How to implement user donations on my forum?
April 26, 2010 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I own a forum which caters to a narrow interest in a small language, so it will never be huge. However, I still have to pay for hosting and decided to spring for a vBulletin licence last year. So I'm paying a modest sum out of pocket yearly. To help offset this I'm currently running a low level of AdSense ads. This does not bring in much, but I'm unwilling to "upgrade" to big, annoying ads. I'm considering implementing a PayPal donation button. What I'm unsure of are the social dynamics of this.

Users have indicated that they are willing to help pay for running the site. I see that some forums have some sort of recognition in individual user's profiles that they have donated, maybe a star under the avatar or a special rank. Then there are those who add perks like no ads or access to special subforums. I don't know how this usually pans out in practice. I'm a bit of an idealist - my optimum solution would be that people donate whatever they think is suitable, and get a warm fuzzy feeling in return. I'm unsure if that is workable.

I would like to hear any toughts, experiences, anectdata or links to content about the transition from owner-financed to donation-financed forum. Especially how it impinges on the tone and social dynamic of the forum.
posted by Harald74 to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Depending on the size of your board (# of members) and loyalty you will more than likely get plenty of money via PayPal donations. I wouldn't worry too much about it.

One thing to consider is that some members may feel that by donating they are now part owners of the board. This could get touchy if there is ever a conflict. Also you should try & be as transparent as possible about where the money is going. Itemize out everything and be prepared for people to 2nd guess everything from hosting providers to whether you deserve $$$ for your own time.

The key is to be as transparent about what the money is going towards & what it represents to the members. All very doable. Good luck
posted by cuando at 7:14 AM on April 26, 2010


I run a forum as well. In my case, I simply posted the dollar amount needed to pay for the hosting and domain for two years. It was not a large amount of money (think in the hundreds of dollars), but it was too much for me to pay on my own.

No less than 20 members chipped in, and it was covered in about three days. If you want maximum goodwill, set up a system like this, and then email them personally. Stars and other publicly visible things are nice, I guess, but I didn't need them. I did personally thank each donor with an email or PM.

Sawmillcreek dot org is a huge site of woodworking people who are investigating similar funding sources as you describe. They talk with their constituents about them. You might dig around there a bit. People seem mostly happy to contribute.

The NUMBER ONE RULE IS: whatever you do, it MUST NOT penalize others, and it MUST NOT make the site less useful.
posted by fake at 7:19 AM on April 26, 2010


I see that some forums have some sort of recognition in individual user's profiles that they have donated, maybe a star under the avatar or a special rank. Then there are those who add perks like no ads or access to special subforums. I don't know how this usually pans out in practice.

I think the star icon thing makes sense, because it gives the donors something to feel proud of and it also helps advertise the donation system to those that haven't donated. Once you start adding actual benefits to donating, you run the risk of seeming like a pay forum. Some forums also run some sort of donation raffle, but those kinds of things generally have a scammy feel in my opinion.

Also, one other thing that seems to work for donation systems is to have some sort of monthly target you can show at the top of the screen to give an indication of how much you need to cover the bills. And if you miss the goal by a lot in a month, you can send out a scary "If nobody donates I'll have to shut down the site" mass PM, which would hopefully bring in enough donations to cover the next few months.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:25 AM on April 26, 2010


Typically sites that give the user options of free access vs pay access get rid of ads or streamline access for paying users. If your user base is not huge, then it is easier to customize things for a specific user group. I'd give them the option of opting out of ads.
posted by JJ86 at 8:32 AM on April 26, 2010


I've never had to run donations personally, but if I were I would definitely turn off the ads for the people donating. Especially adsense ads. Generally the money you make on ads like those are from people hitting the site from a search engine, not the regular users of a forum. It's a win-win really.
posted by inthe80s at 10:03 AM on April 26, 2010


If it were me, I would probably remove the ads completely, or only display them for non-logged-in users (a la Mefi). I'd then ad a few donation buttons.

Once a year or so, I'd do a pledge drive if the passive donations weren't coming in at a fast enough rate. Whether I needed to do a pledge drive or not, I'd make sure to thank donors both individually and publicly. For the public thanks, I'd push to all my users via email or an on-forum private message listing the donors (unless they didn't want to be named). I'd also put the same thing in a sticky post, which would be updated throughout the year.

I wouldn't put a gold star that shows up next to their name on every post because of the impact it might have on the group dynamic, but that really depends on the community.
posted by Good Brain at 10:35 AM on April 26, 2010


Thank you for your input, people! I'll give it some tought before I press ahead.
posted by Harald74 at 1:26 PM on April 26, 2010


I ran a small forum for a few years. Donations were gratefully accepted and very generous. I made the point however, of not privileging one member over another for their contributions - my partner took care of the Paypal Account and I specifically never knew what was in it, or who put it there so that I could avoid claims of favouritism when moderating. That paypal account bought an entire server plus supported us for two months when we both lost our jobs, for which I will be forever grateful.
posted by b33j at 1:58 PM on April 26, 2010


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