Thunderbird's donation-driven revenue rose 21% in 2021

Martin Brinkmann
May 15, 2022
Updated • May 18, 2022

The Thunderbird team published the financial report of 2021 for the Thunderbird project last month. Revenue rose by 21% in 2021 to $2.796 million when compared to the $2.3 million the project earned in 2020.

thunderbird financials 2021
source: Thunderbird

Thunderbird is part of MZLA Technologies Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mozilla Foundation. The entire project receives its funding almost entirely from donations.

Donations rose from $700K in 2017 to now $2.7 million in 2021. In 2021 alone, donations rose by around $500k to the new all time high.

Improved engagement with donors and an updated What's New page with "an improved donation appeal" were the primary drivers for the increased donations in the year. The team plans to increase the engagement with the entire community in the future. Increased activity on social media sites such as Twitter is already noticeable.

Non-donation income makes up less than one percent of the overall revenue. Thunderbird receives payments when users sign up for the email providers Gandi and Mailfence. The team is open to exploring new revenue opportunities, provided that they align with the mission and values of the project.

As far as spending is concerned, the bulk is spend as payment for employees. A total of 78.1% is spend on personnel. Professional services, including HR, tax services, and "agreements with other Mozilla entities, make up 10.5% of the spending. 5.5% are spend on general & administrative services, and 4.7% on donation transaction fees.

The Thunderbird project spend a total of $1,984 million in 2021, increasing money in the bank to $3.616 million.

The Thunderbird project has a total of 18 employees. The team wants to hire several engineers without spending more money than what is coming in.

The Thunderbird team has big plans for 2022 and beyond. The next major release is Thunderbird 102, which includes major feature improvements and new features, such as an improved import module, new address book, support for Matrix, and more.

The developers are working on the first mobile app for the open source email client next to that. Plans are underway to release Thunderbird mobile for Android. No release date for the first preview version has been mentioned, but many expect it to be released later in 2022.

Closing Words

The financial outlook is good for the entire project. Donation revenue increased in 2021 by 21% over 2020. Almost $800k were added to the project's account as a consequence. The year 2022 is an important one for the project. The next major release is just months away, and the planned Android release will address the limitation to running Thunderbird on desktop systems. A version for iOS is also planned.

Thunderbird users who want to donate to the project can do so here.

Now You: do you use Thunderbird? Are you looking forward to the release of version 102 and the first Android version? (via Sören Hentzschel)

Thunderbird's donation-driven revenue rose 21% in 2021
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Thunderbird's donation-driven revenue rose 21% in 2021
The Thunderbird team published the financial report of 2021 for the Thunderbird project last month. Revenue rose by 21% in 2021 to $2.796 million when compared to the $2.3 million the project earned in 2020.
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  1. Anonymous said on September 18, 2022 at 3:32 pm

    “an improved donation appeal” ?

    There is a reason why it’s now called, even by themselves, “non-charitable donations”. You are no longer donating to a non-profit to develop Thunderbird like before the creation of MZLA Technologies Corporation, you are now donating to the new for-profit that develops Thunderbird. Enjoy the “improved donation appeal” and wait for the result of their “exploring new revenue opportunities” while you’re charitably helping them starting up their new business.

    And before someone misinformed replies that the for-profit being owned by a non-profit makes it de facto a non-profit: this is the situation with Mozilla Corporation (developer of Firefox) being owned by Mozilla Foundation and it never prevented the former from making numerous unethical business deals typically involving selling our privacy to partners on a large scale, which would not have been possible with an actual non-profit, and is the actual reason why they were not able to be an actual non-profit. The reasons they give for that (we’re too big, we’re having too much money flowing, this has nothing to do with us being a business instead of a charity) are factually wrong.

    Besides, in the Firefox case, I do not think that they actually have the nerve to request donations to the for-profit entity, those go instead to the non-profit owner (by the way only for purposes other than developing the browser as far as I understand, which many if not most donators probably ignore, but that’s another issue about transparency) ; in the Thunderbird case here, however, they are requesting donations for the for-profit part… with the aggravating factor that it’s likely that many donators haven’t really understood the change with them now no longer donating to a non-profit.

