Fundraising update September 3, 2021 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Fundraising updates now that August is over: we're up about $1100/mo in new recurring monthly subscription income from where we started at the start of the month. We've also received a few thousand dollars in additional one-time donations from site members and readers. And, as an extremely generous cherry on top, we also recieved a $15,000 donation from long-time nerd and friend of the site Jeff Atwood.

Jeff's name will be familiar to some folks for one or another reason; he's written the blog Coding Horror since the mid-2000s, was one of the founders of the original Stack Overflow, and in more recent years has been developing the Discourse discussion software that runs under a lot of contemporary forums and discussion sites. (In a counterfactual world where we were spinning up MeFi today instead of 1999, there's a very good chance that it'd be a Discourse base rather than the beloved-but-eldritch mathowie-built home-rolled ColdFusion artifact we have.)

Jeff didn't ask for a post or anything, he just likes MetaFilter a lot and was inclined and able to directly support our little corner of the independent web. But I like the stuff he does and I felt like it'd be appropriate to shout out such a generous contribution to MetaFilter's continued operation. So, thanks Jeff. You're a mensch, thanks for believing in what we do here.

And, bringing it back around, thank you everybody, for every bit of new monthly support and and one-time donation, and for spreading the word. We've got a long way to go to get to the $6000/mo new revenue target we started this month with, but this is a significant step in the right direction for us, revenue-wise, and will give us the flexibility to continue planning for the future and, if at all possible, scale moderation hours back up to full-time coverage in the future.
posted by cortex (staff) to Uptime at 3:24 PM (35 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

Great news. Discourse is quite brilliant, IMO.
posted by signal at 5:45 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Hip Hip Hooray!!!
posted by kathrynm at 8:52 PM on September 3


Yay! Also, will this be depicted in croutons?
posted by mochapickle at 9:02 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Thank you, Jeff!
posted by Sparky Buttons at 9:26 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


I'm a maniac maniac for sure and I'm wooting like I never wooted before.
posted by vrakatar at 10:26 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Ultrasatan.
posted by ardgedee at 3:57 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


And yes, a huge +1 to Jeff and all who were able to chip in this month. Long live metafilter!
posted by mochapickle at 6:46 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


You were going for 6000/mo and got 1100/mo...

Sounds like the fundraising drive needs to continue, really. Maybe some different strategies? I'm sure there are some who are on MeFi who have experience with this who can offer council.
posted by hippybear at 1:24 PM on September 4 [8 favorites]


Discourse is my favorite forum software and I appreciate that it's open source. It's such high quality that my favorite Python web framework Django uses it in their own forums, even though there isn't any Python used to write the Discourse software (at least to my knowledge.) Thank you Jeff!
posted by mundo at 1:33 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Sounds like the fundraising drive needs to continue, really.

Yep, it's absolutely a given that we will continue to work on this; MeFi is never gonna be able to rest on its laurels financially. Just clearly delineating that we did an August push, and we made it through August, and this is the positive progress we made.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:37 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


Thanks, Jeff!!!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 1:50 PM on September 4


Thanks Jeff! (Jeff also is connected to the creation of the WASD CODE keyboards, of which I have.. several. More than I should admit to owning really). So he gets bonus points for that too.
posted by Alterscape at 3:28 PM on September 4


Thanks Jeff, and thanks for the update Cortex. I've been feeling sad for not stepping up my monthly amount but our fucking texas governor cut off our unemployment benefits in June and I haven't got any income yet. But as soon as I do I'll increase my widow's mite a bit. MF gives me so much happiness!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:36 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


[Kind of fundraising adjacent:] Can we add a link to current merch in the footer or somewhere easily accessible? Also is there a MF hat/cap available for purchase anywhere?

Thank you Jeff!
posted by youarenothere at 8:10 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there are some who are on MeFi who have experience with this who can offer council.

This made me smile, because I've seen so many many "you're doing it wrong" MetaTalk comments about the business end of the site.
posted by JanetLand at 9:28 AM on September 5 [4 favorites]


There are dozens of people in the network who do this professionally, but I suspect most are totally burned out on offering help because past offers have never been taken seriously.
posted by Miko at 10:16 AM on September 5 [19 favorites]


Here's a question: My boss got me a new phone last month, and I have not logged into the site on said new phone, so I can see the ads non-members see. Does that help fund the site or would I need to click on those ads for it to matter?
posted by vrakatar at 12:56 PM on September 5


Most ads at this point (including the Adsense stuff you see on MeFi) is click-based rather than view based, so staying logged out just to passively have those ads doesn't do anything, yeah.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:55 PM on September 5


The July 2019 'site's in trouble' thread was tremendously large in size, but had a pretty high signal-noise ratio in those 1000+ comments.

After the prior year's financial support, to hear money was still needed, people raised expressions of concerns and offers of help, but this time, they were more focused on offers of non-financial expertise help and a lot of brainstorming.

Help was even offered in combing through that huge thread (a high-cognitive task, to be sure) to work out who was offering what.

It didn't seem to really go anywhere.

It seems like there's no attempt to change ways of doing things. Attempts to brainstorm are written off - as seen above in this very thread - as people telling the site how to do their business.

