We did the incorporation – which costs considerably more than $5 a month-- because that’s the only sensible way to ensure this outlives any individual contributor. The company owns the domains, the bank accounts that pay for hosting, etc. Tying it to any individual’s personal fortunes means it only takes a bit of bad luck for the whole thing to disappear. Making it a legal entity ensures that it doesn’t disappear if some individual drops out, and that the rules for how it survives over time are clear.
Moreover the GDPR makes website hosts potentially liable for multi-million-euro fines regardless of whether they are hosted in Europe or not, and incorporation provides legal protection for community volunteers who otherwise would be personally liable if something goes wrong. Yes – its very unlikely that we’d run into trouble but it’s definitely not a zero-percent chance, and therefore it’s foolhardy to continue to operate on an adhoc basis.
When our community work involves dealing with company sponsors – for example, the annual GDC party – legal incorporation is usually an upfront requirement. Microsoft or Epic won’t just write a check to some guy who says he’ll be doing something useful with it. In most cases they aren’t legally allowed to even if you can make the pitch.
We didn’t do 501c3 last year it cost more money than we had on hand. However having 501c3 status makes us eligible for more sponsorship and membership in groups that offer discounted or free services to nonprofits. We probably still cant’ afford a paid Slack (it’s per-user-per-month) but 501c3’s get an 85% discount on paid Slack accounts . Services like https://www.techsoup.org/ provide things like free software and reduced-cost services to registered nonprofits – but you have to provide the legal documentation, you can’t just show up and ask.
As for our hosting we run a $20/mo vm on a cloud service; we could probably take it down to a $15/mo but we need a fairly sizable instance to host our archives… We’re currently running an experimental zulip server on a separate instance – if that becomes a thing its probably going to need a $10/mo instance of its own; again its not CPU bound but the whole point of self-hosting chat, if we end up doing it , is to hang on to the archives.; our free slack has already generated 6 gb of data in about 3 years and that doesn’t account for the fact that we wrote a bot to clear out old file references.