  2. Malcolm said on August 2, 2022 at 3:09 pm

    I have had more faults since the “DONATE” popups started a few days ago than I’ve had in the last 15 years! Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  3. mervi said on July 22, 2022 at 1:18 pm

    There is a long list of to-dos that are required before starting any kind of fundraiser that includes preparing for good content, a well-planned fundraising strategy, ways to get donations, and donor retention for future activities.

    Among all of the activities, asking for donations is one of the most vital points a fundraiser should focus on the most. Asking for donations is easier said than done. Even if it sounds simple, there is a proper way to approach donors for a cause that may not benefit them. SO in order to start asking for donations for your fundraiser, you should understand your donors’ thoughts and act accordingly.

    Now there is nothing to be anxious about, as here we have one of the best practices for how to get donations online and what points one should follow before starting asking for donations.

  4. Edward Said said on May 19, 2022 at 1:35 am

    A good news. Though I’m still off-putted by the “cancelling” of the inventor of JavaScript and the co-founder of Mozilla (and then CEO) because of his very-past opinion even after he stated he no longer shares the same view and publicly apologised for it for any sadness he caused. It felt like a witch-hunt and a public stoning to death. I’ve never donated to any Mozilla related project since then and don’t have any plan to do so in the future either. But I’m still happy for them as most of the people still see them as one of the main torch-bearers of FOSS movement.

  5. Anna said on May 18, 2022 at 11:42 pm

    Congrats to MZLA Technologies Corp — funny how? like I’m a 2.7 million dollar clown here to amuse you?

  6. JL said on May 18, 2022 at 4:32 pm

    Please proof-read your articles: you have ‘the email provides’ (*sic*). Also, the passive in the subsequent sentence reads poorly and (a common problem with passive formulations) makes the reader wonder, at least initially, who it is that is doing the thing in question.

    Further, this webpage makes it unclear whether ticking the consent box is necessary for the submission of the comment.

    1. Andy Prough said on May 18, 2022 at 5:20 pm

      >”the passive in the subsequent sentence”

      He’s paraphrasing from the financial report itself, using the report’s own words for the most part. You should send your grammatical analysis upstream to the report’s authors.

      >”this webpage makes it unclear whether ticking the consent box is necessary for the submission of the comment”

      And yet somehow you figured it out without detailed instructions.

  7. Matti said on May 16, 2022 at 10:21 am

    Wait, so we can donate directly to Thunderbird development without a CEO siphoning off most of it towards his/her bonus, but we can’t do that for Firefox?

  8. Iron Heart said on May 16, 2022 at 8:24 am


    Interlink Mail & News may not be viable long-term (think it will be fine in the short- to mid-term though), I agree, but then I have to ask: What makes you think that Thunderbird is viable long-term? Thunderbird needs Gecko and the main product using Gecko is Firefox (that’s also where the funding for engine development goes to). Firefox sits at 3% market share (desktop + mobile combined) and is still in free fall. What makes you think that this is viable? If Firefox is either terminated or switches to Blink, Thunderbird is toast.

    1. m3city said on May 16, 2022 at 9:41 am

      @Iron Heart
      I used Fossamail when it was alive, and then I just moved to TB. The best of it is that I just copied over my profile folder, and it keeps going for years. Haven’t tried, but I guess it would work with Interlink and Betterbird?

      Comparing the two above to TB in terms of lifespan:
      – Interlink is a one man project. As one can see based on PM history, he is a devoted, talented and a “specific” developer. I can’t bet on that. Sorry, I know that is an ad personam argument.
      – Betterbird full depends on TB. Again, being a volunteer project ads one more level where problems can occur.

      I agree on what you say about Gecko. But as for now, there switching to blink is a pure speculation. The article above shows TB has money, people to carry on. This can end, true. Still much more viable IMHO. And one can’t argue mozilla’s share is falling, but I argue it’s not because they have a bad product.

      1. Iron Heart said on May 16, 2022 at 11:19 am

        @Yash @m3city

        When Firefox failed to hold the 10% market share line a few years ago (it remaining at 30%+ market share was utopian anyway ever since Chrome became Android’s default browser and smartphones went viral, let’s be clear here) I knew that things would be getting tough for Mozilla. If you insist on having your own engine, you need to maintain a certain presence within the market, otherwise web devs will eventually stop testing their websites for your browser. Firefox dropped to 5%, then 4%, then 3%… Puh, I mean, it’s looking grim indeed now. As I said, a stable 10% market share would have been the point where I could have said: “Yep, Firefox will survive as a player within the market, certainly not the biggest one, but it will survive.” Now my outlook is rather negative indeed.

