Why a Donate Button Will Hurt Your Blog

blog-donation

One of our first donate buttons…

Some blogs and books promote the donate button as a business model.

There are lots of variations:

  • Buy me a coffee
  • Buy me a beer
  • Support my site

But it all amounts to the same thing.

Begging.

{Or panhandling. Maybe we could call it busking. Give a little performance for a few coins?}

Kind of feels degrading already, doesn’t it?

Setting up your donate button: It isn’t hard to setup a donate button. Paypal has a feature that does just that. And you will (likely) receive some money.

But I don’t think you should. Here’s why:

The Negative Side Of Asking for Donations

What could be negative about people sending you cash?

Only two groups of people ask for donations:

  1. Not-for-Profits: There is nothing wrong with charitable donations. But as a business this is not the image you want to convey. You will be selling products and/or services from your site. Do you want to give the impression that business is so bad that you have to ask people for some spare change?
  2. Homeless People: There is no getting away from this connection. Why do people give to homeless people? Pity, mostly. Not really the feeling most business people are trying to inspire in their prospects.

Who Doesn’t Ask For Donations?

When was the last time you donated to a company? (No, never? Me neither.)

Companies don’t need donations because they are in business.

They make profits.

If you ask for a donation on your site, what are you telling your prospects?

  • I’m not a business.
  • I am a non-profit.
  • Business isn’t very good. Could you give me a few bucks to pay for my hosting?

Doesn’t really inspire much confidence, does it?

My Donation Experience

buy-us-a-coffee-125When we started our first blog we didn’t know what we were doing. We knew we wanted to blog about Ecuador, but that was it. We didn’t understand monetization or even community building.

Like many bloggers, we experimented with a donate button. We called it “Buy us a coffee”. Readers could send us money via our Paypal account.

buy-us-a-coffee-468We installed these two buttons (both shown above) to receive some money. And it worked. I don’t have a final tally, but we received a few hundred dollars. Some people were so determined to send us money that they actually mailed us cash.

The problem was that people thought our blog was a free community service and that readers were paying to keep it going – like Wikipedia. But it was never a community project. From the beginning we were going to monetize it. We just didn’t know how.

If you are just getting started, you might think: “What’s wrong with a few hundred dollars?”  Let me tell you.

We found two problems when we asked for donations:

  1. Readers were not conditioned to commercial offers: When we first put ads on our site, people complained. Some unsubscribed. They had misunderstood the nature of the site and were shocked when we began to monetize from our platform. This is why I recommend monetizing a blog from day one.
  2. Hundreds of people actually wanted to take us out to coffee. It seems that nature of the ad was misunderstood and people thought we were seeking social interaction. Although this ad was removed a few years ago, we still get weekly offers to take us out to dinner, coffee or a “couple of rounds”. Obviously, this was not what we wanted.

But Don’t Blog Donations Work?

Yes, there are some random examples of successful donation campaigns, like kottke.org from 2005 (it should be noted that he began selling advertising the following year).

But donations don’t work for most bloggers. And they never work for business.

Unless you are a charity, donations are not a viable business model.

Once readers see that you’re selling ads or a product (which you should be doing) they won’t feel very compelled to donate to you.

While a donation button might create a little income, it will be nothing compared to other monetization methods: like affiliate marketing or pay-per-click ads.

Now It’s Your Turn

What has been your experience with a donate button? Do you still have one? Would you consider adding one?

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Post Categories: Make Money Online

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • chris lee September 10, 2014, 1:13 am

    I have a website which is http://www.auhouseprices.com I put a “buy me a coffee” button in my website, and I received about $50 per month.

    After I read your article, I decided to remove this button, I think you are correct, I should not put this kind of button in my site. ^_^

    Reply
  • Bradley September 6, 2014, 4:47 am

    Hey Bryan, great post, thanks. I was contemplating a donate button instead of ads and found what they’ve done over at http://www.brainpickings.org/ quite interesting. They pitch donations as becoming a patron or member. Must be working as they’re a PR7 site with no ads (maybe a couple of affiliate links). I’ve recently re-skinned my site and am looking for a new model. Thanks again and all the best to you and your family!

