Following Wikipedia, Thunderbird Could Raise $1,600,000 in annual donations

What will it take to keep Thunderbird stable and vibrant? Although there is a dedicated, hard-working team of volunteers trying hard to keep Thunderbird alive, there has been very little progress on improvements since Mozilla drastically reduced their funding. I’ve been an advocate for some time that Thunderbird needs income to fulfill its potential, and that the best way to generate that income would be to appeal directly to its users for donations.

One internet organization that has done this successfully has been Wikipedia. How much income could Thunderbird generate if they received the same income per user as Wikipedia? Surely our users, who rely on Thunderbird for critical daily communications, are at least as willing to donate as Wikipedia users.

Estimates of income from Wikipedia’s annual fund raising drive to users are around $20,000,000 per year. Recently Wikipedia is reporting 11824 M pageviews per month and 5 pageviews per user. That results in a daily user count of 78 million users. Thunderbird by contrast has about 6 million daily users (using hits per day to update checks), or about 8% of the daily users of Wikipedia.

If Thunderbird were willing to directly engage users asking for donations, at the same rate per user as Wikipedia, there is a potential to raise $1,600,000 per year. That would certainly be enough income to maintain a serious team to move forward.

Wikipedia’s donation requests were fairly intrusive, with large banners at the top of all Wikipedia pages. When Firefox did a direct appeal to users early this year, the appeal was very subtle (did you even notice it?). I tried to scale the Firefox results to Thunderbird, and estimated that a similar subtle appeal might raise $50,000 – $100,000 per year in Thunderbird. That is not sufficient to make a significant impact. We would have to be willing to be a little intrusive, like Wikipedia, it we are going to be successful. This will generate pushback, as has Wikipedia’s campaign, so we would have to be willing to live with the pushback.

But is it really in the best interest of our users to spare them an annual, slightly intrusive appeal for donations, while letting the product that they depend on each day slowly wither away? I believe that if we truly care about our users, we will take the necessary steps to insure that we give them the best product possible, including undertaking fundraising to keep the product stable and vibrant.