You may occasionally read success stories about bloggers and YouTubers who make money from donations. But are these stories the norm, or rare exceptions? Do donation buttons still work in 2020 and beyond?
This article aims to answer the eternal question. Let’s get started.
According to Some…
I spent some time looking up anecdotal stories / evidence from people who use (or have used) donation buttons. Although I came across several positive responses, the vast majority were negative and quite disappointing in nature.
For instance, this Reddit user experimented with a donation button only to be thoroughly disappointed in the end:
“My donate form for my open source software has 5953 clicks in the last year or so, with 11 donations.”
This other person also commented on BlogTyrant’s blog about it, adding:
On the bright side, someone stated to have seen the donation button work miracles for some people:
“I’ve seen a donate widget raise about $2000 in a week, but the cause was very specific and the word was spread with twitter as well.”
I could keep posting endless anecdotal evidence here, but I think you get the point: A donation button can work, but only if you get creative and put in the effort to highlight it.
Reasons People Don’t Donate
It’s easy to look the other way: Do you honestly give money to every homeless person on the street? Do you actually contribute even $5 to several nonprofit organizations each month? Or as little as $1 to various GoFundMe campaigns?
Even if you do some of the above, chances are you don’t do it nearly as often as you possibly could.
It’s just easier to turn a blind eye and consider using that money for our own materialistic things (even if we can afford to give it away). I am certainly not here to pass judgment; this behavior is simply due to human nature, that’s all.
Most things are free elsewhere: Chances are that a blogger’s offerings are not unique (in fact, nothing is truly unique).
This means that people can probably find whatever they desire somewhere else, and it only takes a quick Google search to get it.
Whether you provide extensive tutorials, extremely detailed blog posts, or free software, people can probably find these on another website without feeling the pressure to donate. Simply put, free content doesn’t exactly entice many people to spend money willingly.
So, let’s put our time to good use and look for ways to make donation buttons work for your blog.
How to Make Donation Buttons Work
The above examples/evidence didn’t really tell us how much effort the authors put into the donation business model, so it’s not all bad news. Not necessarily…
In any case, many of the blogs (and stories) I came across made a very bland, half-hearted attempt to collect money — mainly by sticking the donation button on the sidebar or at the blog’s footer. They didn’t really get into detail other than simply stating, “Buy me a coffee” or using some other vague statement.
Readers need to be reminded of the great content or service you’re providing.
For example, even if you take the time to state how high your blog’s server costs are, you should always break things down into more detail:
- State exactly how much you spend each month (with screenshots)
- How long it takes you to craft content
- Describe every benefit readers receive, as it’s easy to minimize the things we consume
Build Emotional Appeal
Why do you think successful bloggers make money from email subscribers? In reality, the money is made from their relationship with email subscribers…
Likewise, readers are more likely to donate if they can personally identify with you or the cause you serve. This is why you need to be very specific/detailed, as I described above. But you must also remind readers that you’re an actual human being and not some thankless robot producing content.
If you’re really struggling to pay the monthly bills, remind your audience that even a small fraction of their money could help. If you need funds for the ongoing care of a pet, remind people of this fact.
All in all, make a strong case as long as it’s genuine. Plenty of readers will still ignore you, but plenty will also contribute. It’s a game of quantity and quality combined.
Feature it Prominently & Promote It
If you’re going to rely on a donation button, you must treat it as a salesperson treats his products. This person does everything in his power to achieve a goal, and you must adopt a similar mentality.
- Feature a donation button prominently at the top of your homepage and highlight the reasons people should contribute
- Place said button anywhere within your articles, perhaps at the top and bottom
- Show it off on certain key pages
- Are you building an email list? Encourage subscribers to donate on occasion
- Promote it on all your social media profiles at least once every 1-2 weeks
The above may seem like a lot, but there is no shame if you are genuinely (and consistently) providing quality content.
Offer Much More (Truly Impress)
I’m all for thinking outside the box when it comes to drawing attention for business purposes. So, how about offering readers a real incentive for donating?
You might say that the content/service provided on your blog is enough, but that’s not necessarily how readers may feel…
Put it like this: Since your blog’s content is naturally offered by default, your audience feels that you’re merely offering the basic requirement (no matter how good your content might be).
As a result, many people feel that you’re not truly going for that extra mile. This only leaves them asking, “Why should I donate for receiving the bare minimum that this blog is supposed to provide?”
How to remedy the situation: Think about giving back, even if it’s done by means of gamification to make your content more fun. For example, pledge to give 10% of all (monthly) donations to one random donor.
This makes donations feel more fun and gives people some hope that they’ll receive some money back. Someone could donate $1 and end up with $20, depending on how much you receive that month.
You may otherwise give some money back to a randomly-chosen nonprofit organization, for example. All in all, think of ways to get readers more involved and make it more about them.
Do donation buttons still work? To be blunt, part of the answer is “No, not in many cases.”
However, it all depends on the amount of work and creativity you put into it.
Don’t be so passive and half-heard about it, treat it as if you’re selling the most important product of your blogging career.
Then, adjust your approach depending on results and NEVER give up too quickly. And remember, most likely you will not find success right away, as it goes with most other things in life…
But don’t feel discouraged either, especially by existing anecdotal evidence. Try it yourself and keep attacking the situation until you finally make it work.
And if it doesn’t work, at least you can dismiss that business model knowing that you genuinely tried your very best.