Donation or Premium Membership

hurricane_sh

Enthusiast
Joined
Jun 25, 2009
Messages
120
This forum for fun, the members are very loyal and appreciate what I do. They check in daily, some stay for hours, the forum is important to some members. They seem to know that the ads don't cover the bill, but there are discussions about adblocker despite that the members only see one ad at the very bottom.

I need to monetize the forum more but can't decide which way to go, donation or premium membership?

If I go with premium membership, I'm thinking about two kinds of membership with the cost of $10/year and $30/year.

Please share your experience and thoughts, thanks!
 

Joeychgo

TAZ Administrator
Joined
Feb 28, 2004
Messages
6,909
I use premium membership but I market it as a donation
 

LeadCrow

Apocalypse Admin
Joined
Jun 29, 2008
Messages
6,536
One-off payments are not sustainable other than for irregular goal-driven expenses like buying a server/paid software.
Tieing payments to benefits on the forum can get messy as you tend to offer extra to paying members or alternatively remove some features in order to 'sell them back'.
Also consider your most active supporters, would capping their ability to help fund the site really be ideal? Note that most venues for payments on a forum tend to require prior membership, and many contributors tend to donate out of goodwill, not because they're interested in receiving anything back.

From experience, Patreon solved many of those issues. A minority of supporters can fund as low (1-2$ a month) and as high for as long as they feel like, even if they dont have an account on your forum. It's a predictable income stream that allows a hobbyist webmaster to plan ahead, does not require special implementation on the forum, and allows you to give everyone the same experience without splitting your userbase into haves and have-nots.
 

Joeychgo

TAZ Administrator
Joined
Feb 28, 2004
Messages
6,909
Could you elaborate? You make it sound like a donation? Do the members know what they would get?
Yes, but its how you market it.. For example:

Support the site with your Gold Membership donation. These donations help pay for things like servers and software to keep the site running fast for you guys! Gold members get cool things too, like the ability to send photos in private messages and much bigger PM storage!

See - that doesn't sound anything like "Buy a VIP upgrade"

Marketing....
 

Joeychgo

TAZ Administrator
Joined
Feb 28, 2004
Messages
6,909
Tieing payments to benefits on the forum can get messy as you tend to offer extra to paying members or alternatively remove some features in order to 'sell them back'.
I've been doing it for 15 years like this. When I switched to XF, there were new abilities that I capitalized on, like ability to upload photos to conversations. -- Only my upgraded members get that. They didn't lose it because it wasn't available until the move to XF.

Also consider your most active supporters, would capping their ability to help fund the site really be ideal? Note that most venues for payments on a forum tend to require prior membership, and many contributors tend to donate out of goodwill, not because they're interested in receiving anything back.
I fixed this by having an addon made that allows members to 'gift' another member a membership... So many of my loyal supporters do that - and the great thing is that when their gift expires, those members tend to renew on their own. :)
 

zappaDPJ

Administrator
Joined
Aug 26, 2010
Messages
7,119
I think it depends on the nature of the community.

If the membership longstanding and close, more comparable to a group of friends, I've found donations to be very successful. It obviously helps a lot if there's a clearly stated, measurable objective.

For other more formal forums I tend to go with premium memberships but I think it's important to provide real benefits.
 

hurricane_sh

Enthusiast
Joined
Jun 25, 2009
Messages
120
I fixed this by having an addon made that allows members to 'gift' another member a membership... So many of my loyal supporters do that - and the great thing is that when their gift expires, those members tend to renew on their own. :)
That's a great idea, you are a genius!
 

BGObsession

Enthusiast
Joined
Jul 12, 2017
Messages
106
It's challenging. We are rolling out a new version of our forum on Xenforo. I purchased the Themehouse 'Donations' add on and it looks really good so far. Our members are pretty good about donating to the site for specific things like our recent site upgrade. But more ongoing costs such as simple server costs have been more challenging. I love the way one of my favorite sites 'The Hackers Paradise' does it. They have a yearly 'Albatross Club' that they ask members to join. Members get access to member-only contests, a special badge in their post-bit, and they also donate a portion of all proceeds to a worthy charity. We are modelling our new fundraising efforts on that model. We are offering special benefits such as ability to add a signature, a cover photo, edit user title, etc... for premium membership...
 

BGObsession

Enthusiast
Joined
Jul 12, 2017
Messages
106
I fixed this by having an addon made that allows members to 'gift' another member a membership... So many of my loyal supporters do that - and the great thing is that when their gift expires, those members tend to renew on their own. :)
What add on is this if you don't mind sharing?
 

CyberJoe

Enthusiast
Joined
May 23, 2016
Messages
104
Unless your content is really special the easiest way to close your doors is to charge entry....

Personally I think members dont see banners or advertising is a much better option, you need your content exposed to the world to grow the site.
 

Ingenious

Fan
Joined
May 4, 2011
Messages
721
I've done both in the lifespan of my community. Premium membership initially when I had exclusive content however this was eroded over time by the arrival of YouTube, free blogs, social media and so on which empowered anyone to publish content, so the internet then seemed to change to providing content for free but "paid for" by adverts on the site. More recently, simple member donations which don't give you anything as such, but help support running costs, have provided some useful extra income (though nothing like advert revenue).

As people have said above, it depends on what you have on offer. If it's unique and has value then a premium membership could work. If not, give your content freely and go for donations.
 

Joeychgo

TAZ Administrator
Joined
Feb 28, 2004
Messages
6,909
Unless your content is really special the easiest way to close your doors is to charge entry....
I agree, dont charge for entry -- but making an upgraded membership available is fine and can work well if done right.
 

DigNap15

Enthusiast
Joined
Sep 14, 2019
Messages
113
I have a new forum in a small country
Opinion politics and general
900 members.
I am going the donations route, as I do not like the idea of separating my members.
(adverts see to be far too much work and risk) (And no idea how much they would bring in) and clutter up screen space.
And any premium feature would not offer much mroe than they get now, and be a lot more work.

My biggest problem is that some members say how much does it cost to run your site?
I find that very hard to quantify as I know that my second year costs will be higher than my first year.
And server costs are unknown for me at the moment

Then some members want to know how much you are making, as if its a crime.
But others are just pleased to have access to my forum in this time of censorship!
 

LeadCrow

Apocalypse Admin
Joined
Jun 29, 2008
Messages
6,536
Many forumgoers have been soured by webmasters whose greed peaked in the last decade, so it's understandable that they'd want an idea wheter you run things any differently.

Assuming you're not the only admin around, you could share the upkeep's specifics more directly with other admins but members need not bother with numbers. You could just reassure them that you're handling all expenses out of pocket, make no profit, excedent would generally get reinvested in improving the community (even outside the website), securing sufficient support would enable improvements like disabling ads for all members/visitors, and that shunning ads/sponsors in favour of direct backing from a minority of your most generous members preserves your community from undue influences, privacy risks and ensures it will remain a thriving community managed by locals with personal understanding for your regional specificities.

For the members that ask for numbers, consider the actual costs for past years, and wether those costs actually covered everything and you didnt have to compromise on the experience to fit that budget. Growth and experience improvements would likely double those (yearly) costs, while you might not even be taking for all the time you're dedicating and possibly not having expenses balanced against longterm sustainability.
 
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