Support the Tor Network: Donate to Exit Node Providers
The Tor network is run by volunteers, and for the most part is entirely independent of the software development effort led by The Tor Project, Inc. While The Tor Project, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit that is happy to take donations to create more and better software, up until recently there was no way for you to fund deployment of more relays to improve network capacity and performance, aside from running those relays yourself.
Noisebridge is a US 501(c)3 non-profit, which means that for US citizens, donations are tax deductible. Torservers.net is a German non-profit organization whose donations are tax deductible for German citizens (and also potentially for citizens of other EU member states).
What are the pluses and minuses of donating as opposed to running your own relay? Glad you asked!
While it is relatively easy and risk-free to run a middle relay or a bridge, running an exit can be tough. You have to seek out a friendly ISP, explain Tor to them, and then navigate a laundry list of Internet bureaucracies to ensure that when abuse happens, the burden of answering complaints falls upon you and not your ISP.
These barriers are all made easier the larger your budget is. On top of this, like most things, bandwidth is cheaper in bulk. But not just Costco cheaper: exponential-growth cheaper, all the way up into the gigabit range (and perhaps beyond, but no one has run a Tor node on anything faster).
At these scales, large exit nodes can pay as little as $1/mo per dedicated megabit/second. Sometimes less. This means that adding $30/mo to the hosting budget of a large exit node can buy almost 40 times more full-duplex dedicated bandwidth than a similarly priced business upgrade to your home ADSL line would buy, and about 50 times more bandwidth than Amazon EC2 instances at the entry-level price of $0.08 per half-duplex gigabyte, not counting CPU costs. (Bridge economics in terms of IP address space availability might still favor Amazon EC2, but that is a different discussion).
The downside to donation is that network centralization can lead to a more fragile and a more observable network. If these nodes fail, the network will definitely feel the performance loss. In terms of observability, fewer nodes also means that fewer points of surveillance are required to deanonymize users (though some argue that more users will make such surveillance less reliable, no one has yet rigorously quantified that result against actual attacks).
Therefore, if you are able to run a high capacity relay or exit yourself (or have access to cheap/free/unused bandwidth at your work/school), running your own relay is definitely preferred. If you are part of the Tor community and want to accept donations, we'd love to add you to our recommended donor list. Please join us on the tor-relays mailing list to discuss node configuration and setup.
However, if configuring and maintaining a high capacity relay is not for you, donating a portion of the monthly hosting budgets of either of these organizations is an excellent way to support anonymity, privacy, and censorship circumvention for very large numbers of people.
The need for this is symptomatic of a flawed policy towards Relays. The Tor Project evidently views all types of communications as equal, i.e., instant messaging = internet relay chat = web sites. The fact is different types of communications yield different types of content. The intellectual level of instant messaging is not much higher than a 10th grader in high school. In light of this reality, does instant messaging deserve the same priority as web sites? The point is by pushing Relays to offer all services the Tor Project is causing Relays to pull back and play it safe by offering only the dubious service of being a Non-Exit Relay.
How about a central fund for exit node operators where all the related donations are collected?
After a period an exit node operator may claim his share which is a percentage of the fund calculated by the observed uptime and bandwidth of his exit node.
Unclaimed shares are going back into the fund after some time to be paid out in the following period to the exit node operators who claim their share.
This fund would be an incentive for everyone to operate an exit node, to provide more bandwidth and to upgrade the hardware.
There should be a public log of which nodes have never claimed an outpayment so that these can assert their non-commercial status.