Please take my money: Prioritising online donations

I love too many online projects, content creators and the like to support them all. How to prioritise?

Here’s my outset:

  1. I want to support People Who Work on Stuff That They Don’t Charge For (PWWSTTDCFs).
  2. I don’t want anything in return. I don’t want Special, Exclusive Stuff Just for Supporters. Digital scarcity is BS. I want to support the creation of what economists term non-rival goods (i.e. your enjoyment of it does not diminish mine).
  3. I have a limited budget for supporting PWWSTTDCFs. It definitely ought to be larger than it is but even if it were, it would still sadly be not-unlimited.
  4. (But I do increase it year by year and not just to offset inflation)
  5. (Still, I acknowledge that with my limited donations I am freeriding an awful lot and grossly underpaying a lot of PWWSTTDCFs if we were to convert things into traditional economics.)
  6. (E.g. my digital newspaper subscription is currently more than twice what I pay in donations of the kind, I am talking about here, and I must admit I get more marginal utility from one more episode of No Such Thing as A Fish than a Thursday paper).

I quit Patreon in December 2017. It was back when they tried a hard pivot away from small contributions to big ones, something about a strategy away from hobbyists and towards full-time content creators. I cannot speak to the merits of that strategy – maybe it made sense, both as a business and as a vision for the ecosystem – but their communication or lack thereof about the whole mess made me angry. All I remember today are “fun” attempts at playing it off as a “we did a whoopsie” on social media.

Is it really still a valid excuse that some executives and PR people did and said dumb stuff six years ago? No, it’s not. I think Liam Dawe of GamingOnLinux put it well in response to a question I put to him:

Patreon has taken heat a few times, and rightfully so, but thankfully most of the time they’ve rethought their decisions. They still offer the best service to small creators.

Enjoy what we do? Please support us if you’re able to, Liam Dawe (GamingOnLinux)

(also, and I believe I missed this at the time, they did actually apologise). The real reason I’m not supporting things I enjoy through Patreon is both better and worse than that.

  1. Like everybody else, I have been brought up to expect stuff online to be free. Yes, that’s a problem in itself, and no, I know these things are not really free.
  2. That means that I currently enjoy more things than I could pay for, were I to aim for fair compensation.
  3. (I don’t know if it’s really helpful to the digital economy but I am cutting down for both less-is-more and what’s-infinite-media-doing-to-our-attention-span-and-mental-health reasons)
  4. I could in theory pay everyone of my preferred PWWSTTDCFs pennies, spreading the love, but then it’s mostly eaten by charge fees and I don’t get to feel very good about any of it.
  5. So it’s better to limit the number of recipients. I think in DKK and so a cut-off point of 100 DKK/year – roughly 13.5€ or 11.5£ – paid in yearly installments makes sense to me.
  6. It’s more convenient for me to use as few donation platforms as possible – and to avoid manually supporting (as in having to program myself to go to a page and enter credit card details once a year)
  7. All other things being equal, I prefer platforms that are in line with my values. FLOSS friendly, non-profit, not directly controlled by fascists (even remotely fascism free online finance is surprisingly difficult to find), etc.
  8. I suspect my modest contributions mean more to small teams and individuals than large organizations.

The upshot? I have decided to use all of my donation budget on Liberapay causes. For those who don’t know: Liberapay is a recurring donations platform, just like Patreon, but unlike Patreon, it’s a) open source, b) non-profit and c) Europe-based. Also unlike Patreon it has historically been somewhat averse to the exchange or quid pro quo kind of donations, or to put in simple terms: paid subscriptions for extra content. It seems to mainly appeal to software developers, especially the f-droid/Android FLOSS crowd, though there are a few bloggers, content creators and activists, too.

This choice, only Liberapay, excludes a lot of things I would be more than happy to support… but – and this is the crucial bit – there are enough good causes there, on Liberapay, to use up all my budget, even if I were to only give 100 DKK/year packages. And so I ask myself: Why not just give to the ones that are within easy reach? Why should I try to expand platform-wise, seeing as a) I can empty out my pockets on Liberapay, and b) I can’t give to everybody anyway?

It does skew the support towards software rather than “content” (i.e. video, audio, text) but I think that’s okay as I suspect the general tendency skews the other way. DAVx5 is not sexy or exciting and new versions are rarely interesting to talk about. It’s the kind of thing where if don’t think about it, it’s working. I absolutely depend on it every single day and am more than happy to be able to support it’s continuation.

I have spoken to PWWSTTDCFs who have tried liberapay – and quit in frustration (Liam Dawe of GamingOnLinux and the Late Night Linux people). They obviously have reasons that I am not party to but while I regret it, I absolutely respect their choice. From my donor perspective, Liberapay works, and works well, especially if you don’t care about non-anonymity (see point number two of my outset list). There are other FLOSS programs that do the same thing and I do mean to investigate them. I am writing this post on a machine running Manjaro Linux and their donations page uses something called Open Collective. Still, Liberapay seems to be the biggest fish in a very small pool of non-profit donations programs. Obviously Mozilla and Wikipedia run their own fundraising programs. For some reason they have both discarded the yearly giving option, so monthly is the only recurring one. This feels wasteful in terms of fees and it’s pretty annoying for bank statements (I once heard the definition of middle age as giving up on ever reading Proust. I think that’s early middle age. Middle middle age can be more exactly defined as the age of starting to read and check bank statements).

To tell the truth, I don’t know if the decisive directive at play here is convenience (see pt. 6) or principle (see pt. 7). Or both. Or possibly just convenience masquerading as principle. Whatever it is, I do weirdly appeciate that the above frees me from coming up with some other way to prioritise who to donate to. I don’t want to try to rate the pleasure of a good podcast versus the utility of a good email client. I would probably just throw dice or give up on donating at all.

The downside? I still feel kinda bad when I visit Wikipedia and don’t click on Jimbo’s plea banner, I hear about Mozilla’s money trouble, I skip past the funding sections of podcasts I like, etc.

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