Experience with free program

Has anyone had experience with offering a program for free in exchange for a contribution if you like the program? My inclination is that few users would make a contribution but maybe I’m misjudging the kindness of people.

If someone with experience in this area would give a short reply I’d appreciate it. Thank you.

I have a server/client application that is free but encourages donations unobtrusively via a menu item. It’s been available since 2012, used by thousands and thousands of people, and has made approximately $300.

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few users would make a contribution.

Of the free apps I have used, I paid money to Inno Setup (it’s great!), Paint Shop Pro (remember that?), Arbed (It’s invaluable) , and that’s about it from memory.
Otherwise , if they say it’s free, it’s free.

If you want money, ask for it up front.
If nobody buys, they wouldn’t have sent a contribution either.

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Can you limit it in some manner? Allow it to, for example, create a minimal number of records, if it’s a database-based app, or that kind of thing? Users then pay to unlock functionality. That’s the old shareware model, or pretty much the current App Store model.

If you can’t limit it then unless you have a captive niche audience (for example, you are a member of some forum or group and you are offering the app to fellow members who know you) then no, I wouldn’t rely on the kindness of too many strangers.

Anthony, Jeff and Gavin thank you for your comments. The path to not take appears to be obvious. I appreciate your time.

Why make it free? IMO good and useful software shouldn’t be free. Unless you are a developer with free time on his hands to please everyone. :roll_eyes:

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Make it free with limits.
Let 99% of people use it and charge businesses or heavy users pay for it.

Best is offen an add-on for the heavy users.

Like my combine pdf app. Free for most users and if you like it, you can buy it later to unlock all features.


• My experience with donation apps:
< 0.1% will make a donation

• My experience with shareware (iOS Apps with in-app purchases)
3-12% purchase the upgrade to get access to all features.

• My experience with subscription apps (iOS Apps with subscription)
3% subscribe but retention rate after one year is around 10%

Where can we find that app?


ChristopheDV, Christian and Jeremie, I appreciate your comments. Thank you.

@Jeremie_L - I assume it’s the app listed here?



Anthony, not certain what you are asking. My question didn’t apply to a specific program as no app by me is listed.

Anthony, pardon my reply. Was working on a boat design, my profession, and was distracted. The app listed is an idea I’ve had and I’m working on. I was thinking of possibly distributing it but was looking for a non-complicated way. However, from the comments received, hoping for contributions most likely appears to be a dream more than anything else.

My experience concurs with previous comments. Only a few users will donate, although some of my desktop apps are very much appreciated. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they (my apps) are used ‘in-company’?

I do have one app that has two versions: a ‘Lite’ (free) and a ‘Pro’. The Pro has more functionality and does sell. My conclusion is that money is not the problem, but people don’t think about it or don’t bother to send a token of appreciation.

Not a big deal, I don’t have to live from my programming hobby :innocent:

Over the years I’ve released dozens of apps for free, some of which I know others have used to make significant sums of money. They sometimes express gratitude, but I have yet for anyone to use the donation button.

Yet I’ve made decent money from apps that had banner ads in them.

The moral of the story is to decide up-front whether or not you want to make money from this software or not, because once you declare it to be free, that’s it.

Thank you Jérémie. And have you tried offering paid apps?

Of course, it depends on the type of app and the type of customer, but what do you think is the most profitable way to distribute an app?

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Yes I have done paid apps, on iOS only.

One of my apps has two versions:

  • free + in-app purchases
  • pay before download

Needless to say, the paid app represents 1% of total income.

Unless you have a marketing team working for your product, don’t do paid apps.

Nowadays, people are used to trying an app before buying it. There is also so much competition (more than 2 million apps on the iOS app store) that any app certainly has a direct competitor that is distributed for free with in-app purchases.
For desktop there is less competition but I still think apps should offer a demo / limited version to enable customers to try before buying.


Thanks Jeremy, for small apps or with little customer base do you have a better results with one-time fee or annual subscription?

Only one of my apps uses a subscription model. With several thousand downloads per month is was easy to do some A/B testing on the price.

With a smaller customer base it takes more time to fine-tune the price but a subscription can offer significantly more income.


As a hobbyist, all my softwares were donationwares, all the functions work without remind window as soon as the user click the Donate button (even if he/she doesn’t donate) or if he/she click a button “I’ve already donated”. I sent email to all donators saying if one day my soft become shareware they will receive a key.
During covid lockdown I upadated to API2 and I decided to make 3 of my softwares Sharewares (remind window appears after 3 days). As promised I sent register key to all donators (3 or 4 thousands). Some of them didn’t receive it and bought my software. Some others received the key and bought again to support me.
I can’t say I received more income than before.
But I’m not Apple developper registered, then people have to right-clic on my application to launch it the first time. It was not necessary years ago and I know I actually lost users.

Americans make donations (nearly 50% of my income), German are in position 2 (35% or 40%) and all others country 10 or 15%.
My software which generate 95% of my income is localised in: en fr de es it nl pt pl .

Provide a service and include the program. I.e. fitness coach who offers personal training can give his paying client an app as a tool included in the price.