Close
Close

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.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Problogger.net runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

The Genesis Framework empowers you to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress. Genesis provides the secure and search-engine-optimized foundation that takes WordPress to places you never thought it could go.

Check out the incredible features and the selection of designs. It's that simple - start using Genesis now!

Comments

  1. John Hood says:

    Excellent points Darren. It’s all too easy to reach advertising saturation point, and this can/does devalue content.

  2. Janet says:

    Hi Darren, I think that the success of monetizing through donations would also depend heavily on your niche. In my short time blogging I have noticed that some niches attach more of a stigma to monetization than others.

  3. laura says:

    Interesting piece!

    I’m really hesitant to ask for donations because I figure that my readers are freelancers just like me and (like me) probably scraping a living together. Besides, I do run ads on the blog.

    Putting a finite amount (for me it would chocolate and soda) might take the sting off of asking for money, though.

    It would be interesting to see if anyone tracks this and reports the results.

  4. Thanks Darren for the post. And linking to the plugin.

    A few random points:

    1. The “Buy Me a Beer” plugin has a setting that allows people to *not* show the beer link under every post. While writing the post, in the right hand column in WordPress, you can de-select adding of the beer link for that specific post.

    2. Paul Myers (of talkbiz.com fame) was one of the first ones to come up with “Buy Me a Beer.” He adds a link to all his newsletters that he sends out with a link where people can donate money. He has made some serious side money with that . And he sends atleast 1-2 emails every month. He does has a very huge following though. This is the link he showcases in all his emails: http://www.buy-paul-a-beer.com/

    3. A marketer named Markus Allen used to do this: give away an ebook for free. And then ask people to pay him whatever they thought the information was worth – after they have read the ebook. He made a lot of money that way.

    4. This plugin is most useful for those comprehensive posts that solves problems. Yes a few people will buy a beer or two now and then. But the bulk of the donations will come in after a “Top 10″ kind of post – if at the end, the blogger asks people to buy him a beer.

    5. “Buy Me a Beer” has made me more money than adsense. I tested the plugin on my blog before releasing it – for 1 whole week. In that week, I received a little over 5800 unique visitors. And 3 people bought me a beer. Total donations were $11 (2 people paid $3 and 1 paid $5). Adsense doesn’t pay me $11 for 6000 visitors (about 10,000 page views). Since its release, I’ve received lot more donations, but most of them were because of the plugin itself – so maybe my numbers are skewed. But I think the beer plugin will generate $1 per every 1000 page views for most decent blogs – which is more than what Adsense pays for most blogs

    Hope this helps your readers.

    kind regards,
    Ankesh Kothari

  5. David says:

    I am by no means an expert on blogs and/or making money from one, but as a visitor to many blogs, I know what bothers me and what does not.

    Although asking for donations doesn’t usually bother me, if it is done in excess ( I have seen a few of those) it does have a negative effect on how I remember the blog, and influences me on whether or not I will return.

    I guess it is sometimes done in such a way that it seems like begging.

    Regards,

    David

  6. Matt Jones says:

    I saw that on JohnChow.com… I think he can easily afford his own beer!

  7. Deb says:

    I actually put up a “donate” button on one of my blogs at the urging of my readers. My blog takes two hours to update each day and many writers consider it an important resource. I provide job leads for freelance writers. Many writers who found jobs through my blog asked if they could donate in thanks. I don’t think I would have even considered it otherwise.It’s there but I don’t mention it or point it out. It’s not a huge money maker, from time to time someone donates a couple of bucks.

  8. brem says:

    This guy (a friend of mine) got 700$ in a few months, asking for money to buy a macbook.

    Some sent him pretty high donations

    http://10putes.com/tips-dons-reves/ (in french)

    Personally, I got no donations. But I didn’t specify what the money would be used for…

    brem

  9. Great post! I don’t know if I’d be comfortable asking for donations… I would rather offer my readers something in return for their payment… but haven’t figured out what that would be yet! lol! Definitely gives you something to think about….

    Bev

  10. D says:

    An interesting question might be ‘how many of you have ever given a donation in response to these sorts of requests?’

    I’ve never given money to a blogger and doubt I ever will, though I have responded to donation drives on volunteer run forums/websites that I frequent regularly. When the request for money has a clear purpose with an end in site – for example, we need $1000 to keep the site/discussion boards up for the next year – then making the decision to part with a few dollars (or more) is easy.

    But ‘buy me a pint/coffee’ – I’d never even consider it. Added to which, it sounds just a little sad and desperate.

