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Should I Add a Donation Button to My Blog?

Posted By Darren Rowse 14th of May 2009 Blogging for Dollars 0 Comments

Donate.jpgA question that hits my inbox or is sent to me on Twitter from time to time is – ‘Should I Add a Donation Button to My Blog?

When I first started blogging 7 years back it was not uncommon to see bloggers attempting to add an income stream to their blog with some kind of a donation button or invitation on their blog. Often these buttons were tied to a PayPal account that enabled the readers of the blog to send the blogger a little money as a thank you and/or as an encouragement to keep blogging.

Many bloggers tried the reader donation model as a way to make money from blogging but few made it work.

Example of Someone Who Made it Work (For a While)

One of the few who was able to sustain himself completely via donations was Jason Kottke who in 2005 famously quit his job to focus upon his blog solely funded by the generosity of his readers (see his supporter list for 2005 as an example of the large numbers of gifts he received).

His model was simple and worked to at least some level – one month a year he called for people to become micropatrons – he limited these calls for donations to a week long campaign so as not to overdo it with readers over a full year. You can read some reflections on how it went in the first year here – he actually did make enough from the donations to keep his income to a level he could live off but in his reflections admitted that it might not be a feasible model in the long term.

Jason proved that it was possible to make a living from your blog solely on the back of reader gifts – but it is worth noting that these days he has sold advertising on his blog (via the Deck) since 2006 and in his RSS feed.

I’m not completely sure of the reason that Jason switched his model to an ad based one back in 2006 but in chatting to quite a few other bloggers who went down the donation model route I suspect it was a pretty difficult model to sustain – even for a blog with large traffic like Kottke.

Can Donation Buttons Work?

So in answering this question of whether donations ‘can’ work on a blog I guess we’d have to answer with a ‘yes’ – at least in theory. However the reality is that they are not likely to work on the vast majority of blogs.

If they were to work I suspect the blog would have to have some or all of these factors:

  1. a very large readership – a small % will always be willing to donate but to get enough to live off you’d need a large readership
  2. a very loyal readership – obsessed readers who simply couldn’t live without the blog who were willing to dip into their own pockets to keep it running. Of course to get this high loyalty you need to provide readers with something that they can’t live without whether that be some kind of service or fulfillment of a need of some kind.
  3. no other forms of income – I think sites with lots of other income streams (advertising, affiliate programs) would be likely to see a decreased chance of readers contributing as there would be a perception that the blog was already making money

Donations as a supplementary Income

So making a living solely from donations is not likely unless you have a lot of raving fans – but this doesn’t mean it is a model with no merit at all. I do know of a couple of bloggers who are using it as a secondary income source. They know they’ll not make a lot of money from it but are still able to supplement their other non blogging income streams with the donations that their blog brings in.

One of those bloggers just uses a PayPal donations button and another uses a ‘Buy me a Beer’ WordPress plugin under their posts. Neither sees big money but both are happy to let this help earn them some extra dollars instead of running advertising on their blogs.

Adding Value to Supporters

Let me finish by saying that one way that I think donations could work for some bloggers is if they gave extra value to those who made donations. Whether this be by giving away a free ebook with donations, allowing donators to be listed somewhere, giving them larger avatars and a signature in their comments….. etc. This is a model that I’ve seen quite a few forums use successfully. It’s not purely a donation in that the person paying gets something in return but it is a low cost way for those using the site to give something back but also get something to acknowledge their gift.

Have you Ever Asked for or Received Donations on your Blog?

Got some experience to share on this topic? I’d love to hear your story of asking for and/or getting donations on your blog in comments below.

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.
  1. I just hate blogs with lot of ads and and then a donation button!

    A scenario where I will donate happily even if blogger has ads is when he has developed something useful. For example, WordPress Plugins. Many good plugins have a donation button and it’s OK to ask to support development.

  2. In my opinion donations are a form of appreciation shown by the loyal readers and a blog will have loyal readers when it has posts that create interest among the readers. Adding donate buttons in the initial stages of blogging will have a negative impact on the readers.

  3. I’m going to apply a rule of thumb to this. I subscribe to quite a few blogs. How many of these would I be willing to financially support? A couple. I’d be lost without Purple Row (Colorado Rockies blog) and would donate a few bucks in a heartbeat if there was a murmur that their current financial model wasn’t working. There are others that I would miss, but I’m not sure if I’d pay to keep them running.

    If I’m not willing to support a bunch of other blogs with micro-payments, how can I expect others to support me?

    On the other hand, would I clicks ads on another blog? Sure – I have occassionally clicked on a few interesting ads. So I use ads on my web magazine, but I do use the “Who sees ads” plug-in so that regular visitors don’t see the ads – just infrequent visitors and people who land on The Casual Observer via search engines.

