We are launching our tenth annual donation drive next week, and while we have some exciting ideas in store for this year’s month-long effort, there are also going to have to be some changes. For a while now we have suspected that we would need to make a change to the way we are running our annual donation drives, and this year we finally need to go and do it.
The biggest immediate change long-time visitors will notice is that the giveaway prize drawings are gone. The fact of the matter is that these drawings put us and our site in an uncomfortable position of tying donations to our effort with a gambling-like drawing. Not only is this essentially prohibited by every money service we have access to, but there were countless jurisdictions where we have readers that have laws against this kind of activity. As the level of participation in the site and the drives have increased over the year, the likelihood that our drive, as well intentioned as it may have been, was going to end up creating a problem finally ratcheted up to the point where we are making this choice.
What we hope, and what many have told us, is that the reason people were donating was because they genuinely wanted to support this site and this community; not because of the giveaways. And, I hope that’s true, because when it comes right down to it, we don’t really think the donation drive has anything to do with Shawn or myself. It is about you investing in your community.
So the choice not to have a prize giveaway also represented for us an opportunity to change the way we were handling the donation drive in some other ways. And, though the loss of prizes is kind of a bummer, I think you might like some things about our new plan as well.
I have to admit, we entertained (if only for a moment) the idea of just doing a Kickstarter. That idea did not last very long. While Kickstarter is a terrific platform for funding a specific project, I think that using it as a tool for creating an ongoing support structure would be the proverbial round peg in the fourth-dimensional hypercube hole. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t openly borrow some ideas from Kickstarter and do our own thing without venturing into some of the woodier hollows that made less sense.
First of all, for the first time in our decade-long history of running the drive, we will be keeping a user-visible running tally of donations along with some clear financial goals. We think the most fun thing about watching someone raise money for something they believe in is sharing that sense of progress with them. Even when we have efforts within the forums where someone is trying to raise a couple of hundred bucks, and you can see the effort of the community blow past that goal, it makes me feel good to be a part of that.
Additionally, while we will not be having raffles, we will still be setting goals and stretch goals, and associating some cool things we might do with those goals. Things like throwing parties, cool artwork or even a potential video series. That said, our focus again remains making the entire community part of whatever we do, so if we hit those goals as a group there won’t be gating or hidden files only for those who donated. We really want people to think as they are giving that they are making the site better for everyone, and as/if we hit those big goals, we also want that to be reflected in having benefits that span the entire community.
That said, we aren’t completely abandoning individual benefits either. A forum icon will still be awarded to anyone who contributes — the icon you get still depends on how many times you have donated to the site in the past. And for the extraordinary few, literally a handful of people, who will have donated for a tenth time to the site, we have a brand new 10-year icon, which is all the more special because we have decided this is the last one. Next year no new icon, so it feels fitting to us to have this final icon be something you can almost literally wear proudly for years to come.
Additionally, we have a few donation-level prizes that will offer individual benefits. They are pretty cool, we think, and so most of them are in limited quantities. If we see a high demand for them, we may offer some new, different individual benefits later in the drive. We’re playing it by ear.
I can’t say this isn’t a little unnerving for us. In a way, we are making a shift this year from saying “donate and maybe you’ll get some cool stuff,” to saying “donate to keep this thing running, because of that cool stuff.” This year’s prize is basically another year of GWJ for everyone, another year of the forum, of the podcasts, of the community and of articles.
We never built this site expecting to get rich from it, and we certainly haven’t been proven wrong in our expectation. Our big position is that the thing we can’t do is lose money on the effort. And every year to date we have gotten to where we needed to go from a funding standpoint and beyond, allowing us to continue to grow our writers, grow our content, grow the community and grow what we deliver. There are a lot of costs associated with the site: podcast hosting, server/bandwidth, travel and attendance at events, community functions, providing a cut to the host of people who support and provide content, equipment, and so on.
As we approach our official ten-year anniversary in early 2013, we are hoping we can count on you guys to continue supporting the site. Our base goal is not trivial — $15,000 — but you guys have come through time and time again. So, what do you say? How about another year?
Look for the drive to officially launch around September 4th!