  11. Initially I only installed it to review the plugin as a favour to the developers but I am going to leave it up for a bit then write up some conclusions in a future post. Have some thoughts on what/why/how it works but waiting to see if my gut instincts are right.

    @Bev – it seems from the people who donated “coffee” on my blog they were looking for a way to say thank you. Had I not had the donation button up they would have found another way eventually, for example clicking ads if I had them.

    This just seems a friendly, inexpensive and fun way to say thanks :)

  12. Matt Keegan says:

    Well it is certainly a step away from what I saw a few years ago — encouraging people to click on their ads. Still, there is such a thing as overkill and I hope this widget doesn’t show up on every single blog in the future.

  13. Brian says:

    Question: with the PayPal donation button, are donors limited in the amount and frequency of contributions the way they are at Amazon?

    It’s a $50 per transaction limit at Amazon and they are known to cap the total number of contributions from any one person. This can be a problem if somebody wants to really help you out.

    Has there been a post explaining the differences between using Amazon and Pay Pal donation buttons?

  14. Ask Rea Maor says:

    I’m mixing both the Good heart of my Readers and the fact that I’ll give LinkLove and possible review to the highest donor.
    But again, just like you said, unless you have lots of readers or Loyal Die-Hard fans
    you won’t get any donations, people just love their PayPal funds when they are.

  15. Techie Buzz says:

    It also depends if it a in your face donation button or something that people may notice and want to do.

    But that said not all bloggers are probloggers and every new tactic to make money is eagerly adopted by most of the bloggers.

  16. Gayla McCord says:

    I’m more apt to click their ads as a way to say thanks or leave a ‘tip’ — I’m not big on beggers, blogging or otherwise!

    I’m all about being charitable, I’d just rather do it without being coaxed into it.

    I’m such a girl that way :)

  17. Ross says:

    Gayla -

    I’m with you. In fact I included a little blurb in my ‘about’ page that states “This site gains the majority of its revenue though advertising. There will be no requests for your money, ever. All assistance is provided at no cost.” (mine is a ‘help/tutorial’ site). I’ve actually had a few folks email me asking if I accept donations, and I specifically said no, but if they were feeling generous they could send the money they wanted to give me to darfurwall.org or the no extradition for the BC3 site.

  18. Pip says:

    I immediately thought of John Chow as an example of how NOT to do this.

    While he does have a loyal readership he breaks a few of your other rules:

    1. Already Monetizes in Other Ways – when I saw he put ‘buy me a beer’ on his blog I got really angry. He boasts every month about how much he earns and then has the arrogance to ask us for a few extra dollars?

    2. Offers Little Value – he used to write some good valuable content but lately his blog has become largely about doing paid reviews, swapping links (in the name of ‘reviews’), boasting about his earnings. The actual tips about making money online are few and far between.

    3. Greed – he’s recently even started charging people to leave comments without no-follow tags.

    4. Buy me a beer on every post – I’m already sick of seeing that link at the bottom of every post.

    Thanks for your tips on this Darren. I hope others do it in a more sensible way.

  19. Do you take donations on Problogger Darren? If so, what is the % of revenues?

    FT

  20. Jane May says:

    I think the Plug in was more of a novelty to begin with and loses it’s steam. Although only time will tell, I noticed a quick drop.

    The first 6 hours of having the plug in active, readers donated $20 via “buy me a beer.” I haven’t had any donations since. I do plan to show some pictures to show the $20 did go to the cause they donated it for :-)

  21. I’ve had some recent experience with this and the fruits of that will come tomorrow, in fact.

    I run a niche blog based around Saab automobiles, and it’s Saab’s 60th Anniversary this year. The company is having a festival in Saab’s home, Trollhattan in Sweden. There will be people from all around the world attending and Saab will be unveiling a refreshed version of their core seller, the Saab 9-3 (which looks brilliant, by the way!).

    Over the last 2 months I’ve been the recipient of some truly generous contributions (donations button via Paypal), which have allowed me to book an airfare from Australia to Sweden to attend and provide coverage of the festival so that people who aren’t going will still get a feel for what’s going on.

    I think it worked for the reaons Darren mentioned above. The blog’s successful in a niche and has a loyal and growing readership who appreciate the hard work I do to provide regular, accurate and interesting content.

    Like everything else with blogging, there’s no substitute for genuine original content.

  22. Re: the above, the other reason it worked that I forgot to mention is that it was for a specific project that was of interest to all the visitors to the site.

    I don’t ask for or accept donations normally, but as this was a big, four-figure undertaking and something I couldn’t have done otherwise, and as I was encouraged by a few readers to offer the option, I took that advice and ran with it.