But, to be honest, I think in these circumstances, that's entirely acceptable. Metafilter is a non-profit requesting contributions, no? The fact that sites like CharityNavigator exist show how much people value transparency in their giving. And, moreover, this is a site whose value almost entirely comes from the contributions to it. Metafilter, Ask Metafilter, Fanfare - without the posts and replies of its contributors, you've simply got the janky ColdFusion framework running the site. The moderation has changed somewhat. I am not making a comment either positive or negative on its quality, but I'll borrow from Wandavision and the Ship of Theseus: if you replace every plank of a ship, is it the same ship? This isn't the same moderation as the site was born on, so its value is now different. Not better, not worse, but a different thing, its value to be assessed anew and on its own merits as something different.

So if you're asking those same content contributors for financial contributions on an ongoing basis simply to keep the lights on, those people who pump the content blood into the website have a right to offer advice on how best to keep those lights on, especially if it's offered in a constructive sense.

When that bell was first rung, they responded with great enthusiasm, and were given -- IMO -- a deafening silence in return. Two of the most popular suggestions about directing traffic to the site yielded nothing: years after the 'financially in trouble' bell was first rung, Metafilter still has no social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, in an environment where these things can be easily mirrored, even by commercial software if necessary (Buffer, Zapier, as well as other RSS-to-social-media software).

Ask Metafilter - it not being mirrored is perhaps understandable given some of the privacy needs. But Metafilter? Fanfare? These could find whole new audiences on Tumblr, etc. Even TikTok might be a place to gather in the youngest presence if someone was willing to do some daily or biweekly video work for a 15- or 30-second clip. And if you think that's not doable with purely textual content, they're doing it with Reddit already ...

And people have often said they'd love to have an official Metafilter app on their phone - not just for the purpose of a Metafilter app but many mentioned it explicitly as a way of fundraising. That could at least initially be done by volunteer coders making up a web wrapper. Yes, you can achieve the same effect by saving it to a home screen using Chrome, Firefox. That doesn't bring any needed money to Metafilter, though. App stores take their pound of flesh, but wouldn't it also bring in some small fraction of new traffic, especially with those who see PWAs as second-class citizens and live on their smarpthones and tablets?

I think frankly there is a reason why only 16% of the monthly fundraising target was reached -- and that is that there's been both no change in strategy and no indication from the leadership that a change in strategy will even be considered.

I also frankly was a little surprised that the site chose to assume a new $6,000 annual expense in honoraria (10 members x $50 x 12 monthly meetings, although perhaps that was an aspirational goal, as minutes haven't been posted since April) when simultaneously stating it was in financial troubles. (My occupation is one in which I am exposed to the makeup of many non-profit boards. It is not that unusual for board members to volunteer their time pro bono.)

I think people's willingness to donate time, effort, and love -- in addition to money -- is part of an emotional transaction with this site, but I do think that the site is not really returning its part of that emotional transaction any longer. It feels, to me, as if it's a friend that won't do anything to change the behavior that put them in the hole they're in. If your friend isn't listening to you, won't let you help, you begin to distance yourself from that friend. I think that's why some of the older users have left.

And I think that's why you've seen a decrease in the robustness of the response to your newer fundraising campaigns (as opposed to, say, the fundraising requested in the State of the Site 2018 post, or prior fundraisers).
posted by WCityMike2 at 7:58 PM on September 5 [20 favorites]


Metafilter is a non-profit requesting contributions, no?

Point of clarity: MetaFilter is not a nonprofit, no. It is a for-profit business.

The reason the BIPOC board had honoraria is that it’s basic bad form to ask people of color to work for free to end their own oppression. But I agree that it’s obviously not been a functioning group so the expenditures are likely running lower.
posted by Miko at 9:26 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


While Metafilter's not a legal nonprofit, true, I do think its main intent over the years -- domestic corporation or no -- is "a collective, public or social benefit, in contrast with an entity that operates as a business aiming to generate a profit for its owners."

My concern with that particular point was more about the decision to, while being in the site's current financial circumstances, add a new monthly expense that, were it in its ideal incarnation, would've been a new $6000/yr. cost. (It does seem that practically, if honoraria are linked to actual appearance, it'll have only cost about $750 so far.)

And overall, more important in that comment is the ongoing trend of there having been no change of direction in the two years since that thread, even on some of the easiest-to-implement suggestions -- nor any adoption of the many, many, many offers to help at that time -- and that being an explanation for the lack of fundraising -- a loss of heart since that time.
posted by WCityMike2 at 9:57 PM on September 5


Yes, I agree that focus of your comment is more important. I just noted it as a point of clarity because there should be no confusion that MeFi is a private entity and is not required to report its financials as a nonprofit would be.
posted by Miko at 7:44 AM on September 6 [6 favorites]


Metafilter still has no social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, in an environment where these things can be easily mirrored, even by commercial software if necessary (Buffer, Zapier, as well as other RSS-to-social-media software).

