Would "Required Donation" work?

business and consumers, society

I am an avid fan—and financial supporter—of KQED, the Bay Area’s public radio station.  And once again, I’ve been massively annoyed by the most recent (and seemingly monthly) pledge drive.

A few thoughts have sprung up into my head:

  • Damn, this sucks.
  • I already donated; why do I have to continue to listen to this?!
  • Wouldn’t it be awesome if somehow those people who donated got to hear actual programming, not the pledge drives?
  • I hope those regular listeners who can afford to donate but haven’t end up with a flock of bloated pigeons presenting a large splattery “gift” on their cars.  Daily.

As I continued to think about this situation—independent of the actual technical constraints associated with limiting the broadcast to only paying members—I felt a bit guilty… recognizing that not everyone could afford to be a member at even the basic $40-a-year level.

But what if…

What if KQED—again, ignoring the technical constraints—could somehow be made to be broadcast only to members… but people could become members for as little as a penny a year.

That’s right.  In order to become a member and hear the broadcast, you’d have to do this every year:
– Fill out a form (online or on paper)
– Pay something.  Anything.  Even a penny.

Perhaps the station could propose membership tiers or a “suggested” donation; how about, for instance, 1/10th of 1% (1/1000th) of your household’s pre-tax annual income.  Single folks making $80,000 a year, for instance, would pay $80/year—or less than 22 cents a day.

Or maybe the station’d just leave payment completely up to each individual’s discretion, like this coffee shop in Seattle. (incidentally, I’m pretty sure I thought of this “required donation” idea before I read about Terra Bite, but no doubt it placed a reminder in my head :-P)

*  *  *

While this idea is technically infeasible for standard over-the-air broadcasts, I’m wondering if it has ever been tried for software or Web site tools or content libraries.  Oh, sure, I’ve seen lots of “donationware” (“Please… if you use this, consider donating something”).  But I have never seen any service or product require a payment but not require a specific amount.

My questions for you:

  1. Have you ever seen this tried?  If so, did you actually pay for the service or product? 
  2. Do you think the implementation of this idea by people or companies would result in them making more money or less… compared to either A) Giving away the product, but requesting a donation   and   B) Charging a fixed amount?
  3. Think of your favorite content-based Web site (besides this one)… a blog, an online zine, etc.  If they required payment (with even a penny qualifying), would you become a member?  Why or why not?
  4. Think of a favorite software program or online tool that you currently do not pay for.  Would you pay for it under this sort of “donation required” plan?  Why or why not?
9 comments… add one
  • Adam May 26, 2007

    Heh, so this is fascinating, John!

    I’m not at all surprised about your findings on the freeware attempt.  That mirrors everything I’ve seen and read (that, when simply *asked* for donations—at least online—almost no one will give anything).

    But I don’t quite get the contradiction re: the required-donation part.  On one hand, you say that a fixed price is likely to bring in more cash overall (in point 2), given that it’d better enable one to make a budget.  I respectfully disagree with that assumption, but I understand the perspective.

    But then you go and shoot your argument to hell :-P… by noting that you present one of your own tools (gsitecrawler) as nag-ware (practically Donation Required, right?), with donations of any amount unlocking the software.

    So either you don’t care about money at all (which—while possible—seems unlikely) or you believe that you can make more money by requiring a variable donation for gsitecrawler than establishing a fixed price.

    So what’s the deal? 😛

  • Adam May 26, 2007

    Funny you should mention Google Checkout!  I have absolutely nothing to do with that team at Google, so I’m comfortable picking up this topic (I have no inside knowledge to share on this one :D)

    But yeah, I’d love for Checkout to somehow solve the micropayment problem… and (as you bring up) the trust issue… though I’m frankly a bit surprised to hear that it’s still that much of an issue.  I’ve personally *never* worried about giving out my credit card online, because I know I’m not liable for unauthorized charges and—while I hate lots of things about my credit card companies—I trust them on this aspect 100%.

    IMHO, a larger barrier than trust is simply inertia.  As crazy as it sounds, I think a lot of people would be delighted to give $1 or even $10 to KQED or for John’s software or your former product… but they’re frankly just too friggin’ lazy to type in their credit card number.  I use RoboForm—form filling-out software (which I incidentally paid for :-P)—and absolutely totally love it.  It makes paying for stuff (when I can’t use Google Checkout) a sixty-second process rather than a five-minute pain.

    Still, though, none of this solves the high transaction costs associated with Visa and Mastercard today.  Google Checkout is currently free (100%) for merchants today, but who knows what it’ll cost in the future.  If those folks can come up with a solution in this context, I honestly believe that it could be game-changing; finally allowing bloggers or tool makers or comedians on the Web to solicit nickel or even penny payments per view and still make thousands of dollars a month :-D.

  • Adam May 26, 2007

    Oh, and hey, I hadn’t seen publicradiofan.  Damn cool!  Thanks for sharing! 😀

  • pawel May 27, 2007

    hello, funny and interesting topic, thus i will have my micropayment of 5c in. As it seems from what I know the risk over 1. “pay just anything > 0” sales policy and 2. the micropayments via brokes are faulty at the same place, too hard to guess for service provider in 1. or finance institution in 2., the steadiness of the cash flow. Thus in point 1. its hard to plan project budget-wise, the est rev being in range $0-1000000 with pretty equal probability. And in point 2, the cost of rolling up the transactions from single bank as well as guessing the overnight rev. on non-instant transfers are both quite vague. sorry for spammish form of post but my languge is quite bad.

  • Adam Jun 2, 2007

    Rockya, good points.  And I remember reading about a similar “honor system” cart in NYC a while back :-).

    Pawel, no worries about the language; nice to have you contributing here.

    Flathead… this reminds me a bit of a sign some acquaintances of mine put up on the lawn at a social event: “[huge handwritten block] FREE MASSAGES [tiny print] accepted here”  Heh :D.  Though they were looking for massages and attention, not money.  Oh well.

    Lea, I wonder how well that artist is doing.  I hope decently! 😀

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  • Jose Mar 25, 2008

    Funding and donation is the best way to cheat government and get relief in tax which is needful.

  • G4HQ Forum Apr 29, 2008

    I believe many donators donate just so they can get some tax relief, there is no real moral in donating anymore. Besides possibly the 1% that do not request a tax relief.

  • John Apr 29, 2008

    Jose and GH4Q, you both are right.
    To cheat government as well as they don’t have any moral after donation also.

What do you think?