Below is my reply to Dave:
When I donate to a charity, I do so because I feel fortunate to have the life that I do, and I’d appreciate someone else helping me out (directly or via an intermediary) if I were down on my luck. So, call that altruism if you like, but there’s an even helping of “keeping my karma positive” in there.
I agree that you don’t have to spend your night and day working on projects for the contribution to “count”. My point is that you will contribute to the project until it no longer makes sense (i.e. your capital expended is more than the capital you receive).
At the end of the day, nobody does anything without wanting something in return (be it the well wishes of others, knowing you’ll get helped down the road, food, money, shelter, a date, salvation, etc).
To your point about valuable projects being picked up by others, this doesn’t negate what I’m saying. If you started a project, worked night and day on it (or worked 1 hr a week) and got a job because of the project (or some other form of recognition), then to you, the capital received as a result of your OSS project contributions are more than the capital you expended. Hence you’re happy.
Now, if you decided to do something else, the person that picks up stewardship of the OSS project will only do so if it’s beneficial to himself. Now, “beneficial to himself” does not mean that there has to be some financial reward. The reward can be whatever the person feels is valuable enough to trade their free time to work on the OSS project in question.