Why a Donate Button Will Hurt Your Blog

Make Money Online, Online Business

One of our first donate buttons…

Some blogs and books promote the donate button as a business model.

There are lots of variations:

  • Buy me a coffee
  • Buy me a beer
  • Support my site

But it all amounts to the same thing.


{Or panhandling. Maybe we could call it busking. Give a little performance for a few coins?}

Kind of feels degrading already, doesn't it?

Setting up your donate button: It isn't hard to setup a donate button. Paypal has a feature that does just that. And you will (likely) receive some money.

But I don't think you should. Here's why:

The Negative Side Of Asking for Donations

What could be negative about people sending you cash?

Only two groups of people ask for donations:

  1. Not-for-Profits: There is nothing wrong with charitable donations. But as a business this is not the image you want to convey. You will be selling products and/or services from your site. Do you want to give the impression that business is so bad that you have to ask people for some spare change?
  2. Homeless People: There is no getting away from this connection. Why do people give to homeless people? Pity, mostly. Not really the feeling most business people are trying to inspire in their prospects.

Who Doesn't Ask For Donations?

When was the last time you donated to a company? (No, never? Me neither.)

Companies don't need donations because they are in business.

They make profits.

If you ask for a donation on your site, what are you telling your prospects?

  • I'm not a business.
  • I am a non-profit.
  • Business isn't very good. Could you give me a few bucks to pay for my hosting?

Doesn't really inspire much confidence, does it?

My Donation Experience

buy-us-a-coffee-125When we started our first blog we didn't know what we were doing. We knew we wanted to blog about Ecuador, but that was it. We didn't understand monetization or even community building.

Like many bloggers, we experimented with a donate button. We called it “Buy us a coffee”. Readers could send us money via our Paypal account.

buy-us-a-coffee-468We installed these two buttons (both shown above) to receive some money. And it worked. I don't have a final tally, but we received a few hundred dollars. Some people were so determined to send us money that they actually mailed us cash.

The problem was that people thought our blog was a free community service and that readers were paying to keep it going – like Wikipedia. But it was never a community project. From the beginning we were going to monetize it. We just didn't know how.

If you are just getting started, you might think: “What's wrong with a few hundred dollars?”  Let me tell you.

We found two problems when we asked for donations:

  1. Readers were not conditioned to commercial offers: When we first put ads on our site, people complained. Some unsubscribed. They had misunderstood the nature of the site and were shocked when we began to monetize from our platform. This is why I recommend monetizing a blog from day one.
  2. Hundreds of people actually wanted to take us out to coffee. It seems that nature of the ad was misunderstood and people thought we were seeking social interaction. Although this ad was removed a few years ago, we still get weekly offers to take us out to dinner, coffee or a “couple of rounds”. Obviously, this was not what we wanted.

But Don't Blog Donations Work?

Yes, there are some random examples of successful donation campaigns, like kottke.org from 2005 (it should be noted that he began selling advertising the following year).

But donations don't work for most bloggers. And they never work for business.

Unless you are a charity, donations are not a viable business model.

Once readers see that you're selling ads or a product (which you should be doing) they won't feel very compelled to donate to you.

While a donation button might create a little income, it will be nothing compared to other monetization methods: like affiliate marketing or pay-per-click ads.

Now It's Your Turn

What has been your experience with a donate button? Do you still have one? Would you consider adding one?


Hi, I'm the Author!

Bryan Haines is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is co-founder of Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Bryan also runs two authority blogs with his wife, Dena: ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorials) and GringosAbroad (Ecuador travel).

31 comments… add one
  • chris Jul 29, 2016, 9:16 am

    So here is a question. How would you monetize a mixed-subject, personal blog that is centered around the content and designed for reading, so there really isn’t space design-wise for advertisements? (sidebars and adverts detract from engagement on content-driven sites)

  • Titus Kamau Jul 5, 2016, 5:44 pm

    I have a PayPal donation button on my blog which is marahiyohiyo.com but has never received even 1 buck.

