I don’t like asking for donations. When I do think to do so, I usually try to put it out there as a general encouragement to support the free software and free culture projects you enjoy. Very few of them are fully funded and do rely in large part on your direct financial support.
Part of my reluctance is that I don’t have a reason to buy, so to speak. I already give away my content unconditionally. I don’t foresee that ever changing as my goal is not to make a direct living off of the web site or the blog. The only financial goal I’ve thought about is to partly or completely subsidize my ongoing production costs, mostly hosting. To that end, I am already experimenting with advertising, now that I’ve found an ethically sustainable ad network.
It won’t surprise you to learn that between the full time day job, my insane production schedule for the podcast, daily blog posts, and my other projects to which I already don’t devote enough time, I doubt I’ll ever be able to experiment with early access to content as premium model. I am not convinced that such a model makes any sense with podcasts which by definition are so easily time shifted. I don’t have the time to produce extra content for sustaining donors. That cuts against my view on making my content available for free with no strings attached.
I’ve experimented with re-packaging my content but in doing so I want to there to be a free option at a minimum. Having it in formats for purchase is attractive but for the audio at least that is problematic. In some cases third party music I occasionally use would require a commercial clearance.
I hold out hope for my unbook project but it is very slow going. In addition to a free ebook version I’d like to have a POD version for sale when the first volume is transcribed and edited. That is going to be a long way off.
Despite all those non-starter options or plans that are still a long way off, I’ve been wanting to offer a premium as a reward for donation. It would make me more comfortable occasionally asking more directly for support. After continually drawing a blank on what I could offer, I remembered a key part of the DIY ethic–do what you are good at and link to the rest.
It may not surprise you to learn I have and love a small but growing collection of Nerd Merit Badges. These are incredibly well made with fun designs and thoughtful details. So it occurred to me last week that these might make for an excellent, very unique premium for donors.
I contacted John and Randy, the gentlemen behind Nerd Merit Badges, and they were very helpful. They do indeed make custom badges and cited several such projects they’d completed. The were also up front about cost, minimum production run and other needful details. A more concrete plan began to form.
I want to offer a custom merit badge to any and all donors who contribute $20 or more to support the podcast and/or the web site. This includes all past donors who have made such a contribution, either as a one time sum or whose monthly contributions total $20 or more for the year.
I need a design and am working with a friend who is a professional in the field of graphic design. He is agreeable and we are hammering out the details including a nominal fee for his time. I am confident he’ll come up with something attractive and distinctive that will work well for the badges.
How You Can Help
The biggest barrier is the cost of producing the badges, $200 for a run of 50. That is where I need some help as that is a bit more than I am used to covering out of pocket for giveaways. If I can get 10 $20 plus donors starting now, I can completely cover the cost of badges. I will include anyone choosing any of the monthly donation options towards that initial count.
The first ten badges will be unique. My wife, who is an accomplished seamstress, is experimenting with how she can perform some additional embroidery to mark the charter badges out from the rest. I will work up a numbered certificate of authenticity that will include a short thank you message and my signature.
I will mention this experiment over the next few weeks on the podcast as well for the benefit of listeners who do not also visit the web site. I will also post updates, sharing the badge design as it evolves and any other details leading up to actually producing the first batch.
If this experiment is successful, meaning I can get the help necessary to produce the initial batch of badges, I will definitely explore producing other rewards for donors using a similar model. I’d like to build up a good selection of distinctive, fun premiums to reward donation at all levels. If you have suggestions for other premiums, I’d be happy to hear them, too.