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines September 6, 2014, 5:13 pm

      It’s true that some sites can make it work. But there aren’t many. And it takes a certain type of community to pull it off.

      I think from a business perspective, it’s better to create a product and sell it.

      Reply
  • Tim Bonner August 17, 2014, 7:22 am

    Hey Bryan

    I was tempted to use a donate button on my blog when I first started out but came to the same conclusions as you in this article.

    I also read that PayPal are less than keen on people using the donate button for anything other than fundraising for good causes. In some cases they’ll even close an account if they believe it’s not being used for the right reasons.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines August 17, 2014, 3:55 pm

      Thanks Tim – I didn’t know that, but it does make sense.

      Reply
  • Rafael July 16, 2014, 2:45 pm

    OK, I got it! But what is the difference between;

    1) Asking (or begging) for a donation, with the PayPal button.
    2) Adding all sorts of adds on your website (like yours).

    BTW, I don’t have a blog but I write Perl/CGI software for free and people can download it.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines July 16, 2014, 2:52 pm

      The ads (if done correctly) add value by offering relevant services to the readers. The donate button offers no value to the reader – it only works on the hope that they will feel indebted enough for the content they consumed to give a few dollars.

      It’s interesting to note that tiny blogs with no readers have donate buttons. Sites with traffic almost never use them.

      Reply
      • Rafael July 16, 2014, 3:54 pm

        I (probably) agree with the PayPal donation button. However, I disagree with your comment concerning: “add value by offering relevant services to the readers”, I don’t like ads on TV and certainly not on a website and I hate it when people are using it within YouTube.

        But that’s my personal opinion about ads.

        Greetings from The Netherlands.

        Reply
        • Bryan Haines July 16, 2014, 6:34 pm

          Do you favor a subscription model? Would you pay to access the sites you visit?

          Reply
  • Hansjörg Leichsenring July 16, 2014, 9:23 am

    I think you are right. “Donations” are the wrong way. The question still remains: Is there a direct way to monitize the Content by taking Money from the Readers and which is the best way to do so

    or

    is it just the case, that Internet Content is “free” and will be free forever???

    Cheers from Germany

    Hansjörg

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines July 16, 2014, 2:54 pm

      That’s a good question Hansjörg.

      You could turn your content into a membership site – that only subscribers can access. Most commonly, bloggers create products (available by download) to sell to their readers.

      Reply
      • Hansjörg Leichsenring July 17, 2014, 8:45 am

        Both are Options I) am thinking about.

        “Products” is the easy part. if you can’t sell them, well, OK you have learned another lesson of life.

        But to initiate a Membership site (or part of a blog) is not that easy, because there is not really a way back without loosing.

        Any experience on the second Option?

        Reply
  • Jay Lickus April 1, 2014, 9:43 am

    I have had a donation button on my website for almost 6 months and not a single donation has come through. I feel that the service I am providing and the amount of work and time invested is well worth asking for financial support from my followers. My blog is my job. Eventually, I will have to make money from it. I have donated in the past to sites I consider worthy. Thanks for your insights and advice.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines April 1, 2014, 9:50 am

      There is no question that you should be paid for your hard work. But as you’ve seen, a donate button isn’t the best option.

      Have you considered any of these monetization models?

      Reply

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Who is Blogger Abroad?

I'm Bryan Haines, a Canadian living in Cuenca, Ecuador with my wife and daughter. I write about how to generate passive income with your online business while traveling or living abroad.

If this is your first visit, start here. If you are planning a trip or move abroad (but aren't filthy rich) you're in the right place. On Blogger Abroad, I provide the resources and motivation needed to start and grow a successful online business. - Bryan Haines

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