        Thunderbird relies on Gecko and also draws its security fixes from there. The good news is that a mail client does not need to support all web standards, so they could possibly trim the codebase down a bit should Firefox go belly up… But still, I imagine that they would need more funding and more devs to go on without Mozilla. Here is what I would do if I were the people behind Thunderbird:

        1) Slowly but steadily decouple from Mozilla. Mozilla will lose funding eventually if Firefox falls even further, this is a house of sand no one can build on. Flee for your life, Thunderbird!

        2) Set up a privacy-respecting, encrypted E-Mail service with an ironclad privacy policy. Make it paid so that Thunderbird has its own source of funding. Introduce features like default encryption and a send-later functionality.

        3) I am unsure what do with the codebase. If the encrypted E-Mail service is a success, they could potentially hire more devs and then try maintaining a slimmed down Gecko codebase. Should hire 1 – 2 devs specialized in securing software while they are at it, because they will lose Mozilla’s devs fixing security issues.
        If them maintaining a slimmed down Gecko codebase should fail, I would start developing an Electron-based Thunderbird with the goal of feature parity with current Thunderbird. I would release this one to the public in parallel to the Gecko-based one, reducing the Gecko-based one to an ESR-like maintenance state and eventually phase it out entirely. Electron-based Thunderbird would be Plan B for me if a Thunderbird with slimmed-down Gecko should fail development-wise or if the encrypted E-Mail service is not as successful as expected in terms of revenue.

        The worry here would be that there are already encrypted E-Mail services that are fairly good and which are already household names in the privacy community. IMHO this plan I stated above should have been enacted years ago before e.g. Tutanota became a thing. A chance for Thunderbird could be that e.g. the ProtonMail app or the Tutanota app are tailored to their respective mail services specifically. If Thunderbird remains interoperable with other mail services, this could be their chance (albeit a slim one).

        I have a more vested interest in the survival of Thunderbird than I have in the survival of Firefox. If Firefox goes belly up, there are a number of pro-privacy Chromium-based browsers already, I think we will be fine. Thunderbird though? Yes, there is K9 Mail on Android etc., but most desktop E-Mail clients and many mobile E-Mail clients are shady. If Thunderbird dies (and projects based on it die alongside), I would be hard-pressed to tell you which E-Mail application you could use that is not tailored to a specific service.

    2. Yash said on May 16, 2022 at 9:07 am

      A lot can happen until Firefox switches to Blink. No need to think other scenarios now. Pretty sure it won’t take even a diehard FF user to adjust to Chromium and even TB will be replaced easily then. TB is doing great and looking forward to their Android application.

  9. Paul(us) said on May 15, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    Why is there never been an article about Betterbird en Interlink mail & news?

    Sinds 2005 there have been a lot of different email client articles here on and I personally think it would be highly appreciated by me and maybe more people when there given a chance to wander or there should change, from the really great Mozilla Thunderbird to an even better program who is much the same as Thunderbird but different in a better way, for example, let’s say Betterbird or interlink.

    Even a comparison article where Thunderbird-like email clients like Betterbird and Interlink are compared with Mozilla Thunderbird would be, highly appreciated.

    1. m3city said on May 15, 2022 at 11:10 pm

      I agree, these two programs are generelly not known.

      Interlink – Matt Tobin. No thanks. A curious reader may search why, but generally speaking causes are both due this guys attitude (read hostility) and that his vision of software is “obsolete is the best”.

      Betterbird – a project that actually advertises their features against thunderbird, follows TB closely. I discuraged a little bit by “about” part of its webpage (a glimpse of a conflict with mozilla, no specifics – what for?). Also, who is behind it? A one man project like Interlink?

      And what I can see about TB, based on this article, that it has a solid foundation. Good PR. That means a chance to fix bugs en masse at least.

      1. Paul(us) said on May 16, 2022 at 12:07 pm

        Thanks, @m3city, for your comment. And how many programs are there available where I know nothing about who are lesser or better versions of Thunderbird?
        I am still wondering if it’s possible that is making a grand email client overview.
        Or even better showing a bit more than a little love and starting a series about email clients.

  10. assurbani said on May 15, 2022 at 10:44 am

    Thundebird is one of my inevitable software.
    however it should improve on the news server / feed rss side

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