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As part of an overall plan to ensure that Thunderbird remains viable for the foreseeable future, the Thunderbird team is currently discussing using a direct, in-product appeal to users for donations as a means to fund several full-time staff, as well as other operational expenses. This page discusses thoughts and issues associated with that appeal.

Overall campaign name: "Thunderbird: Today and Tomorrow"

Promotional Video

Script (separate page)

Funding Appeal Script

Summary of Story

Thunderbird plays a vital role in the open internet as the dominant open-source desktop communication client. Thunderbird is free, cross-platform, extendable with many addons to address specific user needs, and backed by an organization and culture that puts user security, privacy, and freedom first. We don't compromise your security and privacy by collecting data from you so that we can sell you as a product, or show you ads.

The internet is a constantly changing place. Each year, there are new threats that need addressing, and new capabilities that quickly become mandatory. Thousands of changes are required in Thunderbird code each year to keep up. We do one major release per year, and many small releases, to keep up with security threats and changing requirements. But we would like to do a lot more, including implementing many Thunderbird features that users have requested, addressing bugs, and improving reliability.

Although Thunderbird is a free product, that freedom is not free. With many so-called free programs, you are the product, and selling access to you earns income. Thunderbird does not do that, instead, we rely on many people all over the workd doing their part to keep Thunderbird and the internet open and free.

A small, dedicated team of Thunderbird volunteers is doing their part for the open internet, trying to keep Thunderbird free, secure, and relevant. But we need your help. We're doing our part - can you you do your part by helping us?

Video content needed

  • Varying people reading parts of the overall script that are needed to tell the full story
  • Video of each participant, answering who they are, what they do, and their hopes and ideas for Thunderbird
  • Shots of people working, screens of work in progress, discussions taking place, to use as alternate images to talking heads.
  • Overall group shots of the full team of Thunderbird contributors
  • Maybe something crazy with Thunderbird contributors singing a parody song?

Initial Video Planning from Mike Conley and Aaron Mandel

A key part of that funding appeal will be a promotional video. Key contact for that video is Mike Conley. Here are some initial thoughts on that:

  • Re-connected with Aaron Mandel about a fundraising video
  • We need to find a good variety (accents, countries of origin, languages) members of the TB community who are comfortable / articulate in front of the camera (about 5-7 people), and come up with "our story". I suggested our audience be current TB users who don't actually know what's happening with Thunderbird.
  • Quickly talk about where Thunderbird came from, the transition to community development, and where we are now - and why we need help. Instead of just talking heads, these interviews will be interspersed with shots of people checking their email, doing calendaring, chatting, etc.
  • We need the quick and punchy stuff: "Put users in control of their email", "Your email is yours, even when you're offline", "Lots of tweaks and add-ons for power users"
  • We also need to send Aaron TB art / assets for graphical work.
  • Once we have our story, we'll put together a really basic script, so we know who to put in front of the camera, and what questions to ask.
  • Then, I'll meet with Aaron face-to-face 2 weeks before we shoot to make sure we have everything we need
  • During the summit (probably the Friday), we'll pull our 5-7 people aside, ask them the questions we've scripted (maybe several times to get the sound bites we want), and then Aaron will cut together the video.

Suggestions for themes of the appeal

  • Thunderbird is ad-free and does not make money selling your personal information - but we still need income to operate
  • While Firefox earns search income, they are a completely different product than Thunderbird, and provides only minimal subsidy of Thunderbird.
  • Thunderbird is a key part of a free and open internet though supporting free access to open protocols, and is worth defending. Virtually all other major "free" email survive by selling your private information.
  • Thunderbird does multiple updates per year to maintain security, which is a constant threat requiring regular vigilance.
  • We would dearly like to do improvements to Thunderbird by fixing bugs, improving the address book, and adding frequently-requested enhancements.
  • A dedicated desktop app like Thunderbird provides many capabilities that are not feasible in mobile or web apps, and needs to be maintained to fully exploit the power of the desktop.


Should we offer donors a perk?