    Interesting about donations to make your avatar bigger – that idea would never have crossed my mind. I already use CommentLuv, so there wouldn’t be much of a point in allowing signatures.

    If you are going to use the donations, the one week per year model that Jason used – or perhaps one day per month – are a solid plan. You’d hate to annoy regular readers with a constant button – or have them simply tune it out.

  4. I’ve hesitated to put a donation button up on my site (mostly for fear of disillusioning myself about my own fanbase), but I know of other blogs in my niche that have been really successful with donations. Obviously, it takes a very special situation for it to be a legitimate revenue stream, but it certainly can’t hurt as supplementary income.

  5. Honestly I have never tried and I am a bit worried that it will come off as too “desperate” or “money hungry.” The only reason I could have this on my blog is if I legitimately tried to be a full time blogger but that won’t happen any time soon. I also don’t think it’s fair if the blog already has ads, affiliate links, and products (ebooks) for sale. It would have to be done on a blog where the blogger doesn’t have many revenue streams.

    That’s just my opinion.

  6. I do have a donation button on my main blog and on my recipe index blog. So far no donations, but I figure it could happen. It’s more about a random act of kindness donation though. I have no illusions of living off my blog. I have given donations to other bloggers though, so I figured it could happen to me too. Maybe one day…

  7. Like everything else in blogging, it comes down to content. If you provide good content or readers, they will support you (to an extent).

    I have used donations in the past. On a regular basis they are not enough to provide for an income – nowhere near for me, at least.

    I did find, however, that people are willing to support when there’s a specific objective.

    I write about Saab cars. Back in 2007 there was a Saab Festival in Sweden and I received 75% of my return airfare (Australia-Sweden) from readers. It was an awesome trip and I blogged my butt off while I was there, in thanks for their support.

  8. I don’t think adding a donation button is a good thing, Ads are cool enough for income.

  9. This is a very interesting subject, especially for newer bloggers. I really enjoy the principle of excepting donations as part of giving away something of value. For example, I’m working on an e-book that will be free, but you’ll be able to donate at the point of download. Sure, it might not even get a single donation, but this comes across as more professional and appropriate than other approaches.

    Also, I believe Leo from Zen Habits was wildly successful early on with accepting donations. Of course, Leo’s amazing work is an exception to most rules, but this is yet another example of a way this can really work well.

  10. When I broke my front tooth I did ask for donations via PayPal and received slightly less than $100 from about a dozen contributors.

    Other than that one instance, I have never considered placing a “donation” button as an income stream, nor have I ever Donated on another blog just for the heck of it. I have donated for special occasions and also contributed to legitimate charities using PayPal buttons on sites.

  11. I forgot to add: it makes sense to had a donation option if you are giving something value added away for free (like an ebook).

  12. I’m not very sure about “donations” button as I have no experience on this.

    But I do know there are a lot of ways to monetize a blog that a donation button seem so unnecessary.

  13. When I first started my blog, I really was in dire straits financially, as any early readers will testify. I put up a donate button and was surprised and amazed at the generosity of people. With my low readership, the overall amounts were low, but psychologically, it was a great boost for me at a time when I could have given up.

    I took great pleasure in returning every penny earlier this week, as things are much better now. To each Paypal payment, I added a note of thanks, told them how much impact their action had made upon me, and I urged them to do the same for another blogger at some time in the future.

  14. If he is solely depends on his blog to get income what’s wrong in putting a donation if he is providing useful content.

  15. I was not sure if the donation button would help in any way for me . But now after reading this article , i know my blog is chartered for a completely different niche and thus , it seems it might work .
    And I also like the concept of having some thing given back to them for giving donation like a ebook or some thing .

  16. I agree that blogs with ads already there would do poorly, but I think alot of it also has to do with a blog’s content. A blog about online business, online marketing, social media marketing, product review blogs or any sort of “professional” blog with ties to an income stream would probably do poorly with a donation button.

    Blogs with more personal content I think would fare better with a donate button… but would probably do better with other types of “income”… like an Amazon Wishlist link which seems more along the lines of their content… personal as opposed to cold hard cash.

  17. I suggest trying out the Donate Plus plugin for WP if you are considering donations:

    (I am in no way affiliated with the plugin… I just think it’s nicely done.)

    Donate Plus features a “donor wall” (donor recognition essentially) where donors can leave a message with their donation. It might be useful to offer a dofollow link for donors though I don’t.

    Another thought: first-time visitors are never going to donate. Just as there are anti-AdBlock plugins triggered by repeat visits, you might want to make donation links dynamic (i.e. only show to regular visitors).

    Finally, a donors-only email list with extras and bonuses might encourage repeated donations… it eally depends on what it is you’re offering on your blog.

  18. I’ve heard a lot about a new service called Tip Joy. Which from what I gather similar to the Paypal donate button. Do you have any insight on which is better for bloggers or is TipJoy even worth considering?