  • john May 22, 2015, 7:12 pm

    Very interesting Post and mixed comments on donate buttons , in the UK we would use the “Marmite” analogy either you love or hate it (yeast extract spread), completely agree with you if your running a blog as a business then you shouldnt use donate button, as you say exception if your running a non profit charity business, or hobbiest,
    I have even seen a “buy me a gift” donation (amazon gift list) button

    Monetizing website using affiliate advertising and google adsense better for a professional feel to blogging if done correctly
    However I can’t easily see or find your FTC disclaimer compliance (https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-revised-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking ) or cookie policy , terms and conditions which may result in lost affilates payouts for you as many of the affialate companies require you to comply to the laws and regualtions

  • Corinna May 15, 2015, 6:26 pm

    Hmm I don’t know that I necessarily agree that it’s going to hurt someone’s blog, but I understand how there was and still could be confusion surrounding a donation. I’ve never had a donation button but I’m going to implement one and see what, if anything, happens and whether there’s a positive, negative, or no impact from it. It’s funny that so many were willing to personally take you out and while I’d be alarmed at the thought of strangers wanting to buy something for me, it’s probably a great feeling to know so many people wanted to help you out in any small way.

  • Pique Dan Mar 15, 2015, 12:57 pm

    Now I see why people wanted to donate to your blog.

  • Jason Ellis Oct 31, 2014, 10:05 am

    Yes, I agree with this. Why not just a specific product instead of asking a donation.

  • Gigi Oct 11, 2014, 10:51 am


    I don’t personally have a donate button, but they don’t bother me at all when I see them on blogger sites. And, in fact, I think I’d be happy to have a way to send a few bucks someone’s way if they really helped me out with their content. Sometimes a person’s product or service isn’t right for me and/or they don’t have one yet. It wouldn’t hurt credibility in my eyes at all if someone had a buy me a coffee button.

    I can see your point, but I think the homeless comparison is a bit of a reach. Especially if someone is just running their blog because they love doing it and they aren’t planning to become a big business or run ads.

    • Bryan Haines Oct 11, 2014, 1:11 pm

      I understand your point.

      But you missed a key factor: the post about a business blog. Running a hobby blog and asking for help to cover hosting costs is okay. But if you re-read the article, you’ll see it’s about a donate button on a business blog. A blog that should be offering a product or service. Donations in that context are out of place.

      While a donate button on a personal blog is fine – it shouldn’t be considered a business model.

      • Gilbert Jan 17, 2015, 10:16 am

        Halo Bryan the first reading of your message almost made me banish the donate button from my blog. Reading it again I am encouraged to leave it there. I was wondering if you can donate the green cup image so that I can use it to customize the button http://wherethereisway.blogspot.com

        • Bryan Haines Jan 20, 2015, 11:59 am

          Donate buttons certainly work for some types of blogs. The image is a purchased stock photo. I can’t give you the rights to it because I don’t own them – but you can purchase one from a stock site.

  • Bjørk Oct 5, 2014, 10:13 am


    Thanks bunches for this post. I´m re-building the look of my blog, and thought about the donate butto, so just made a search and found you´r post. And you´r so right – thanks again

  • chris lee Sep 10, 2014, 1:13 am

    I have a website which is http://www.auhouseprices.com I put a “buy me a coffee” button in my website, and I received about $50 per month.

    After I read your article, I decided to remove this button, I think you are correct, I should not put this kind of button in my site. ^_^

  • Bradley Sep 6, 2014, 4:47 am

    Hey Bryan, great post, thanks. I was contemplating a donate button instead of ads and found what they’ve done over at http://www.brainpickings.org/ quite interesting. They pitch donations as becoming a patron or member. Must be working as they’re a PR7 site with no ads (maybe a couple of affiliate links). I’ve recently re-skinned my site and am looking for a new model. Thanks again and all the best to you and your family!

    • Bryan Haines Sep 6, 2014, 5:13 pm

      It’s true that some sites can make it work. But there aren’t many. And it takes a certain type of community to pull it off.

      I think from a business perspective, it’s better to create a product and sell it.