The Mozilla Foundation Indiegogo page, although probably not directly appropriate to our needs, offers a number of useful insights to fund raising for Mozilla efforts, quoting from the IndieGoGo Playbook. Among them is "campaigns offering perks raise 143% more money than those that do not." Are there any perks that we could offer that might be appropriate? Some suggestions (not all necessarily practical)

  • Donations could be targeted to a particular bug or feature.
See an Ubuntu discussion of that here (Thanks Vincent (caméléon) for that link)
BenB suggested: 'I think something along the lines of Kickstarter where 1 dollar buys you 1 vote could work well. You donate 10 dollars, and you have 10 votes to spend on one or several bugs. You must donate now, though, and there's no guarantee that you'll get your feature, you donate to the project and the voting is just a way to steer in the right direction. The features with the most votes/work-effort get picked and the funds are used for them.'
  • Donors could get some sort of preferential treatment in support
  • Donors could be added to some sort of group that could influence Thunderbird governance

How can we incorporate Donor's goals in overall Thunderbird direction

If we are going to solicit funds directly from users, there is an obligation that we use those funds to meet the product expectations of those users, rather than attempt to fulfill some secondary goal, such as the "open internet", they may be worthy in itself, but not the primary interest of the donors. How can we get the user's confidence that we will actually use the money for their needs and expectations? How can we get information from users about their needs and expectations?

Do we tell users what they want to hear, or what we need?

Frequently I hear suggestions that we need to offer a specific set of features or proposals to the users, beyond the status quo, to entice users to contribute. My concern is that the real need IS to maintain the status quo, with some small and gradual improvements. By "status quo" I also include at the minimum keeping Thunderbird current and regression-free while keeping current with security fixes, as well as fixing bugs in existing features.

Yes there is interest in new features, and if we raise the target $500,000 there should be room for that. But less than half of the funds could go to the new features. I think that if we primarily promise new features, but primarily work on maintaining the status quo, we are setting ourselves up with an enormous risk, as well as making the future of Thunderbird in subsequent campaigns dependent on whether we can dream up features that we can sell that only take a little bit of effort, but we can use to raise money to sustain the status quo.

Comments from Past Discussions


We definitely should point out these points to our users:

  1. Mozilla doesn't support Thunderbird with full-time development effort
  2. However Mozilla still is interested in hosting and helping with security issues
  3. Most [all?] major innovation, and a lot of the bugfixes [show count of fixes since last major Version] have been made by contributors
  4. point out that Thunderbird is one of the few mail clients that supports a persistent tabbed interface (remembers tabs) plus Addons support, and in this respect is on par with Firefox.
  5. Show the users that more innovation is necessary, and planned. E.g. [point to 3 examples.

Onno Ekker: But it should be crystal clear to the contributors what happens with their money...

BenB: A donation gives you a vote for features, but with the clear statement that this is just expressing a wish and direction and the funds will go into a general pool. We would still cover needed expenses first and make that clear.

Standard8: Voting for features, as we know from Bugzilla, really doesn't work very well. I don't think donations should necessarily have preferential treatment or expectations.

Axel: I think in Bugzilla voting doesn't work so well because it is a very wide net spanning lots of bugs - there is simply not the manpower to look at everything. I would imagine if we had proper funds / user management it should be possible to carry out polls based on a number of preselected bugs (say 10 at a time) and asking the users to prioritize them, via a poll. This could be a good way to gauge and honor what is important to the users. The point is that a management structure needs to preselect some suitable candidates first, and that is the tricky part.

JoeS: We need to reconnect with the user base. The problem is a lack of confidence in the future of TB, by that base.

The Wanderer: having officially-deployed software solicit funds from the end user would be seen as a Big No-No. There would need to be some way for administrators to override this, so that the request never appears to the user.

Matt: Perhaps they (enterprise users) could buy a key to input to stop the annual donation drive. That would meet everyone's desires. Free as in beer, requesting donations, and getting some money from enterprise. Unlike some others here, I do think business users are under more of a moral obligation to contribute, either financially or in kind. They are the oners saving their $XXX per seat licensing. They are also the ones who are hopefully profiting most from the use of FOSS tools.