Buy Me a Beer: Why the “Donate” Button is Dead… Almost

40 Intelligent Opinions, Leave Yours.

On the Way Home
Creative Commons License photo credit: Caveman Chuck Coker

Have you ever seen one of those “buy me a beer” buttons that allow you to donate to the blogger? They used to be everywhere.

In fact, I know a few bloggers who would rake in four figures a year just from their donate button. Pretty amazing right?

So where did these buttons go? Why aren’t we all using them? And why is the donate button almost dead?

How did the donate button work

The donate button was a pretty simple invention. Using Paypal’s donate feature you could add a snippet of code to the sidebar of your blog and take money from generous people.

Most of the time the blogger would add the catchy “Buy Me a Beer” phrase to the top of the button to make it seem more casual and friendly.

Other times people would have a little bit of text explaining how the money would be used; server costs, time writing more posts, etc.

Where did the donate button work best?

Kona Ute
Creative Commons License photo credit: baudman 

The interesting thing is that the donate button did not work equally on all blogs. In fact, if you took two blogs with an equal amount of traffic and subscribers you would find that they all made vastly different amounts from their donations.

Why?

Well a donation is a very specific thing. You usually give it to someone based on an emotional impulse like compassion, love, pity, gratefulness or guilt. Therefore, unless your blog really evokes these specific emotions you aren’t going to get a lot of donations.

So the text you add to your donation button area is important (as talked about here and here) but the topic that you write about and the relationship you have with your readers is even more crucial. The sites that got the biggest results were:

  • Personal development blogs
    Blogs are now like philosophy texts in that people will change their life and circumstances based on something they read online. If a blog helps someone get over depression or lose a lot of weight there is a good chance they will buy you a beer.
  • Daily routine sites (like video game forums and server hosts)
    My little brother is a Star Craft addict that plays in tournaments around the world. Each day he visits his “clan” website which pays for their daily video gaming servers. They all chip in to keep this going – he’d pay for this before food bills. Blog hosting bills anyone?
  • Personality based sites (ie sites like Steve Pavlina)
    When people become loyal to a single identity they will donate cash. Especially if that personality adds a lot of value to their life and is considering going offline due to a lack of funds.

Of course these examples aren’t hard and fast either. I know of some really terrible sites (in my opinion anyway) that ended up getting a lot of donations from very infrequent readers.

Why the donate button is dead

So why is the donate button not seen so much anymore? Is it dead?

Well in some respects it is dead. And I think it is a case of death over use. They just got used to the point where people got sick of seeing them.

In fact, I know that it became a little but uncool to put these badges on your blog. People started to see them as “sell outs” and stopped reading or connecting altogether; just because they asked for a donation or two.

The distinction between ads and selling
A really interesting point came up in my post on blogging controversy last week. It seems as though there is a massive perceived gap between selling and adverts. People don’t mind ads like affiliate buttons and Adsense but they hate being sold to. People think selling is something really dirty.

I think that is one part of the donate button controversy – it just seems too needy.

Places its alive and well
One thing to note, however, is that people still donate to online marketers and bloggers, just in different places. For example, you will often see Wordprss Plugin developers ask for donations inside their plugins. Some of them do quite well. And I think that shows something important – you need to be providing a huge amount of value, something seemingly tangible even, to get people to send you Paypal money.

Would you donate?

I’d really like to know; would you donate to a blog? Have you ever donated in the past? What would a blogger have to do to get you to part with your hard earned cash? Oh, and do those buttons annoy you? Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.



Ramsay WROTE THIS

Did you enjoy this post? Why not subscribe for future stuff and get it sent directly to your inbox - it's totally free and doesn't happen often?

LEARN MORE

40 Comments... Leave yours.

  • Diggy

    Hey Tyrant,
    I’ve donated a couple of times to bloggers who I’d personally connected with as a way of supporting them.

    As for receiving donations, I’ve yet to get my first one.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Hey Dig.

      How come you leave the donations area up?

      Also, does that top subscription area convert well? Looks great.


      1. Diggy

        I tried the donation button in the footer for the last 2 months and the result is 0. I’m going to take it down and re-do the footer.

        Thanks! I only added the top subscription area in the last week and it’s already getting decent optins. Will have to test it over a month or two to see the results. If it does well enough I’ll stop using popup domination because I know that popups lower the perception of a site and many people don’t like it.


  • Ricardo Bueno

    Hey Tyrant,

    I’ve never contributed through one of those “donate now” buttons. Never felt a compelling enough reason to. On the other-hand, I have purchased a blogger’s product (e-book) in support of their work.