    The benefit I see is a lower finance fee per transaction. But I can’t seem to find out how big their user base is.

  19. My blog is a bit unusual because almost 75% of my traffic comes from search engines. I have many loyal readers, but the majority are new.

    I have tried ads and affiliate programs, with little success. As a retiree on a fixed income, I really need help with my blog costs.

    Therefore, I have strongly considered donations. I reason that some (not a lot) of the searchers would appreciate the value my posts bring them and be willing to donate a small amount to help keep a valuable resource available. I believe most of my regular readers would do so as well.

    I have been held back from asking for donations because I don’t want to seem like I’m begging, however much I need help with the blog bills. But I’ve tried other ways of funding and they didn’t work out.

    I know I offer my readers good value for their visits to my blog. Is it time to put up that donation button?

  20. Donations are for people who really lack of money, food or a roof over their heads. If you blog, that means you own a computer, that means you have electricity, that means you have a roof over your head. Instead of donating money to bloggers, sponsor a child in Africa. The feeling is more gratifying.

    If you want to support a blogger, buy a private ad on his blog but pleaseeee don’t use the Word donation. It really makes me sick.

  21. The only way it probably works well is if you have a millionaire read your blog and hes gives you a gift of say $10,000.

  22. @Asswass
    I don’t see why you couldn’t use the word donation, if someone blogs full time whitout an income ( from donations in this case) it will soon find himself without a roof over his head…

    I can see giving money to a child in Africa as more gratifiyng, but not more “donationing” than giving it to someone else, without expecting something in return…

  23. I am really not into donation buttons. Unless people are developing plugins for WordPress. Well, or anything else people developed for people for free.

  24. I’ve never had a donation button on my blog, as it’s still fairly new and would probably be a bit cheesy to put one up now. I think its a great idea..and a great alternative to too many ads on bigger blogs though.

  25. I see donations as a perfectly acceptable form of revenue generation for a blogger who is providing excellent content to readers.

    A blogger providing useful yet free content should definitely provide an option to readers to donate – I am sure loyal readers would love to support a good blog.

    However, I think a site accepting advertisements – direct ad sales or through networks like AdSense – should not be asking for donations.

    If there are no ADs, readers would feel more obliged to donate – knowing that it is the only way the blogger makes money.

  26. I had a donation button on my world cuisines blog…. but as mentioned in this post, it didn’t pay off owing to the low visitor count.

  27. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with adding a donation button; particularly if yo have loyal readers.

  28. I think you should feel free to have a donation button. However, the proper way to publicize or promote donations varies from blog to blog. In this particular case I probably wouldn’t be a fan of you promoting donations since you, presumably, already make enough money from this site and your other blogging endeavors via advertising etc. However, that isn’t the same as just having one where people can donate freely.

  29. Because I do a lot of book recommendations, I use Amazon’s Associate’s program to earn money based on the referrals that I make on books. When I post a book review or recommendation, I always link through my Amazon Associate ID, so I get a percentage of the price if anyone buys the book through my site.

    I also have a link on my blog ( ) allowing anyone to do their amazon shopping of any sort through my account if they want to support my blog, even if they are not specifically buying books that I recommend.

    And I’ll frequently remind readers at the bottom of my posts that if they want to purchase any of the books I recommend, that they should consider using my links as a way of saying thank you (and helping me to buy more books).

    The Amazon associates account was simple to set up, and it’s a way to get some funds without directly soliciting money, especially if you have a little book…habit…like I do.

  30. I work for the site BuzzFlash a few days a week, and they have a combined store/donation model. They do ask for straight donation, but they often sell products and offer the readers a chance to add a $5 donation, or more. That sooms to work better than a straight up call for cash.

    On the blog for my improv group, Octavarius, we just have a straight up “Donate if you like it” attitude, and it gets minimal results. We are trying to integrate a more specific system.

    People seem to really enjoy knowing where their money is going. The few times we’ve said “Donate $5 towards our buying a new camera” we’ve had much better luck.

  31. I have one on my ministry blog. I’m a missionary, so most of my living expenses come from donations.

    But I usually don’t donate to a blogger just because he has a paypal button on his blog.

    I would only donate to a blogger who:
    1. Works for ministry or non-profit org I belief in.
    2. Offers something really valuable for free.

  32. I have to agree with Studenomics, donations work really well if you give away something valuable/useful for free.

    Donations are the second biggest source of income on my blog behind direct ad sales. I give away completely free resources to designers that may otherwise cost them money. Based on the amount of donations that I receive, my readers must see the hard work and time I put into my blog and content, and feel like “tipping” me is a small way to help me out.

    I think the key is to set a specific donation amount and have it tied to something tangible. If people think that $3 that they’re giving you is really going to a Starbucks White Mocha, then it seems to give them a little more satisfaction when donating. I personally have three donation amounts: $2, $3, and $4 and each of them is tied to a different item, coffee, Coke, and Starbucks. Oddly enough, about 90% of the donations I receive are for the highest amount.

