The 10 Golden Rules for a Donate Button

On March 13, 2012, in Opinion, by Steffen Itterheim

This is a follow-up post to my Software Developer’s Guide to the Donation Button post, a rather lengthy one at that. To make the key points easily digestible I offer you my 10 Golden Rules for Donate Buttons which should guide potential donees (those receiving donations) whether they should be using a Donate Button or not.

The rules don’t leave a lot of room for acceptable uses of a Donate Button, this is on purpose.

  1. If you don’t need donations, don’t ask for them.
  2. If you own a business, don’t ask for donations for anything in the same business domain, period.
  3. If you greatly benefit from your free work in other ways (traffic, marketing, paid work, etc.), stop accepting donations.
  4. If you can’t explain exactly how donations help your work, don’t even imply that they do.
  5. If you just want to earn some money, sell something. Anything.
  6. If receiving money is a source of motivation for you, donations will be counterproductive.
  7. If you want your work to be appreciated, accept physical gifts, not monetary donations.
  8. Don’t beg for donations and don’t appeal to your user’s bad conscience. No free project that deserves to survive needs money that badly.
  9. Don’t expect or demand anyone to donate, ever. Not even Mr./Ms. Got-Rich-From-Your-Work. You decided to give your stuff away for free, remember?
  10. Every new Donate button makes all others a little less attractive, and less beneficial overall. The purpose of your Donate button should far outweigh its detrimental effect on others.

Why is this even an issue?

I understand that as a donor you’re eligible and free to donate to anyone offering a donate button if you think the donation is deserved. This is perfectly ok, but it also means that the sole responsibility lies in the hands of the donee and he/she should act accordingly. The real problem is, how do donors know if the donation is truly deserved, or even necessary? A donee that doesn’t offer this explanation doesn’t deserve your donation in my opinion.

Donating indiscriminately to anyone or any organization based on popularity or liking someone’s work can skew donations towards those who are relatively popular and have a large, dedicated fanbase. Or merely those who do the best marketing, the best website SEO, the best community management, and so on. This could ultimately change how donations are perceived, from “helping a cause / helping the despaired” to one of “voluntarily giving additional revenue” to people and projects who/which don’t really need it (anymore).

In many countries there are laws which require charitable organizations to frequently publish how much money they raised and how the money is being spent. Usually this requirement comes into effect once the organization raised more than a certain amount of money, like $20,000.

I strongly believe we should hold free work whose author(s) accept donations to the same standard. Since no one really wants individuals to publicize their income, we should ask them to publicize the donations they receive irregardless of how little it may be. This might also deter others from using the Donate Button unnecessarily, by making them realize that the great majority of donees receive no donations at all. On the other hand, it may encourage users to donate in the first place, seeing that others do so as well and how little donations are received.

Donate Buttons should be reserved for recognized charities and free work which is proven to be under constant or acute financial pressure.

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5 Responses to “The 10 Golden Rules for a Donate Button”

  1. […] So you have this website going or some source code on github, and like to earn a few bucks. Donations, right? Hold on, there are a couple things you should consider before you add that Donate button! UPDATE: If you prefer a concise, to the point summary of this post, you should read the follow-up post The 10 Golden Rules for a Donate Button. […]

  2. Good points, Steffen. I had a donation button on my site back from when it was just me and kinda just left it there and forgot about it. This post (and your other one) made me reevaluate the decision, and I decided to take it off from the site, so thanks! :]

  3. Andrew says:

    Only the open source world could come up with something as timely as this. Well written, and well said.

  4. […] to my Amazon Wishlist as a placeholder for Mac OS X Mountain Lion. I created this wishlist after spending way too much time thinking about donations, and the rare cases where I find them […]