Donations on Blogs – Do They Work?

Picture 2-5One of the most popular new attempts to make money from blogging of the last few weeks has been the Buy Me a Beer – PayPal Donation WordPress Plugin that has been popping up on many of the blogs I read (the first one I saw it on was Chris’s blog (where he’s inviting people to buy him a coffee) – but there have been many others).

This little plugin allows readers to make a paypal donation at the end of each post by letting them buy you something small. The author of the plugin writes:

“Past experience shows me that asking people to donate money by giving them a specific reason increases donations by 200%!”

It’s an interesting concept that seems to be working to some extent for those trying it. If you’re trying it I’d love to hear how well it’s working.

How will it work in the long term?

This is the question that the jury is still out on. I suspect that this type of income stream will work better in the short term than over the long haul of a blog because it has a certain novelty factor and because those who are going to use it are more likely to do it once early on but less likely to make repeat purchases.

Donations on Blogs – When Do they Work Best?

I get asked about donations on blogs on a semi-regular basis. It seems to be an idea that many bloggers think about at one time or another. So do they work?

From my own experience of asking for donations (in my very early days of blogging) and from chatting to others that have done it I’ve found that asking for donations can work for some bloggers if:

  • They have a loyal readership – the more loyal your readers are the bigger the chance that they will be willing to give you a donation (big or small). It makes sense really – if you get a lot of traffic from sites like Digg, Google or other sources that send you readers who have no real loyalty to you I doubt that donations will work that well – but if you have a high reader loyalty it might be worth trying.
  • They provide a Service – bloggers who provide their readers with high value content (something that enhances their lives) will have a higher chance of getting something back from their readers. Offer readers something that will help them every day over a long period of time and there’s every chance they won’t mind throwing you a few dollars every now and again. Offer your readers meaningless ‘jibber’ that they could get anywhere and you’ll have an uphill battle.
  • They have a large readership – there will only ever be a certain percentage of readers that will respond to a call for donations. As a result a larger readership will obviously result in a higher number of those taking you up on your invitation to donate.
  • They Don’t monetize in other ways – readers are more likely to respond to your invitation for donations if they don’t perceive you’re already making big money from your blog. If your sidebar and posts are already plastered with ads and affiliate programs and then you ask for a few dollars you could just push your readers a little too far and come across as greedy. I’ve seen a few bloggers come close to this line of late – it’s interesting to see their readers pushing back.

An Example of a Successful Donation Drive

One of the few bloggers that I’ve seen make significant amounts from asking for donations was Jason Kottke who raised enough to quit his job to blog full time (a couple of years back in 2005). He had a large loyal readership, provided useful content and didn’t run advertising on his blog. You can see a post about this on his site here.

One of the keys that I noticed with Jason was that he didn’t ask for donations every day on his blog. He held once a year fund raising drive that lasted for a week (I’m going from memory here). Then he didn’t bring it up for another year.

A word of Warning

I’ve seen a number of bloggers over the last couple of years become a little obsessed with the idea of making a good living from donations from readers. As a result of their obsession they actually ended up killing their blog as they annoyed their readers so much by their fund raising drives that people became disillusioned with them.

By all means give this type of income stream a go if you feel you have a loyal readership – however don’t push it in every post you write and force it upon readers or you could end up taking your blog backwards.

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