    I could probably write a whole blog post just about my experiments and experience with donations on my websites. Darren, you listening? ;)

  33. I don’t like the idea of donations. You should work for your money – so start promoting products that you use and recommend. Build a reputation for being honest and knowledgeable.

  34. For me it all depends on the nature of the blog.

    I know of a few blogs that are geared toward certain subjects whose readers would view the writers as “sellouts” if they were to put any forms of advertising in. However, these types of readers are also the type who would give freely to causes that they believe in.

    I am also more apt to “donate” if the reader is asking for something specific – as shown by something like an Amazon Wishlist. If I know that I can provide the writer with something that they want rather than just a few odd dollars, I feel much better about donating.

  35. I run ads on my blog, though not excessively. I also accept donations…but not for my posts. I request donations for the WordPress plugins I write, and include small donate buttons in them.

  36. I concur with the idea that if you monetize with ads etc, then a bit difficult to ask for alms.

    I have started a new blog in the past 2 weeks. I am fortunate that this blog will help my existing business by way of prospects. So no need to hurry with income streams for blog, however, we will plan for income streams no doubt.

  37. I haven’t considered using the ‘donation’ button on any of my sites.

    I may consider it now, but I do not think it would be of any financial benefit over and above the income generated from products or services I currently ‘advertise’ or ‘promote’ on my sites.

  38. A donation button could be a nice way to get some supplemental income but honestly, a business model based on donations is a very utopian model. Even if you get donations, most of those donations won’t be recurrent because most people only will donate once and your monthly cash flow will be uncertain.

    I think a donation model would work well for a blog that take the money and use it for a non-profitable cause, not for support the living expenses of the blogger.

  39. Yeah you’d need to be providing hell value to a large and loyal readership and not to be serving other ads. Otherwise that fail.

  40. I, first of all, surprised again by the knowledge you have, Darren. After 30 days challenge I thought I have learned enough. But here is something new.
    Anyway, I think it should be done by what each person feels like. If you are comfortable placing your donation box, and you can be creative about using it, I think, you should have a box. But you feel “I want some income but I hate using the box,” then you should explore some other way to compensate your time and effort of making your site wonderful. I think it is a choice. Looking at Jason Kottke site, I think he has now individual sponsors, while others use mainly corporate or affiliate sponsors. Also, he seems to make the same effort to maintain his sponsorship, just as Problogger uses other sponsorship.

  41. I have a mixed model. I have about ten ebooks. I accept donations in any amount for the books. For example, I suggest $9 per ebooks or $35 for all of them; however, these are donations, so a reader could simply donate $1 and get all the books. Nobody has done that; so far readers have donated the suggested prices.

  42. Thanks Darren for answering this question because I’ve also wondered if I should not add a donation button.

    I quite like the model Kaushik suggested of a mixed model!

  43. It really depends on the blog. I’m willing to donate some of my hard-earned money after reading a good post, but if the blog is overrun with ads I would consider not doing so. There’s no hard and fast rule here – the blog could have ads running, and ask for donations – the blogger just has to appear sincere, and seem *not* greedy.

  44. My blog is still in its infancy and I just added a donation page the other day. I really don’t know what to think of it at this point in time. No donations as of yet, but still hopeful! :)

  45. Yes, I agree with the thought. But parallelly I think Income won’t considerably be generated

  46. Yeah I agee with most comments here, I find it frustrating seeing a donation box when the site already makes money from many sources on that blog. It sort of seems to defy the purpose then.

    However if is a service based blog posting about other websites products etc getting them referrals, then I can see how ecommerce owners would reward through donation, but in a way there, it is a bit like buying links.. hmmm..

  47. I do NOT agree on adding a donation button. As memtioned in the post, adding value to supporters is the most important reason why people keep reading our blog. Readers will be happy to click the affiliate links and buy our recommendation. For readers, affiliate links with added value are more helpful than the button.
    If you can’t do that, a donation button will not collect any money.

  48. Just received my first donation on a niche music blog. Don’t think I will get many donations, but it is a nice way to get support from your readers.

  49. I only think a donation button should be placed on a site if you are offering somerthing like a plugin, otherwise it is nothing but begging.

  50. Not sure why you would use a donation button in preference to other ways to monetise your blog.

    And I couldn’t justify using it in addition to other ways to monetise.

    Interesting story about doing it for 1 month of the year. Not a bad idea that obviously worked once but perhaps not sustainable in the long term.

    I would think that it is better to add value to your readers and ask for a fee in return through an ebook, a useful tool, a plugin or something similar.

    If you want to charge for your ideas why not just create a membership site and be clear and upfront about the fact that people are going to pay regularly to have access to your expertise.

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