Charging for content?

I recently did a proposal for a charity (here after known as MyCharity) who amongst other things were interested in exploring how they could generate funds from their content. Is it possible? Let’s look at the challenge…

Costly information sites

Charity websites generally have one big section which contains lots of useful information about their cause (such as information about living with XX condition / legal rights about XX / how to look after donkeys etc). They work hard to make the information clear, up-to-date and easy to find. It is worth doing this because they want the information to help people. Also they want to be high up in the search results to raise profile and to build relationships with new supporters.

However, it takes a lot of time and money to maintain so much information. When I was at KnowHow NonProfit we had lots of discussions about how to reduce the cost of maintaining information which lead us to experiment with wiki-fying sections of content. Hooray – the sector would maintain it’s own information! Not so fast…. It worked to some extent but took just as much time to nurture relationships with potential wiki editors.

A wiki is just not going to work for authoritative medical, legal or care-based information. So are there ways charities could generate funds from content to cover costs?

How to make content pay

1) Ask for donations

MyCharity was interested in how they could monetise their information guides as these were read by thousands of people each month (on and offline). There are lots of examples of information leaflets with a donation ask at the end such as this one from Epilepsy Society.

Information leaflet with membership / donation ask at the back

Online it is a different story. Lots of sites have a donate button at the top of the page but don’t specifically ask for a donation related to the transaction which has just taken place (ie the user reading, downloading or sharing the content).

This example from Blue Cross is the only one I found of a charity clearly and calmly asking for a donation at the end of an information page. The button at the end of the content says ‘How much was this information worth? Click here to donate’. They don’t give a suggested donation and the link goes to the general donation page.

Blue Cross - what is this content worth box
I imagine that someone reading this would be inspired only to give a small amount. Many online donation forms have a minimum amount, usually £5. So what happens if someone feel inspired to give a donation of £1 or £3? If this type of ask is only likely to generate small donation, an SMS donation option (eg JustTEXTgiving) may be more appropriate. Doing it this way is quicker, has fewer stages and doesn’t obviously lead to the donor being added to a database and sent further requests for money (often off-putting for small amount donors). Of course it means that the charity gets this type of donation without the personal details but that’s the trade off.

A suggested figure may also help here (as with online donation forms – see previous blog post). For example, a sentence in the style of a church sign ‘it costs £X to heat this church everyday, please consider making a donation’ or a museum ‘thanks for visiting today, please consider making a donation of £X’. This is stronger, more persuasive and gives the user a clearer idea of what is appropriate.

Church fundraising sign

2) Ask for contact details

It may be more valuable to capture data than small donations. MyCharity was keen understand and communicate with their readership as well as ask them for money. With thousands accessing their content guides each month, they felt like they were missing an opportunity to connect with these people more deeply. So it may have been appropriate for them to ask people to register for more detailed content to start that process.

There are lots of non-charity examples of this such as this report download from nfpSynergy ‘to download this report for free add your name and email address’.

NFP Synergy - add your contact details

And organisations giving premium content to members (whether membership is free or not) such as this exclusive fundraising video from KnowHow NonProfit.

KnowHow membership content

Charities often have additional, special content produced for members, such as a magazine which can be accessed online.

I haven’t managed to find any examples of charities asking people to register for premium content or information guides. Would this work?

3) Asking for payment

Are there any examples of non-profits asking for payment before access is given aka The Times paywall?

The Times paywall


Generating funds to pay for expensive and complicated websites is a big issue for charities. However, it doesn’t feel like many are testing out ideas or that anyone has cracked this yet. Publishing detailed information guides online is the standard and we all want people to read them. But many may fear that applying the three methods above could mean a loss in traffic or trust. But in these tough times, can we really continue putting so many resources into something which people use for free?

If you have examples or experience to share, please do add a comment we can all learn from.


3 thoughts on “Charging for content?

  1. Great blog Madeleine. Not enough written on this, especially from the charity perspective. Would be interested to hear from infrastructure organisations that write/commission lots of advice and support content and are thinking about charging for it. Personally I prefer the econsultancy offer of being able to see some of the content (still useful) but not all of it and then pay rather than the Third Sector/Times pay wall.

  2. Great post Madeline – it’s certainly given me lots to think about. Where I work (you’ll be familiar with it!) we have loads of great health information that brings huge numbers of visitors to our website, and gets praised to the rooftops by those who have read it. But we’re increasingly competing with sites like Wikipedia and the NHS. A key question for me is how to monetise this content without knocking us out of the market. I love the Blue Cross example, that’s certainly something I could see working. It’s a great way of making the connection between the information and the charitable cause behind it. Also agree that the Econsultancy model is good, but does that only work well when you’re the market leader? If we did that, I’d worry we’d lose people to the competitor sites.

    I’m going to be looking around now for more examples!

  3. Thanks for your comments Verity.

    So it’s also an issue of how you make sure you are seen as THE authority on your topic (rather than Wikipedia, the NHS or other charities in your area). With this trust established, you hope that people will choose you in the search results over the other options. Therefore it’s about brand, profile, tone of voice, building linking relationships, navigation, accessibility, clear search summary etc – as with everything, more complicated than just producing some really useful guides. Once you’ve sorted all this you can confidently experiment with monitisation options without the worry. Hmm

    Or maybe it is about feeding your content to your competitors (or being an author of the wikipedia guides) so you are market leader by default?

    If you do find other examples, please share them so others can benefit too.

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