Experimenting with GitHub Sponsors

Cover photo for article 'Experimenting with GitHub Sponsors'

American Airlines and Open Source

American Airlines continues to invest in open source and expand our use in various solutions and areas of IT. Our technology stacks rely on open source in multiple ways and through different channels. We use open source as building blocks for applications, document & content management, and in the tooling that helps us automate building innovative solutions.

Last year, we shared how American ❤️s Open Source. We outlined information about setting up an organization in GitHub for public facing, open source projects. Many of the projects high-lighted in that article are approaches we use internally to help us operate in various ways, like supporting hackathons we’re sponsor.

As we continue down our journey with open source, we’ve identified another area we can show our ❤️ for open source … GitHub Sponsors.

GitHub Sponsors

GitHub Sponsors is a program run by GitHub. The program allows people, groups, and organizations to provide sponsorship directly to the open source maintainer and contributors for those projects providing value. There’s no implied warranty or any extras guaranteed. Individual maintainers/contributors can make their own path on how they say thanks for the sponsorship.

In some cases, this includes dedicated time with a maintainer to help on implementing the open source project within a person’s group/organization. Other offerings might include a special edition of the project that includes some not-yet-released features.

The great thing about the Sponsors program is that allows us to to be very specific about how we grow our love for open source - without obligations, contracts, or expectations in either direction.

Our Approach

We went small … internally, we have a small working group that virtually collaborates on open source discussions. This was a great place to spark the discussion on setting up and identifying some initial projects to sponsor. We needed a few attributes of projects so we could get through some early decisions, get a prototype in place, and then identify what is next with the data.

Here’s what we did:

  • Quick engagement with internal stakeholders. Two major players for us in this space, internally, is our Vendor Management and Legal groups. We’ve established a fantastic relationship around open source policy, approach, and guard rails. The idea of an experiment with Sponsors felt like a natural next evolution in our open source journey. Our friends in these two groups were all-in on an experiment and full of support. There were some initial rules - like identify a project, keep the sponsorship private (for now), and make sure those projects have a good reputation in the broader open source community.


  • Quick nomination of an initial project. Sometimes the hardest part of starting a new thing is just that, starting. We literally picked one in about a day. What made this easy is that we were really confident that we were going to add more maintainers/projects and, eventually, make our contributions to open source projects public. We just needed to start.


  • Light-weight documentation process. Internally, all of our open source working documents and artifacts are in GitHub repos. The working group created a short markdown file that includes details about our approach to Sponsors, what project we are sponsoring, and the mechanical workings we will implement. For example, we ran into an issue with the type of initial organization we were going to host the sponsorships from because of the payment method. No problem, we use a different organization that acts as an alias for our primary GitHub organization. That leads to the next step.


  • Getting the Sponsors program setup. To alleviate some of the technical constraints and simplify the overall approach, we went with an alias organization in GitHub. This isn’t a special type of organization, just one that is closely named to our primary organization. We setup a credit card, enabled the Sponsors section, and hooked up to our first maintainer/project. We’re now in a monitor mode. Our measure for success is more about internal confidence in managing this new approach to helping in the open source community. We don’t get a direct benefit from being part of the Sponsor program, today.

What’s Next?

We’re on track to prepare an update to our internal stakeholders to flip to public sponsors for the existing projects we’ve selected. We’re also looking for a couple more to become Sponsors of and we’ll refine our selection criteria as we mature. Finally, we’d rather make the Sponsors linkage back to our primary organization. To accomplish this, we’ll continue to work with GitHub friends on flexible options to make Sponsors easier to setup and manage.

Cover photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Blank Photo by Kelly Sikkema0 on Unsplash

Other photos supplied via internal sources

our author(s):
Jason Walker