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Unlocking the Commons

A practical introduction to funding models for open creative work. Bring a project — blog, podcast, software, art — and we'll explore approaches, tools and strategies to make it sustainable.

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A practical introduction to funding models for open creative work. Bring a project — blog, podcast, software, art, you name it — and we'll explore funding models, tools and strategies to make it sustainable.

Course Goals

This course is designed to explore, and apply, different ways of funding creative projects where the end goal is to make the core of the work freely, publicly available.

I love the phrase Tim Carmody coined, “unlocking the commons”, to describe this model — where you put out work anyone can access, but also figure out ways to support it financially so it’s sustainable.

In this workshop, we'll look at specific funding mechanisms (crowdfunding, memberships, open source bounties, etc.) and tools and strategies for how to apply them. Each participant will bring a project (idea or extant, either is okay!) and we'll explore how to apply these ideas in support of the project's goals.

Length / Commitment

The course will meet four times for 90 minutes, once per week. Expect a total commitment of roughly ~5 hours per week.

After the live part of the course is complete, participants are welcome to continue sharing updates here on the Unlocking the Commons course forum.

Syllabus / Schedule

The course will include access to a library of example projects and readings, as well as recommended tools and other resources for building sustainable funding models for online projects.


IMPORTANT: Please bring a specific project you're working on, and interested in funding. It doesn't have to be complete, but it should be something you can talk about in some detail with the group. And it should be something shareable on the internet.

Week 1

Group Call (90 mins):

  • Let's unpack the theme "unlocking the commons": What are the benefits of combining open access and financial sustainability? What are the challenges?
  • Brief introduction to the landscape of funding models: donations, one-time crowdfunding, patronage (recurring), subscription, institutional funding, commissions/bounties, online store, teaching, licensing…
  • Introducing each of our projects! What are you making? Thoughts so far about goals, short or long term…how much $ would be ideal? Who's the audience? etc.


  • Research specific models that seem potentially relevant for your project
  • Share 2-3 of these models in a new topic on the forum with a short description of why it seems interesting (a few hundred words)
  • We'll also discuss some great case studies; I'll share a few in the forum, and ask that you begin to research some of your own favorite projects that may be relevant to what you're working on

Week 2

Group Call (90 mins):

  • Discuss possibilities for applying models / strategies for each project. We'll talk about things like project budget, scope / timeline, who the audience is, and other parameters.
  • What form does the project take? What are the parts that you want to make available to everyone? What are some parts or related things you might sell? (Physical product? Digital product? Experience? Your own expertise? Tools or tutorials? Community access? Personalization?
  • Building on the general funding models we talked about last week, we'll get more granular, looking at some specific strategies and mechanisms e.g.: paywalls, pay-what-you-want, product tiers/variations/bundles, preorders, sales and other promotions, etc.


  • Write up an outline for a launch plan for your project.
  • Should be at least 500 words, including detail on: what form the project takes, how you intend to share, who the audience is, how it evolves over time (if relevant…ongoing? end date?), budget (minimum and ideal!), proposed funding model, next steps and schedule for implementation.
  • Continuing last week's case studies exploration: post a short write-up on one project you like that seems particularly resonant and potentially useful for your own project.

Week 3

Group Call (90 mins):

  • Review launch plans! We'll talk through each draft and consider constraints, possibilities, and questions to address in drafting a final plan.
  • Tools: We'll explore some possible tools / platforms you might consider using, e.g. for email (Buttondown), websites (WP), ecommerce (Gumroad), Kickstarter (crowdfunding), Patreon (patronage), Substack (paid newsletter), membership site (Memberful), etc.


  • Refine your launch plan draft, based on this week's discussion. Rewrite, expanding on the draft outline. It doesn't have to be something you 100% commit to, but should be detailed enough to realistically implement.
  • We'll continue this discussion on the forum — post any particular challenges or further questions you're stuck on, and make a point to reply with feedback to others' drafts / questions.

Week 4

Group Call (90 mins):

  • Each participant will share launch plans, plot next steps!
  • Take ~3 minutes to briefly share your plan, then we'll spend ~10 mins discussing as a group, giving feedback and talking through any questions you want to address
  • Group discussion: How are you feeling…ready to move forward? More to figure out?
  • Final retrospective


Completing this course is likely just the start of your future project-funding experiments! The course forum will remain open after completion, and we encourage you to share updates or drop in for follow-up questions as you work on implementing your funding plan.


At the end of the course, each participant will have a strong idea of next steps for applying a sustainable funding model to your project. Think of this as a “sustainability plan” — a sort of simple business plan for your project, with ideas for strategies and an estimated timeline for implementing them.

The complexity and length of this "next steps" timeline may vary, so the community will stay open for any follow-ups.

Who Should Sign Up

Anyone with a project (existing, or idea / work in progress) that you’d like to make openly available, while also supporting in a financially sustainably way.

The only prerequisites are some familiarity with your project domain (e.g. if it’s a music project, know a bit about the music funding landscape), and basic understanding of internet and business concepts.

Further Details

Please note that this course is in the early stages, and we're experimenting — the above syllabus may change as we figure out ways to make it more effective.

Any questions / clarifications I can help with before signing up, let me know!

4 weeksUp to 8 learners

A creative project, in progress or initial development; familiarity with your project domain; basic understanding of internet and business concepts.

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