  23. VoIP Monitor says:

    Nice post and great comments. Don’t think it’d work to well on my blog, but then again you don’t know if you don’t try ;-)

  24. bankelele says:

    I tried it once. But paypal, the main channel for donations, forbids blogs/people in many countries from receivign donations. (Very few in Africa are eligible to receive payments as a result)

  25. Michelle says:

    I added it to my blog on a trial basis. While I enjoy a loyal readership, I fear struggling singers and artists are not the right group to ask for a thank you coffee. I assume bloggers with a more well to do readership would have more success.

  26. Susie says:

    Well I think asking for donations right off bat will scare off a lot of readers. I mean, it’s like jumping into bed without even kissing (referring to Problogger’s previous post) If you want to put a small link where people can donate if they want to is an idea but to actually have it on every post seems a bit excessive. I guess it’s a fine line but if you cross it; you might lose a lot of readers.. so is it worth it?

  27. Santosuke says:

    I think it’s fun, but I don’t think I feel comfortable asking my readers for donations, unless you’re poor or something it feels like ok there’s people who need it way more than you.
    God that was such a blonde comment HAHA

  28. Yes, it would seem that “the fine line” is the critical point.

    On a non-monetized blog that bends over backwards to deliver quality content, like ChrisG’s, the “buy me a coffee” link is almost like a shared smile with the loyal readership – it is not at all offensive. But I’m completely in agreement with Pip in feeling that John Chow seems to have taken a giant step over that fine line – it isn’t the buy-a-beer plugin alone, however, but the various other methods of hyper-monetizing the blog.

    Offering an opportunity to express appreciation is one thing. Milking your readers is quite another.

  29. carl says:

    If my donations went up 200% I would still make $0.

    I have several blogs. some make money and others don’t. I would advise not to berate your readers for money. If you are going to do that, you might as well put some incentivized affiliate links on a separate page and ask people to sign up for them as a form of support.

  30. Well, I set up a PHP script that I link to from certain of my blogs, and sometimes add a link to my postings where people can make regular paypal donations or one-off payments. See my ‘Virtual Bar’ at http://buy-me-a-pint.com

    When I first started it, most of the interest was from people wanting the script themselves – it’s available for $97 to self-install, or I’ve installed a few for people, and designed and hosted their “Virtual Bars” for them.

    I had one person set up her site as a “virtual shoeshop” to get people to help her fund her shoe fetish!

  31. Sven Holmström says:

    Darren, I think maybe you missed one: The bloggers who are entirely alone in their field.

    A nice example of this recently occurred in Sweden. A Swedish language blogger, Dick Erixon, has for a really long time (like almost ten years or something amazing like that) been blogging on politics, especially American politics from a right wing (neo conservative, these days). I can tell you this is a lonely niche in Sweden. But since you cannot *anywhere* else find his angle on American politics in Swedish, he got a lot of readers.

    He has never – as far as I know – utilized any commercials. (I think you have to be extremely large in some affiliate market to make any sort of money blogging in Swedish) A couple of month ago he declared crisis and needed donations to be able to keep the website. He has been rather alone in his field for almost ten years and his readership felt they really made use of his political comments. In a couple of weeks he had $15 000 (Swedish has 9 million speakers, so we talk about a rather small market). He will now continue by selling a news letter rather expensively to support his quite intensive blogging. (His site is in Swedish, but anyway at erixon.com).

    Don’t try this at home, though.

  32. Hey Darren. Great topic. Thanks.

    I think it’s vital for people to remember why they’re blogging. What’s their purpose. That’s what should help guide decisions on what to do with their blog (and their business).

    Monetizing, in any way, is quite tempting. Yet is it worth sacrificing all the hard work you put into building a following only to loose it for a little financial gain? That’s for each of us to decide ourselves.

    I’m not against making money with our blogs – not at all. I just feel it’s wise to consider how we make money with the larger picture of our blogging purpose.

  33. If I were to ever invite donations I’d probably do it in just one place, on an “About Me” type of page. By putting it there, its not going to affect the first impressions of new readers.

    I think someone is only likely to become a potential donator after they’ve explored and engaged with the blog/website, and gained some value from it. Such readers would probably at some point be curious enough about the author to visit the About page, and see the donation button.

    Those who don’t engage with the blog sufficiently to be curious about the author won’t get to see it, but then they’re hardly likely to donate anyway.

  34. Michelle says:

    I don’t see why having a donation button on a blog could be considered offensive or off-putting if the blogger is offering a valuable free service to her readers. The donation button is there for those who choose to use it. Those who would rather just stop by and read are just as welcome to do that.

