Soliciting Voluntary Contributions & Donations for Online Content: 2 Approaches

I don't like the voluntary contribution Model because you never make the money you're really worth because the vast majority of people won't pay no matter how much they love you unless they are forced to. (For example, only a tiny percent of regular NPR listeners ever donate a dime.)That said, voluntary contributions make sense in three areas:#1. Goal is maximum public reach: If the primary and overwhelming goal of your organization is to serve/reach as many members of the public as possible, then you can't slam down a paid barrier. Be honest with yourself and your board of directors about this. You've, in effect, decided to become an ad-based or a charitable content publisher, not a paid content business.Your next step should be to hire an ad sales team or a grants officer, because the public's voluntary contributions probably will not sustain you.(That said, 3.3 million people subscribe to content online, which is a nice fat chunk of the public despite the paywall. It's a testament to the usefulness of their content, and their marketing skills. The question might be asked of “public” sites that are afraid of losing audience to paywalls, are you actually scared your content isn't must-view enough to be worth the public's dime?)#2. Your intended audience can't possibly afford you:In this case, you'd be acting more like a cross between a charity and a non-governmental organization. Your audience is the poor, the needy, the people without the means to pay. Advertisers probably don't want to pay to reach them. You're publishing content that helps them in some way, so you need to be supported.#3. You have no other choice:You don't have enough eyeballs to get advertiser traction, and your content isn't “must view” enough to attract a large enough paying audience that you can afford the (even moderate) marketing and tech work it would take to pop up a paywall. But, a few fans might pay, if you stick out the tip jar. So, what the heck.If you fall into one of these three categories, I noticed two cute online voluntary payment campaigns today worth trying: Wikipedia's new “Quoting a payer” campaign: : Wikipedia's been soliciting voluntary contributions, with modest success (considering its traffic) for a couple of years now. However today I noticed they're trying a testimonial spin on it. They place a grey box at the top of an entry page that contains a quote from a previous named donator, saying why he or she gave, along with the amount they gave. For example, I saw a quote from a guy named Don who reportedly gave $200 and said “This is a magnificent service!”Namaste Direct's ecard campaign:: Namaste is a microlending non-profit mainly operating in Mexico (yeah, the name confused me too – I assumed it was Nepal.) Although they're not a content company per se, they're doing a great job of getting donations for ecard content. They run Google AdWords ads against search terms such as “birthday card”. Although it's free to send an ecard, there's such a prominent “donate” button next to the card that I bet many people wind up donating money just like I did. You're in a giving mood, after all, and it seems appropriate because you just got a good content service – the ecard.

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