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Is the donation model right for you?

Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue
Hi there,
Thanks for joining me this week for a zoomed-in discussion about the donation model for paid newsletters. 
You’ll find some great examples of creators working with donations either as a stopgap before adding more paid features (and increasing the price!), or as a long-term strategy. We’ll talk about the benefits of this approach, and hopefully you’ll know by the end of this issue whether the donation model is right for you. 
Let’s go.
What is the donation model, and why is it interesting?
In this paid newsletter model, creators don’t put any content behind a paywall. They continue to send their work out into the world, and ask their subscribers to support them with a small donation.
Success stories in the publishing industry, most notably The Guardian, helped push the idea of financially supporting content creators via donation into the limelight:
From support.theguardian.com
From support.theguardian.com
Rather than paying for access to the Guardian‘s journalism for yourself, the Guardian asks readers to pay to keep the operation going, the journalism coming — for everyone, even people who are not able to pay.
This idea translates neatly into the newsletter world. If you have an audience that enjoys reading your work every week, it’s reasonable to ask them to help support you, if they’re willing and able.
Bridging the gap to a paid newsletter
I have lots of conversations with creators about going paid, and about the best moment to make that jump. Some might just be getting started in the newsletter world, others might have been sending a free newsletter for a long time. 
But there’s a question that always comes up: What should I offer my paying subscribers in return for their cash?
Even for creators who have a clear idea of what they want to offer, it can take some time to get those things set up. Maybe they want to offer premium content, but aren’t yet sure about the form that might take. Maybe they want to offer Q&As or consultations, but aren’t yet sure how best to organize them.
The good news is you don’t necessarily need to have everything set up before going paid — as the examples below demonstrate.
We’re seeing more and more creators starting their paid efforts off as an invitation to help keep the project going. Check out this light-hearted example on Revue from writer Miles Klee:
Some key takeaways from this example:
  • People can feel uncomfortable asking for money for their work — especially if they’ve been providing it for free. Miles overcomes that by leveling with his readers in a tongue-in-cheek way: “For now, you’ll be supporting an unemployed writer trying to pay rent“.
  • When Miles asks for money, he’s also on-brand. The newsletter itself is silly, amusing, and irreverent — so is this donation request.
  • Miles knows he wants to offer exclusive content eventually, and uses that as a deal-sweetener. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t already a fully-mapped-out business.
Miles started out with a donation option on his newsletter, but other creators start sending free content before opening up the gates to payments…
Another great example of a writer starting with donations while finalizing the paid benefits is Caroline Criado Perez — who has been sending her newsletter for free since 2019:
I spoke last week about the community-building aspect of Caroline’s new paid newsletter option, but there are more things here I’d like to highlight regarding donations:
  • The first people who pay to sign up to your newsletter — donation or otherwise — are likely your biggest fans. Caroline has plans to expand the perks that come with being a paid member, but for now she’s emphasizing how early subscribers can “get on on the ground floor” of what she’s building next. That’s an appealing thing, especially for writers who have already established a regular and long-running publishing rhythm: your readers know you can deliver, and they’ll be at the front of the queue.
  • There are enough examples of what paying members will get to pique the interest of readers, but nothing so specific as to back Caroline into a corner. She can go on to plan more specifically later while still sweetening the deal.
While Caroline and Miles have a pathway ahead to a more elaborate content strategy, other creators are looking to donations as their main payment model for the foreseeable future…
Sticking to the donation strategy
Starting a donations-based newsletter doesn’t have to mean you’ll move on to a model with paywalled content. Maintaining a paid newsletter strategy can take time, effort, and iteration — and sometimes that might not work best for a creator’s schedule. Donations to the rescue!
This newsletter, written by journalist and activist Kirsten Han, doesn’t refer to any expansion plans:
The standout takeaway here really only requires one bullet point:
  • By signing up for a monthly donation, people can support this writer’s work. Simple as that. Kirsten throws in a little joke about funding her cat’s premium-grade kibble (although, as an owner of a picky cat myself, this does ring particularly true), but the message is super clear: no paywall.
Speaking of clear messages…
This newsletter, created by puzzlemaker Sandor Weisz, is similarly straightforward in how it seeks donations:
Sandor emphasizes that supporting his work isn’t merely an act of benevolence — it ensures that he can keep producing the newsletters, and send them more regularly.
The other stand-out feature of the screenshot above is the mention of a one-time tip. For some engaged readers, the idea of a monthly subscription might be too much, but this lowers the bar to payment. Tools like Buy Me a Coffee are definitely worth considering if you’re planning on making donations the main model for your paid newsletter.
So when should I employ a donation strategy?
Great question! If you have an existing content strategy ready to go that includes perks like merchandise, event access, Q&As, and so on, then you might want to move straight into a model where you can charge a bit more for access to those things.
But if you want to build hype for a community you’re growing while you’re ironing out the details, donations can be a great way to get things moving (and perhaps earn some revenue!) before starting on the next phase of paid-only content.
And of course, there will always be creators who don’t want to build out a paid content strategy at all. If you have good open rates, a clear value proposition, and an engaged audience — but don’t have the time to build a content strategy, asking for support from your readers can be a great way to keep your work going.
To recap…
Whether you’re looking to start a more elaborate paid subscription strategy in the future, or whether you’re planning on sticking to donations, this model can be a great way to dip your toe into the waters of paid content creation.
Two of the examples above employ the donation approach as a start-up scheme. They’re promising to build something new and special, and asking their biggest fans to help them get it started.
The other examples let readers know they won’t receive anything extra for their payments — but in both cases it’s great to emphasize how donations are a way to support you as a creator and make it possible for you to continue with your project.
Think this model might work for you? Any concerns stopping you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s issue. You can always find me by hitting reply.
Oh, you’d like to hear more about what we’ve been up to? Read on!
Updates from Revue this week
Social sharing image
You can now select the image that accompanies your newsletter when shared on social media! ✨
Lots of our customers have asked for this feature, and while we know it’s a small change, it’s the little things like this that add up to a better experience. Thank you to everyone who requested this for helping to improve Revue. Keep that feedback coming and we’ll keep building!
While we were hard at work, the news from the industry kept pouring in 👇
The week in newsletters
Here’s what else is going on:
Ben Thompson built his own infrastructure to support his newsletter and podcast
Morning Brew’s total headcount has now passed 100 people
How retailers and brands are rethinking newsletters for revenue
Why express consent is essential to email — and how to get it
Tips for global email marketing compliance
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Have a great week,
Anna
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Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue @revue

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