    Blogging always has to be about providing good content because that it what readers want, right? It would never even cross my mind to stop visiting an excellent blog or to feel offended by a blogger because of a donation button. Why shouldn’t a blogger profit or benefit from their contribution? I for one do not wish to remain a poor, starving, struggling artist and will use any ethical means to support myself.

  35. Hi Darren,

    I’d like to share another ‘word of warning’ about placing PayPal donation buttons that was shared with me by a high-profile affiliate marketer friend.

    A visitor to his site made a donation thinking that the money would go to a charity, despite the fact that there was no mention of any charitable organization on the site – just a request for ‘donations’.

    The visitor then requested a receipt for tax purposes.

    When a receipt naming a registered charity couldn’t be provided, the guy who made the donation complained to PayPal.

    Paypal responded by locking the account, freezing the funds (a sizeable amount) and the matter is now going to court.

    So, the point would be — watch how you word those PayPal donation buttons! “Buy Me a ____” is good, whereas “Donate ____” could land you in a world of trouble.

  36. Torsten says:

    I don’t mind if someone is asking for donation in a descent way, but asking for it in every single post is somehow bothering.
    As I started my blog recently I am luckily not even need to think about asking for a donation but also I think I am not going to do it in future. The only exception might be some donation button somewhere on the about page or so.
    Just one time I asked in a more funny way on a post for a contest in which I asked to support my boss. ;)
    http://www.vi-su.de/wer-hat-den-besten-boss/2007/05/31/

  37. I cut down all my adwords to one box on the homepage. Interestingly, I found that making the links ‘unblended’ increased the click count.

  38. I agree with Pip, john is loosing his touch in quality posts. And everything seems like just Review me offers left and right.

  39. I’ve had a “you can leave me a tip” PayPal link on my home page for years, never gotten a single donation. But I’ve also had a link to an extensive (but not expensive) Amazon wish list for years, and have received maybe 10 books, CDs, and DVDs from loyal readers. I think people like being able to choose something that represents themselves in some way – makes a more meaningful gift.

  40. Excellent points Darren! I think the degree of success for donations on blogs definitely depends a lot on your audience, what your blog is about, and of course the manner in which the donation request is approached. Donations can most certainly be a decent additional stream income, but they can also backfire if you’re not careful.

    And I agree with Pip and Desi Baba regarding John. He seems to be ticking off a lot of his readers lately. I find myself going over there less and less these days as well. Just not finding much quality and useful content. And that no-follow tag stuff…just not right IMHO.

    Shine on,
    Aaron

  41. jon says:

    I recently started a fund drive on my blog as I have got myself into a bind. Thanks for the post Darren. I pulled most all the adverts and cleaned my blog up some after visiting here. One difference in mine I hope is that I’m trying hard to give back. I don’t know we’ll see. It might make a good case study. Thank you again, jon

  42. PreBlogging says:

    I recently added it as a test, but I decided to change it to “buy me some toast for this post” as I don’t like beer !

  43. Kat says:

    The only time I’ve left a donation for a blogger is when I found his content to be original, taught me something and was valuable. Basically, I felt that I had been given a service and it was worth tipping.

    Other bloggers who just rant on about their life, post a few photos and are half-hearted about offering anything of value absolutely don’t get a tip, and therefore I think their call for donations is offensive.

    My continually updated site offers one-of-a-kind advice and instructions in English for people moving, living, working in Greece. Gets about 1000 hits a day, and at least 2-3 people per day ask for personalized help, which I often give — some people write back to say ‘thank you,’ some people don’t say ‘boo’ after I took an hour to help them. It’s difficult to say whether people would donate or not, even though I’m saving people money and time.

    If I ever did it, I wouldn’t offer it on every post — that seems a bit overboard. Perhaps in one location on one page.

  44. m07 says:

    very nice post.your blog is great.

  45. Uji Mom says:

    This was a good article, and I also believe in being honest and true to what you are doing on your website.

  46. Gazzali says:

    Hi darren

    Support my site as i have just added the donation button :)

    cheers

  47. Kelly says:

    If I decide to add a donate button on my site, is Paypal my only option for receiving funds? Their fees seem high, but I haven’t researched it enough to know for sure.

    Thanks,
    Kelly

  48. Jeff Barson says:

    I’ve decided to remove the adwords from my medical spa site an go all direct sales. It seems that the ppc revenue is tied to the general market more than i thought.

  49. Nike Air Max says:

    How people beg for money already they get huge for posting the reviews but still they are asking readers to donate the bucks..