A new survey by Tidelift found that most open source maintainers are not paid enough, if at all, for often stressful and thankless work. Yet, making a positive impact is what motivates these maintainers to continue their work despite the challenges.

Nearly half of maintainers are unpaid volunteers but many persist so they can make a positive impact. Forty-six percent are not paid at all, while only 26% earn more than $1,000 per year for their maintenance work. Tidelift is having an impact, with 52% of Tidelift-partnered maintainers making more than $1,000 per year for their work compared to only 17% of those maintainers who are not partnered with Tidelift.

The top three reasons maintainers enjoy their work are “making a positive impact on the world” (71%), “allowing me to fulfill a need for creative, challenging, and/or enjoyable work” (63%), and “getting to work on projects that matter to me” (59%).

Getting paid for maintenance work ranked dead last in the list of things maintainers enjoy today (21%), yet a deeper look at the data suggests that it’s because most haven’t traditionally had the opportunity to get paid. Only 18% of those getting paid less than $1,000 per year say getting paid is a reason they enjoy being a maintainer. That rises to 30% for those making $1,001 to $10,000, and explodes to 61% for those earning more than $10,000.

But maintaining open source is often stressful, thankless, and financially unrewarding. Almost half of respondents (49%) cited “not getting financially compensated enough or at all for my work” as the top reason to dislike being a maintainer, followed by “adds to my personal stress” (45%), and “feel underappreciated or like the work is thankless” (40%).

“The entire world relies on open source components to power applications, yet our data shows that the open source maintainers who create and keep open source running well are not properly compensated for the incredible value they provide,” said Donald Fischer, CEO and co-founder, Tidelift. “The path to a safer, healthier open source software supply chain starts with ensuring more volunteer maintainers get paid adequately for the crucial work they do.”

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