What are some ways of profiting from a user-driven community-based website? The client base is for programmers, and it promotes getting individuals to come together, work, and showcase their final product on the site itself.
We are big open-source fans, and we would like to keep the site as free/non-limiting as possible to all users. Therefore, we'd like to avoid charging users for the service directly, as well as avoid advertisements. Charging for premium services or extra features would definitely be considered. Any other innovative ideas to generate a profit in such circumstances?
I run a small url shortener that handles multiple urls (it compresses your open google chrome tabs into one link). If your users regularly post content links to other web sites consider affiliating those links. viglink.com and skimlinks.com will do this automatically for you. Personally I use viglink as skimlink only really accepts sites with solid content.
Try it out, it requires zero effort on your part and is unnoticeable to untrained users.
Other options include engaging users through sponsors (facebook is very good at this), premium services & content, donations (try flattr) and, if your site is valuable/large enough, and you can avoid the ethical issues, data mining.
As JeffS already mentioned donations are a way. These days Flattr has been useful for some.
Maybe you can do something with the content. Hacker Monthly is a well designed magazine, which get its content from Hackernews (they of course ask the people before they print).
They use magcloud for printing, some kind of "print a magazine on demand".
It all depends on what your website does.
Conventional economics says that we should give as little as possible while taking as much as possible. Further, we should try to appear to be giving a lot while appearing to take little. Yuck.
I prefer transparency and sacred economics.
If you just put up a "DONATE" button, people will mostly ignore it. We're used to the idea that most of the internet is free. Retraining your users is hard, so be prepared to put some effort in to it.
The people who use your site and benefit from it can understand that it costs money to run, and that you have a need to make a living. You can explain why it's important to you to not to pick the other forms of revenue. For me, I might write:
Voluntary Payment Much of the internet is offered for free. Usually that means that you look at ads while you browse the web. I don't like ads. Whatever value I get from a web site is reduced by the ads I'm forced to view. I don't want to compromise the value of this site by littering it with ads.I took a lot of this from http://www.ascentofhumanity.com/voluntary-audiovideo-payment.php
You can donate to the costs for this site and my salary, which are detailed here. Your donation keeps the site running, and shows me that you want me to continue spending my days making this site better.
How much should you pay? Choose an amount you feel good about. When you choose the right gift, in this or any situation, you'll know it by a feeling of rightness, lightness, and clarity.
Perhaps you have a suspicious attitude toward me for requesting payment, imagining perhaps that all this "gift" talk is a stratagem to get more money. I don't want to sow that kind of cynicism. Instead, you could pay with a gift to someone else.
You can think of building some Premium Services and charge for it.
How about putting up some premium services and not charging for them, but instead requiring your users to answer single-question surveys to access the content? These surveys literally take seconds. What am I talking about?
Google just released Google Consumer Surveys. I don't know exactly what their criteria is, but I imagine it probably requires pretty high traffic right now. That said, the same was true before Adsense was launched in June of 2003, so just give it some time. I personally think it's something that could have a positive influence on the internet. I'd rather take 3 seconds to answer one survey question than be bombarded with 3+ (often flash banners) on every page load. More info:
Finally, depending on the type of forum you have and you're level of expertise on the topic, you might consider manually setting up a Reading List or Library similar to how you can do on Shelfari, but with affiliate codes, so you get a cut of the sales. I was shocked on one of my sites how it added up when combined with Skinlinks...not even including Adsense.
Without charging users, advertising to them, having a sponsor (who would probably at least want a banner), or participating in some sort of affiliate program, I doubt you'll be able to successfully monetize a website beyond asking for donations.