then, close the issue.

This is an idea that was floated in a recent discussion about Maintainer Month, so I can't take credit for it. But it's a good idea (if it was yours, feel free to comment and take the credit!)

Open an issue on the project and say Thank You to the maintainers for their hard work. Express specific gratitude for something the project does for you. Be sincere, but be brief. Don't include a feature request or bug report. This is just an opportunity to show some love.

Then, after you've submitted the issue, close it. The maintainers will see your message. By closing the issue, you save them the trouble of having to clear the issue from the backlog or otherwise take time to comment or write back.

Don't wait for an official budget.

You don't have to wait for an official budget to start sponsoring humans. You can start small, and you can start today.

As you were looking into the contributors, you likely came across some humans that you could sponsor. Even if you can't meet their full sponsorship needs, you can send them a one-time sponsorship of $5-$10 to say thank you.

If you're sponsoring through GitHub Sponsors, pay special attention to humans who have provided links to a Ko-Fi profile. This is a good indicator that they're intersted in "thank you" money rather than "self-sustaining career" money.

Set your sights on a human-focused sponsorship budget.

Your program may already be sponsoring foundations, events, and projects. Once your budget is set, it may be difficult to make significant changes more than once a year. But I want to challenge you to set your sights on a Human-focused sponsorship budget. It will take time to get there, but it all starts when you take the first steps.

Final Note: Tune in to Julia Ferraioli's Upstream keynote

Julia is giving a great closing keynote for Tidelift's Upstream event called "How we treat each other is a supply chain issue." You should definitely tune in.

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