    Here’s one of my favorite “donation” pages:
    http://wpcandy.com/is/powered

    I’m not sure the above example quite applies. But what I like about it, is that they’re gently guiding you, the reader, to make a decision as to what level of donation you’d like to make. See this way, they’re guiding the reader to take action. Know what I mean?


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      That is an awesome page!


      1. Rachelle

        I wonder how it converts though.


  • Kien Leong

    An alternative to “Donate” is “pay what you want”. The well known example is Panera bakery, but it could be applied to internet products that were previously free.

    There is a good example at Akismet, https://akismet.com/signup/#pwyw.If you register a personal blog, there is a slider control that goes from $0 to $120 a year. I found the smiley/frowny face was effective to get me to part with some money for a service that I could have got for for free.

    Those sharing folks at Akismet even share some data on this and the effectiveness of a simple smiley face. http://blog.akismet.com/2011/08/15/smile/. Brilliantly simple psychology


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Interesting. I like that. Again, its a valuable service that they are giving away first though right?


      1. Kien Leong

        Sure is. This has a bit contribution to the sense of fair value. However, the technique provides the right nudge.


  • Tracey Grady

    This is an interesting question. I haven’t made any donations but I have considered it and thought it would be an interesting exercise to investigate if there are any tax benefits for donating to a website or blog: either as a philanthropic gesture or in return for goods/services (naturally, this would be different from country to country; like you, I am in Australia).

    In any event, I think that the Donate button has diminished in popularity in the last few years. Perhaps people are finding better success selling their products than using the donation model. Or in some instances it’s being reframed e.g. wp-candy’s support page. I have also seen blogs which ask for support via their affliliate programs.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      I doubt donating to blogs is a tax deduction… not sure though.


      1. Jen Whitten @ The Positive Piper

        In the US, donations are only tax deductible if it’s to a 501(c)3 organization (ie Charity).


  • Cristina Ansbjerg

    I’ve never donated to a blog. I think I am blind because I don’t see the donate button anymore on blogs.
    Only on plugins. I think it’s important to donate to plugin developers since they don’t have other way to money with a free plugin.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      I wish everyone thought like that! ;-)


  • rosemary

    I have never used the donate button and do not think I would donate to a blogger. I feel it is your decision to begin a blog and I feel kind of weird myself asking for money from my readers. I would rather make money with advertising or obtain items for free from companies to review than ask my readers for money. I do not see it very much lately so I think it is going away for the most part.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      The asking for money is the weird part. Agreed.


  • Sean

    I only donate to people whom I’ve been following for a long time and know they need the support.

    But I’ll usually support by buying a blog owners eBook more than using the “donate” button.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Yeah, products are the way to go.


  • Jen Whitten @ The Positive Piper

    The only time I’ve ever put a donate button on one of my sites was on an eFiction site because there was really no decent way to monetize it at the time. It was a “Keep the author caffeinated” button. I never really made anything off it because I took it down before I could get any kind of readership. Felt hypocritical to ask for caffeine money once I gave up caffeine. And since I’m not a drinker, the beer thing felt wrong too.

    So, unless I start asking people to donate water money to me, I don’t really see the point. Besides, I’d really rather have people donate to one of my two favorite charities than to me.


    1. Parley

      What about “Buy me a burger”?


      1. Jen Whitten @ The Positive Piper

        I’ve kind of turned into a healthy eater, so I don’t really do burgers unless hubby’s grilling. Buy me a bag of salad doesn’t really have quite the same ring, huh?


        1. the Blog Tyrant

          Ha ha ha.


          1. Brankica

            Jen, I think that is the point, if you can monetize your blog/site, no one will really donate.

            If you have ads and affiliate links all over the place, it is hard to get a donation, and with all the ads, it even looks a bit needy.

            If there are no great ways to monetize a site (or you don’t want to use the standard monetization options) then, I think donations will work great.

            I also like giving something useful to people and letting them getting it for free or make a small donation. Might not make a person rich but if it is a great thing, they might donate.

            Or adding a donate button at the end of a great free book! People would probably donate if they liked it and still being “warm” from learning from it :)


  • Rachelle

    One of my readers told me I should put up a donate button during my trademark legal crisis to ask for help paying my legal fees. She said she would donate.

    Donations = $0

    After that I was pretty pissed off at the internet for a while. Honestly I give away tons of free advice that most people charge for, spend hours on email and phone helping people and when I asked for help, zero, zilch, nada.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      That is rough. The faceless part of the net.


