15 June 2009

Blogging Tips : Should I Add a Donation Button to My Blog?

Donate.jpgA question that hits my inbox or is sent to me on Twitter from time to time is - ‘Should I Add a Donation Button to My Blog?

When I first started blogging 7 years back it was not uncommon to see bloggers attempting to add an income stream to their blog with some kind of a donation button or invitation on their blog. Often these buttons were tied to a PayPal account that enabled the readers of the blog to send the blogger a little money as a thank you and/or as an encouragement to keep blogging.

Many bloggers tried the reader donation model as a way to make money from blogging but few made it work.

Example of Someone Who Made it Work (For a While)

One of the few who was able to sustain himself completely via donations was Jason Kottke who in 2005 famously quit his job to focus upon his blog solely funded by the generosity of his readers (see his supporter list for 2005 as an example of the large numbers of gifts he received).

His model was simple and worked to at least some level - one month a year he called for people to become micropatrons - he limited these calls for donations to a week long campaign so as not to overdo it with readers over a full year. You can read some reflections on how it went in the first year here - he actually did make enough from the donations to keep his income to a level he could live off but in his reflections admitted that it might not be a feasible model in the long term.

Jason proved that it was possible to make a living from your blog solely on the back of reader gifts - but it is worth noting that these days he has sold advertising on his blog (via the Deck) since 2006 and in his RSS feed.

I’m not completely sure of the reason that Jason switched his model to an ad based one back in 2006 but in chatting to quite a few other bloggers who went down the donation model route I suspect it was a pretty difficult model to sustain - even for a blog with large traffic like Kottke.

Can Donation Buttons Work?

So in answering this question of whether donations ‘can’ work on a blog I guess we’d have to answer with a ‘yes’ - at least in theory. However the reality is that they are not likely to work on the vast majority of blogs.

If they were to work I suspect the blog would have to have some or all of these factors:

  1. a very large readership - a small % will always be willing to donate but to get enough to live off you’d need a large readership
  2. a very loyal readership - obsessed readers who simply couldn’t live without the blog who were willing to dip into their own pockets to keep it running. Of course to get this high loyalty you need to provide readers with something that they can’t live without whether that be some kind of service or fulfillment of a need of some kind.
  3. no other forms of income - I think sites with lots of other income streams (advertising, affiliate programs) would be likely to see a decreased chance of readers contributing as there would be a perception that the blog was already making money

Donations as a supplementary Income

So making a living solely from donations is not likely unless you have a lot of raving fans - but this doesn’t mean it is a model with no merit at all. I do know of a couple of bloggers who are using it as a secondary income source. They know they’ll not make a lot of money from it but are still able to supplement their other non blogging income streams with the donations that their blog brings in.

One of those bloggers just uses a PayPal donations button and another uses a ‘Buy me a Beer’ WordPress plugin under their posts. Neither sees big money but both are happy to let this help earn them some extra dollars instead of running advertising on their blogs.

Adding Value to Supporters

Let me finish by saying that one way that I think donations could work for some bloggers is if they gave extra value to those who made donations. Whether this be by giving away a free ebook with donations, allowing donators to be listed somewhere, giving them larger avatars and a signature in their comments….. etc. This is a model that I’ve seen quite a few forums use successfully. It’s not purely a donation in that the person paying gets something in return but it is a low cost way for those using the site to give something back but also get something to acknowledge their gift.

Have you Ever Asked for or Received Donations on your Blog?

Got some experience to share on this topic? I’d love to hear your story of asking for and/or getting donations on your blog in comments below.

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