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14 Rewards for Software Developers to Fund Independent Projects

Most software developers on Patreon have one thing in common: They're on the platform to grow support for their independent development projects. This article explores just one of many strategies they use to stay funded while devoting more hours to development: rewards.

Which rewards you offer influences how successful your campaign will be. Most rewards software developers offer fall under two categories:

  1. Rewards for corporate sponsors
  2. Rewards for their user base.

Sometimes, one reward can effectively serve both categories. We'll cover which rewards work well for each audience, along with the pricing that successful developers have used for those rewards. For reference, here are the most lucrative reward tiers that software developers offer on Patreon:

Most Lucrative Reward Pricing for Software Developers on Patreon

  1. $5 Tier
  2. $10 Tier
  3. $1 Tier
  4. $15 Tier
  5. $3 Tier
  6. $30 Tier
  7. $100 Tier

As you can see, setting up rewards worth $15 or less is the most successful strategy for a majority of developers on Patreon. But that only works if you plan on appealing to a large number of people. If you're going for corporate pledges, an entirely different approach is needed (we'll point out examples and pricing below).

To help you figure out the reward strategy and pricing that's right for you, we've included 14 of the most popular (and most lucrative) rewards offered by software developers on Patreon. It's up to you to decide which rewards are right for your business. These rewards drive the bulk of top Patreon developers' pledges (not in order — every project's needs are unique).

Want to offer these rewards to your audience? Sign up for Patreon here.

1. Recognition

The Godot Engine features sponsor logos on its homepage if they pledge over $400 per month.

The Godot Engine features sponsor logos on its homepage if they pledge $400+/mo.

In general, most patrons won't support you monetarily unless they believe in what you're doing. Many times, your users are the ones who will pledge monthly. If their primary motivation is to support what you're doing, then they're likely to appreciate "recognition" rewards. That could mean putting their names on your website, giving them a shout-out on social media, or listing their names in your README.

But recognition also motivates companies that either use your software or have a user base in common with yours. Corporate recognition is behind the success of developers like Evan You (creator of Vuejs) and Taylor Otwell (creator of Laravel), who offer a number of sponsorship-level tiers. For example, companies can pay $500/mo to have their logo featured on the Vue homepage. Other options include placing your company name in high-traffic areas for the project such as the Vue repository, in Vue's documentation, or in the README file.

A tweet from Eran Hammer that recognizes Auth0 as one of its sponsors.

A tweet from @hapijs (Eran Hammer) recognizing Auth0 as one of its sponsors.

Other examples include the Godot Engine, an open-source video game creation engine which offers prominent logo placement on the homepage and editor's page of their project for $1500/mo, with individual supporters getting a mention on their 'About' box for $10/mo.

Sindre Sorhus offers a similar mix: Backer names go on a 'thanks' page starting at $10/mo, but sponsorship packages are available for $100 or $1000 per month. Anyone supporting her work at $100/mo gets a shout-out on Twitter. Eran Hammer has similar options as well; his Twitter shout-outs also start at $100/mo.

2. Access to a Community

Your patrons are often united by similar interests. In most cases, they benefit from having a common space to interact, share ideas, and make new connections. You can choose to be active in that group or not — it just depends on what your patrons are interested in and how much time you can commit to interacting with them.

For example, Laravel creator Taylor Otwell set up a Slack channel for $99/mo patrons. It's occupied by Taylor himself, core Laravel developers, and patrons from that tier. He has similar Slack channels for higher-tier sponsors. Matrix.org is creating a decentralized, open source communication network. Patrons get access to their own group within that network based on support level (starting at $1/mo). World Anvil set up a Discord channel for their users starting at the $3/mo tier.

Who you admit to the group and where you bring them together depends strongly on whether you're pursuing corporate sponsorship (like Taylor Otwell) or support from a large user base (like Matrix and World Anvil). If you're interested in using Discord, Patreon has an integration for Discord to make managing patron access easy.

3. Enhanced Features & Upgrades

Many developers on Patreon take a 'freemium' approach to membership. While basic use of the application or database is free, certain features are better for higher-paying patrons. After all, if you're building a tool someone uses a lot, they're likely to consider add-ons that make their experience even better.

For example, Sergey Galyonkin is creating Steam Spy, an application that collects data on Steam games. Patrons get more precise estimates at $3/mo, additional graphs at $10/mo, and historical data at $30/mo (in addition to other rewards).

An example of the data freely available on Steam Spy.

An example of the data freely available on Steam Spy. Upgrades to this data are available on Patreon.

Or, consider the approach taken by Rythm, a Discord music bot. Patrons of Rythm get access to extra features like longer songs, autoplay, and volume features. Access to extra features starts at $5/mo.

4. Development Priority Polls

Another very popular reward is voting. Users often have a laundry list of requests; establishing polling as a reward means that you know which features and patches to prioritize based on the needs of paying members of your community.

Gina HäuBge, the creator of OctoPrint, starts polling her users at $3/mo. RPCS3, a PS3 emulator project, kicks off development polls for $10+/mo patrons. The Godot Engine holds voting on their development roadmap, starting at $26/mo. Patrons who pledge more than $26/mo get extra votes. Supporters at $14/mo and $18/mo get to vote on tutorial and demo topics.

5. Access to Live Support

Live support is an excellent value proposition for paying users, but is also much more time-consuming. Plan on dedicating a significant amount of time to triaging issues, or be able to set aside enough money in the budget to hire some help. But how much you charge for your live support can help you manage the ensuing time commitment.

Users looking for assistance can use the public help channel on RPCS3’s Discord.

Users looking for assistance can use the public #help channel on RPCS3's Discord.