      1. Rachelle

        Having said that this post made me feel better, I may not have got donations, but I am not alone! I’m surrounded by my fellow bloggers :)

        Sometimes blogging is just a labour of love. That’s ok because so many great things have happened to me because I blog. But donations wasn’t one of them…


  • Sarah McCulloch

    I’ve just added a donate button up at a new section of my website which contains all my old school essays here: http://www.sarahmcculloch.com/essays.php.

    I haven’t made any money from it and I am not expecting to for a while while the spiders find it, people start linking to it, etc.

    However, having read this post, I think that what I might eventually do is create a more emotional appeal. I have one on my main landing page but not on the main website. Perhaps I should also try to find a way of writing an ebook that would appeal to the diverse bunch of folks reading my old essays.

    Food for thought, thanks for the advice. :)


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Good luck Sarah.


  • Pat

    I recently donated to Herrick Kimball’s agrarian blog … he’s condensing and reprinting stuff from old farm manuals and almanacs which are out of print. I personally find what he’s doing valuable.

    I like that WPCandy page quite a bit. I’ve tried monetizing with affiliate programs, et al, and it’s slow as I don’t have a ton of traffic yet … and I sort of dislike ads. But I’m not at a spot where I can just go and hope people will donate. It’s a quandary. :/


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Old farm manuals – now that’s a new one.


  • Salah

    well I didnt really donate but it is really nice that some
    readers donate,because it makes the blogger thinks that readers really enjoy reading his post and like his blog
    it is kinda of showing love !


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Agreed.


  • jim thomasson

    I have donated to blogs in the past. I Usually do it when the author offers a nifty solution to a problem or they have a plug-in or solution that takes care of a nagging issue I have had. One blog in particular is written by a guy in Germany that developed a small fan management program for an older Dell laptop that has extended the life of that PC many years.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Nice idea. Got a link?


  • Simon Duck

    Being honest, I would never donate to a website. Not in a horrible way, but if they were struggling so much to keep it going, they wouldn’t be relying on taking donations, they would stop, or earn money a ‘real’ way. I used to have a donate button on my website, but when I started to put adverts on the site instead, I felt that it was a bit checky that people had to look at the adverts and then I asked for money.

    I can see the point in donating if you get something in return, but just for the sake of it, I just seems like giving money away.

    I am a sting though :p

    Regards,
    Simon Duck.


  • Marcus

    Ryan Imel over at WPCandy.com has been doing some interesting experiments with raising donations from readers.

    The site uses a “Powered By” donation system, where donors get credit and publicity for helping fund WPCandy. Ryan outlined the strategy in this blog post: http://wpcandy.com/announces/the-wpcandy-powered-by-pla.

    You can check his donation “price chart” here: http://wpcandy.com/is/powered.

    Update: Imel is also launching his own ad network, Pressed Ads: http://wpcandy.com/announces/the-launch-of-pressed-ads. The idea is that the ads are for businesses, and “powered by” is for individual readers.

    Sorry for putting in so many links, Blog Tyrant! They’re all relevant to this discussion, promise.

    There are a lot of lessons to be learned from how WPCandy has tested different funding models. Imel is really trying to make WPCandy financially viable without completely selling out. A tough balance, indeed.

    I think the key reason WPCandy’s efforts are working is because it’s so essential to WordPress users: it’s simply the best source for news on the WP community.

    On another tech forum, I started a discussion on media business models. Many print newspapers are in decline. But I noticed two kinds of media outlets that consistently thrive:

    1) Those that provide business-critical news, analysis, and commentary that drive decision-making.

    2) Media that cater to topics with rabid fan bases.

    As examples, I’d name Bloomberg and ESPN. Both are doing quite well, while their competitors are rapidly losing market share and ad revenues to the web-based outlets.

    You could say that WPCandy has a bit of both qualities. If you’re going to start a WordPress-based business, then WPCandy site is a must read. It’s the best place to read about competitors, potential partners, and new products. And WordPress has a enthusiastic community, one of the best in the open-source world.

    So a donation-based model can work, but it takes as much thought and effort as simply charging for your services.


    1. Simon Duck

      Wow that looks like a great idea, I’ve opened it up in a new tab to read next.

      People will always donate if they are getting something out of it, it’s like blogs which offer comments with a link etc will get more comments, people are looking for self-promotion and this is a way to do it.

      Thanks for the links,
      Regards,
      Simon Duck


      1. Marcus

        You’re welcome, Simon. Glad you found this material helpful. I love sharing great content.


  • Haley Kauzlarich

    This particular is probably the most superb weblogs I have browse in a very quite a while. The amount of information in here’s astonishing, like you practically written the book on the subject. Your blog is wonderful for anybody who wants to be familiar with this kind of matter more. Amazing things; please continue the good work!


As mentioned on...