Ultimate Guide to Monetizing your Site With Donations

You must provide something of value to your readers if want them to donate to you. There is no such thing as a free lunch – such is the law of our society.

Go beyond the dreaded classic donation button and harness the power of e-philanthropy, find out how it can jump start your blog and keep those pesky financial issues that are part and parcel of running a great website from becoming something you have to think about every other second.

The web and blogosphere are all about giving great content and information to people for free.

What about asking people to give back?

Donations? Oh come on…

Can you remember the last time you gave money to charity? What about the last time you paid for a magazine subscription?

Oh, so you do remember your subscriptions. Why? Because you invested a sum of money in order to get value, a magazine, a newsletter, a product…

Most, if not all of us, know what a donation is, but let’s just mention it one more time – a donation is an act of giving a voluntary gift (as of money or service or ideas) made to some worthwhile cause.

But aren’t donations a pretty “lame” way of monetizing a blog or website? Not really.

Wikipedia, one of the biggest sites on the web uses donations to raise money to keep it’s content online, and there are numerous other examples, from people who blog about personal development, Apple fanatics as well as all around cool bloggers.

Heck, even Leo Laporte loves donations…

Holy monetization, Batman!

It seems then that donations can be a viable business model or at the very least one more stream of monetization.

Darren at Problogger have an article on the topic of whether Donations on Blogs actually work, and came to the conclusion that donations do work, as long as it was done correctly.

If you are planning to go down the route of the donation deserved blogger/programmer… then here are some essential points to remember:

    1. Make it Original

If you’re planning to get any money you need to have original content. Podcasts, articles, comics, it doesn’t matter so long as it is 100% yours.

Think about it, which would you rather donate money to, Wikipedia or some guy talking about how Wikipedia works? …I thought so.

    1. Play on Passion

People donate because they feel a need for it, a call of the mind or of the heart. The linux crazed geek will often donate to an open source project, and an animal lover will probably donate to an animal rights group.

As a personal example, I don’t usually give money to street musicians, I’ll admit that. But when I was walking down a street recently and some guy started playing “The Fields of Athenry”, one of my favorite songs that reminds me of Ireland, I immediately reached for my wallet.

    1. Fans

These are the people that will buy a product, get a paid subscription and still give a donation. They generally make up about 5-10% of your audience.

These are the same guys and gals that would buy a t-shirt with your logo and they are the ones that always, always comment first.

They are your most passionate readers (or listeners) and if you provide value to them, they will provide you with the means to work on.

    1. Make it Easy

If you’re asking for people to give you money, it should at least be easy to do! Don’t make them jump through hoops or fill out any unnecessary forms.

Think of it this way, if you walked past a busker on the street asking for donations and he handed you a form to fill out in order to give him your spare change, would you really stop and take the time?

    1. Ask for It

It’s highly unlikely that donations will come pouring simply because you put a little “Donate” button on your site. If you want people to donate, you need to (politely) ask for it.

You can add it to your menu or sidebar, put a link at the bottom of every article, add value to the donation (for example through a promotion like the t-shirt one that John Gruber does) or even make a list of all the donors to thank them.

    1. Offer an Incentive

Although you want your users to donate simply because they enjoy your main content, it doesn’t hurt to offer small incentives such as an extra download, access to an exclusive RSS feed that has an extra article each month and so on.

Offering people who donated a chance to win a prize is fast becoming a more familiar scene. The Free Software Foundation (an open source organization) gives its donors a little banner in return that they can display proudly to show their benefactor ways.

    1. Explain Why

It never hurts to explain the whats and whys of your request for donations. WordPress on their donate page gives details of what the money is spent on and why its needed.

This helps your donors to feel the need and might help them put in an extra zero or two into their donation. SourceForge even provides an FAQ about the donations

Lets get technical

Ok, so you’re set on getting some love from your fans. Well, we’ve already mentioned removing obstacles and making it as easy for them as possible, so what are the simplest payment methods?

The easiest and most popular way for both you and the potential donors is adding a Paypal button, but remember that although a lot of countries are supported by it, most aren’t. If you’re writing a blog from a country that isn’t supported by Paypal, you should check out Click and Pledge, a service made for online donations.

Another service that Wikipedia offers is to donate through MoneyBookers.com. You may even wish to provide one or all as options.

Give your readers at least two or three choices of donation type. The most common options are one-time donations and automatically recurring donations like what TwiT podcast networkdoes.

This way you give people the chance to give what they can afford and even potentially get multiple donations from the same person over time. You might also want to actually specify what you are asking for.

For example you can say “Minimum donation…” or for recurring donations you can provide “Contribution Plans” like “A dollar a day”.

Finally, although we are talking about online donations mostly, its worth mentioning that going old school and offering a postal address for cheques and money orders doesn’t hurt either!

Wikipedia even offers a bank account in case you wish to make a direct deposit.

Keep your head up

When you get donations, be sure to thank your readership and never try to do anything to con them into giving you money. If you make people passionate about your website, they will react positively, so be positive.

Don’t expect donations if you cram your website with multiple Google Adsense blocks that obscure the readability or if you are always negative in your posts. I’m sure that Kathy Sierra would get far more donations than say Jason Calacanis – of course Jason probably wouldn’t give me a donation now either.

Donations are a good way to keep your site going if you really do provide value to your readers or customers. If you provide value and a positive attitude, I’m sure you can easily see donations as a significant financial stream.

Just remember the three rules of e-philantrophy – provide value; ask for donations; thank your donors.

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