Why the Offbeat Empire doesn't accept donations (and the two possible exceptions)

January 15 | offbeatbride

moneyWhen we announced the relaunch of Offbeat Home as Offbeat Home & Life, there was a lot of reader discussion in the comments about how to best support the site. Ultimately, the monetization of all the Offbeat Empire sites is complicated and potentially confusing to readers, and my advice usually boils around to "share stuff you like, click things that look interesting, and buy stuff if you want."

But several readers asked me if they could make donations to support the site, something that I'm incredibly uncomfortable with for a variety of reasons…

  1. Donations are not a sustainable publishing business model. I've watched bloggers do donation campaigns for over a decade, and while there's an initial burst of interest, donations don't continue and money eventually runs out. Kottke is a great example.
  2. It creates a begging dynamic. When a publisher asks for donations, it shifts the relationship with readers. Suddenly I'm bugging y'all to give me money. If you're not in a place to give, you feel bad. I don't want to make you feel bad. It's just not worth it, especially considering that in my experience, donation drives never pull in that much money. (Really? I'm going to make tens of thousands of people feel bad in exchange for MAYBE a grand in donations?) Not worth it.
  3. I'm not comfortable with it, ethically. Donations should go towards non-profits who are legally bound to spend your money in the ways you want. How would you feel if you donated $20 that I went and spent on weed? (It's semi-legal here now!) You'd probably feel like, "Ew, THAT'S what she did with my money!? Gross." And you'd have every right to. When I run a for-profit business, I can spend the profits in the ways I want.

That said, I can see a couple situations where I might be comfortable accepting donations. In both cases, it's fundraising for very specific purposes:

  • Staff medical emergency. My staffers are all part-time contractors. None of them have medical insurance. If one of them were to suffer some terrible injury or illness, you can bet I'd put a big ol' DONATE sign on the sites. I hate that I can't provide medical insurance to my staff.
  • Legal fees. Running a small business can be an ugly endeavor, and legally protecting a business can get extremely expensive. If the Offbeat Empire was ever faced with a nasty out-of-pocket legal expense, I'd consider doing a fundraiser to cover some of the costs.

So, while there are a couple emergency cases where I'd consider accepting reader donations, for the most part I'm happier keeping my business model focused on advertisements and business partnerships, rather than harassing my readers to support the business.

I think the most important thing here is just to thank you guys so much for caring about the sites and wanting to support them. It means more to me than I can say. When things get scary down there in the Offbeat Empire trenches, I can't tell you how much my readership gets me through the rough nights. That support means more to me than some $5 donation ever could.

Thank you. Seriously.

  1. Thanks for this post!

    Are you considering having "supporter" options for the Offbeat Home & Life forum like you do for Offbeat Tribe? Will there be any overlap (for example, if I become a Lifetime supporter for the Tribe, would it do anything on the Home & Life forum)?

    I know you said it'll launch soon and we'll find out everything then, but I'm just so excited!

      • Wait wait wait wait. OBH&L forum? Did this ever come to fruition? Because I thought I followed semi carefully and never knew about this

        • Nope, it never happened. The developer I was working with at the time was a forum expert, and when she left for a new job I sat with the idea for a while and realized this: the prospect of moderating a forum for Offbeat Home & Life made me dread what my job was going to become… so I scrapped the idea.

  2. Or what if I gave you $20 and you DIDN'T buy weed but you spent it on sardines and headcheese instead and then I was all "BITCH WHERE IS YOUR WEED?!?"

    That's more likely, donchathink?

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  3. I can see your logic on the no donations policy. I love the Offbeat Empire and would love to try and help any way that I can, so I just keep reading and clicking. Plus, I'm super stoked for the Home forum and will definitely get a paid membership. I always wanted to get in on the super secret Bride tribe, but am no bride to be. Instead I just speculate about all the shananagins that must take place in there. Sigh. Soon though, Home shananagins!

    Yeah, medical emergencies are lame with no insurance. My boyfriend broke his arm a month ago (while arm wrestling…yeah don't arm wrestle) and needed surgery. Having no insurance, he had to clean out a huge chunk of his savings…almost all of it. If an employer can't afford to pay medical benefits (because it's crazy expensive!), I'm now a huge advocate of getting some private insurance on your own. It could be a financial savor, even if it would really only be helpful in emergencies. Accidents happen and it sucks when they do :/

    1 agrees
    • I have a mild panic attack when I hear that someone doesn't have insurance to cover a catastrophic event. Luckily it was just a broken arm and not something worse! I have a high deductible, so most things I just have to pay for. But one benefit of being part of a group plan is that you get cheaper rates for almost all serivces.

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    • "I just speculate about all the shananagins that must take place in there. Sigh."

      I promise you that your speculations are 10x more interesting than anything that actually happens over there. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. I'm doing ma best to remember to click so you can get those extra pennies from AdSense and "related posts". ๐Ÿ™‚ Excited for the OBH&L forum.

    2 agree

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