If you don't currently offer live support, charging a premium makes sense. Alternatively, you can offer improved live support to paying patrons like Nekotekina of the RPCS3 project does. He prioritizes tech support requests from patrons that pay $10/mo or more. Non-paying users can still access support on the forum, and they can get questions answered on Discord when priority requests have been handled. The job is made easier by a bot that evaluates user logs.

6. Private Consultations

If your users are primarily in the corporate world, then it makes sense to offer private consultations to review their set-ups and offer personalized support.

For example, Eran Hammer of hapijs offers one hour of monthly support to corporate sponsors at the $1,000/mo tier. He'll either review their application set-up or provide additional support regarding their use of his open-source framework. Sindre Sorhus offers $1,000/mo sponsors a review and some additional support on a project of their choosing.

7. More Users & Data

This reward, like #3 on this list, is also related to the freemium model: Users who want more data, or the ability to include more users on their account, can pay for improved access. While this typically appeals most to corporate users, you don't have to be targeting large companies for this reward to be effective.

For example, the world-building platform World Anvil gives creators the ability to have more co-authors and more subscribers based on the dollar-value of the reward tier they choose. Their final tier caps at 99 co-authors and 500 subscribers for $200/mo, in addition to many other useful rewards. Sergey Galyonkin also uses this reward for Steam Spy, offering increased data through the $30/mo tier, which gives access to all historical data.

8. Early Release/Beta Access

Early access often implies sneak peaks, insight into the progress being made, or an early version that your followers can start using. Whether this reward will work for you depends strongly on the interests of your patrons and whether your work can be shared at an earlier stage.

Team CEMU releases its new versions to patrons before releasing to the public.

Team CEMU releases its new versions to patrons before releasing to the public. Photo credit: BSOD Gaming.

Team CEMU tries to give $5/mo patrons one week of early access to new versions of their emulation software. It's their most popular tier (out of three total). ImBursting (the creator of Discord music bot Rythm) includes beta testing of new features as a reward for his $20/mo patrons. SparkDev, who makes iOS "tweaks," includes miscellaneous early access and beta release rewards to all $4/mo patrons.

9. Hangouts & Live Meetings

Hangouts can be used for many reasons: giving your patrons an update on current progress, answering questions, giving them a glimpse into your life, or just hanging out. If you're okay with sharing more about your personal life and have a cadre of fans following you, hangouts can be a great incentive. If you're like most developers, that's probably not the case — but that doesn't mean hangouts can't be for you.

For example, Nikolai Kondrashov holds a support hangout where his $15/mo patrons can discuss issues and work through solutions together. And the team at Matrix give patrons at the $10/mo level the ability to listen in on internal sync meetings (or, for $50, they can join the call).

One of the most popular uses for hangouts and live meetings is Q&A, which we discuss in further detail below.

10. Q&A Time

Question & Answer rewards are straightforward: They ask, you answer. And when it comes to understanding new features and software, Q&A can be really useful.

Gina HäuBge regularly answers her patrons’ questions

Gina HäuBge answers her patrons' questions in "OctoPrint on Air."

OctoPrint's creator Gina HäuBge offers Q&A for $5+/mo patrons. She gives patrons time ahead of the Q&A to submit questions, then releases a video update to the public that includes her answers to those questions. The Godot Engine hosts a live Q&A video for $18+/mo patrons, allowing them to submit questions before and during the session. Afterward, the video is made public.

11. Bonus Content

Depending on your project, peripheral materials may be very interesting to your supporters. Exclusive tutorials, industry insights, and more could be relevant depending on your niche.

Because World Anvil provides a platform within a niche creator community, one of their rewards includes interviews, articles, and other bonuses relating to world-building. These items enrich the experience of their patrons when they use the platform. Are there similar items you could provide to your community for a price?

12. Exclusive Updates

Exclusive updates are a popular reward for entry-level tiers. They're most commonly seen at the $1 or $3 support level. While they don't add significant value, they do offer something that patrons' can't get anywhere else. Sometimes, that's all you need to nudge them into supporting your work. If you can comment on new features and patches you're developing, give supporters an inside look at your schedule, or give them details about something before the general public, that's enough to advertise "exclusive updates."

13. Merchandise

Merchandise is less common for software developers than for many other categories on Patreon, but there are still opportunities to make physical goods a part of your rewards mix. Stickers (often with your logo or a related design) remain popular. Just make sure that the price of the tier justifies your fulfillment efforts.

Patrons of Ladybug Tools get a stickers as a ‘thank you’ reward for their support.

Patrons of Ladybug Tools get one of these four stickers as a 'thank you' reward for their support.

Matrix.org offers T-shirts and stickers to their $50/mo supporters. Ladybug Tools gives a sticker to all $5/mo supporters upon their first month's pledge. Gina HäuBge gives OctoPrint stickers to her $10+/mo patrons.

14. Web Conference Tickets

Here's a creative one that works well for open-source projects: tickets to a web conference. If you're interested in getting together like-minded developers for an online conference focused on your open source project, pull together a web conference. It's Taylor Otwell's reward to $10/mo supporters of Laravel. While this reward is best for established projects, there's no reason you can't modify it to include a small, yearly gathering that you organize.

Which Rewards Will You Offer on Patreon?

Fourteen rewards is a starting point, but you're the one who knows your project and audience better than anyone else. Hopefully, these options have given you some ideas on how you can structure rewards that make sense for your business style. By adding your own creative touch to these ideas, you can make something unique just for your fans.

If your rewards change over time, that's to be expected— as you grow, your free time, financial needs, and audience size will change. It's worth reviewing your rewards mix regularly, keeping pricing vs. time, effort, and cost in mind.

Given what you know about your project and audience, which of these rewards and tiers would be most lucrative for you?

Know what you want to offer to your users in exchange for monthly membership? Sign up for Patreon here.