    • Ron Ernie May 22, 2016, 5:58 pm

      Brian, I agree with you mainly because business is business. I am a pc repair tech and I do not know when the last time one of my invoices read on the bottom line, ‘donate what you can’ rather than the actual bottom line charges.

      That said, I have a donate button on my website because along with the standard news aggregate content, I always throw in tips on computing and fixing weird problems. I get a lot of happy responses and re reads of those types of posts and offers to send money. I just say. Donate if you are a happy camper. I never charge for tips. The donate button serves me to know I helped someone and that they were appreciative.

      From a business sense though (my blog is a great hobby) I am thinking of opening a great “HOW TO” site with all great knowledge for subscribers and a fair fee. That is because the only donations I have gotten with the donate button was from folks who thought what I gave out to them was worth monetizing.

      Thanks for your input into this interesting subject.


  • Tim Bonner Aug 17, 2014, 7:22 am

    Hey Bryan

    I was tempted to use a donate button on my blog when I first started out but came to the same conclusions as you in this article.

    I also read that PayPal are less than keen on people using the donate button for anything other than fundraising for good causes. In some cases they’ll even close an account if they believe it’s not being used for the right reasons.

    • Bryan Haines Aug 17, 2014, 3:55 pm

      Thanks Tim – I didn’t know that, but it does make sense.

  • Rafael Jul 16, 2014, 2:45 pm

    OK, I got it! But what is the difference between;

    1) Asking (or begging) for a donation, with the PayPal button.
    2) Adding all sorts of adds on your website (like yours).

    BTW, I don’t have a blog but I write Perl/CGI software for free and people can download it.

    • Bryan Haines Jul 16, 2014, 2:52 pm

      The ads (if done correctly) add value by offering relevant services to the readers. The donate button offers no value to the reader – it only works on the hope that they will feel indebted enough for the content they consumed to give a few dollars.

      It’s interesting to note that tiny blogs with no readers have donate buttons. Sites with traffic almost never use them.

      • Rafael Jul 16, 2014, 3:54 pm

        I (probably) agree with the PayPal donation button. However, I disagree with your comment concerning: “add value by offering relevant services to the readers”, I don’t like ads on TV and certainly not on a website and I hate it when people are using it within YouTube.

        But that’s my personal opinion about ads.

        Greetings from The Netherlands.

        • Bryan Haines Jul 16, 2014, 6:34 pm

          Do you favor a subscription model? Would you pay to access the sites you visit?

          • Luke Oct 9, 2014, 3:12 pm

            I think he favors a donation model, whereby the content is free unless he decides he wants to pay.

            • Bryan Haines Oct 10, 2014, 7:25 pm

              Some people want everything for free – never paying or being exposed to an advertisement. Unfortunately, things don’t work that way.

  • Hansjörg Leichsenring Jul 16, 2014, 9:23 am

    I think you are right. “Donations” are the wrong way. The question still remains: Is there a direct way to monitize the Content by taking Money from the Readers and which is the best way to do so


    is it just the case, that Internet Content is “free” and will be free forever???

    Cheers from Germany


    • Bryan Haines Jul 16, 2014, 2:54 pm

      That’s a good question Hansjörg.

      You could turn your content into a membership site – that only subscribers can access. Most commonly, bloggers create products (available by download) to sell to their readers.

      • Hansjörg Leichsenring Jul 17, 2014, 8:45 am

        Both are Options I) am thinking about.

        “Products” is the easy part. if you can’t sell them, well, OK you have learned another lesson of life.

        But to initiate a Membership site (or part of a blog) is not that easy, because there is not really a way back without loosing.

        Any experience on the second Option?

  • Jay Lickus Apr 1, 2014, 9:43 am

    I have had a donation button on my website for almost 6 months and not a single donation has come through. I feel that the service I am providing and the amount of work and time invested is well worth asking for financial support from my followers. My blog is my job. Eventually, I will have to make money from it. I have donated in the past to sites I consider worthy. Thanks for your insights and advice.

    • Bryan Haines Apr 1, 2014, 9:50 am

      There is no question that you should be paid for your hard work. But as you’ve seen, a donate button isn’t the best option.

      Have you considered any of these monetization models?

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