Does the active membership actually want new people from those platforms (or TikTok)? For example, people complain about long videos in posts and that's an online trend that's at least a few years old. It's a very calcified culture, I can't imagine Metafilter dealing well at all with a younger audience (and I don't even mean teenagers, mefi skews old) suddenly joining the site. And that's not even considering the paywall and the screen-long sign up page which are unsurmountable for casual engagement.

And Mefi doesn't even want casual engagement, people want high effort posting all the time for everything. But only about specific things but we won't tell them what those things are, why didn't they read the hundreds of posts in MetaTalk before posting? Oh no, why are they leaving.
posted by simmering octagon at 8:19 AM on September 6 [5 favorites]


> people want high effort posting all the time for everything

That's a weird thing to say. I've been here for ages, none of my FPPs have been more than about seven words long, my AskMes are all trivial, and I've always felt welcome here. Some of us like the shallow end, some like the deep; there's room for everyone.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:42 AM on September 6 [24 favorites]


I've been here for ages

If you have been here long enough you know the hostility doesn't really matter or don't even notice it. I certainly feel no shame about making single link posts about things that interest me but that's because I've been visiting MeFi for almost 15 years. New people would just see long-time users complaining about the framing, or that it was a link to the NYT or that it was too long and then never try again.

All the advantages that MeFi has compared to other sites are only realized when you're a lurker or a long time member. What do we offer to new posters? Why tough it out when there are other sites and communities more newbie friendly, probably more private and safer? And that's only after getting over the paywall.
posted by simmering octagon at 11:17 AM on September 6 [4 favorites]


I'm sure you can find posts with those complaints, but they're a tiny fraction of the overall posts and a barely countable percentage of the comments. The paywall is $5 and is less of a hassle than some Facebook groups I've joined. I'll take your word on it that you've found other sites that are more newbie friendly and safer; I haven't. As far as "private" goes, I guess being able to use a new username every day on Reddit makes that more private.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:56 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


I've been here for 21 years, I was one of the most prolific FPP posters last year, and I still find it a bit nerve-wracking to post, lest I attract the wrath of other users.

I agree that the complaints are a small fraction of all comments but even if they don't bother some, they do bother me – and plenty of other posters, judging by the Metatalk thread I posted about it.
posted by adrianhon at 2:52 PM on September 6 [21 favorites]


Also, it is very cool that Jeff donated! I know that Metafilter isn't likely to move to Discourse any time soon, if ever, but I think it would solve a bunch of short-term and long-term problems. I can hope!
posted by adrianhon at 2:55 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]


Does the active membership actually want new people from those platforms (or TikTok)? For example, people complain about long videos in posts and that's an online trend that's at least a few years old. It's a very calcified culture, I can't imagine Metafilter dealing well at all with a younger audience

Speaking for myself: Yes - I want plenty of young, diverse members. The biggest value of Metafilter to me is that it lets me hear voices and experiences I wouldn't otherwise; that I get exposed to new opinions, trends, cultural stuff, etc. by people who are personally involved in or connected to them rather than in some "here's what the young people are doing/thinking/saying today" lifestyle article in a newspaper or whatever written belatedly by an outside observer. People talk about the importance of new members for keeping MF alive financially, and this is definitely true, but more than that they're important for keeping MF vital and connected. A site that's only people my age and older is going to be less and less worth looking at the older I get.

While Metafilter's not a legal nonprofit, true, I do think its main intent over the years -- domestic corporation or no -- is "a collective, public or social benefit, in contrast with an entity that operates as a business aiming to generate a profit for its owners."

Honestly my feeling these past few years - and especially since the "we're too tired to actually read the MetaTalk threads where you guys are all pouring your hearts out about the site, we don't really want your feedback" development - is that the main intent is for MF to be a lifestyle business, the kind that you don't get rich from but that the current mods can live off and have fun with. Which is extremely understandable, but when it outweighs the "collective, public or social benefit" part, the benefit for users isn't sustained, and the site's value fades.

Anyway: has there been any discussion about using a part of the funds raised to hire a fundraising consultant? I can understand being wary of working with member volunteers on things that involve the direction of the site, because there's a potential for some sticky dynamics to develop that way. But maybe hiring a professional would be doable/worthwhile.
posted by trig at 3:11 PM on September 6 [23 favorites]


An auto-posting Twitter presence for new FPPs would be good - especially since many posts reference topics or, indeed, specific articles that are being discussed in the overall milieu. I'm not sure why the worry over the introduction of users from there (or Reddit for that matter). We have mods and a community so at worst that feels like a few free 5 buck friends, some obnoxious comments until those users catch up or self-select out, and overall a growing and more diverse community. Though that is probably a non-trivial coding challenge as you couldn't just belch up a new Twitter post for every link in a FPP. I mean, good on Jeff for the money but it seems like new users has got to be a priority. Or a billionaire\millionaire pal who could kick down enough for a site trust fund. Wishful thinking that
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 6:11 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]


Also, I don't know why I thought this was a non-profit either but I did
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 6:15 PM on September 7


What I find most interesting about this discussion is the (understandable) assumption of several posters that Metafilter already is a nonprofit. It isn't, of course, but I'd think that Metafilter would be a very nice fit as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. If operating a lifestyle business is the goal, nothing about being the head of a nonprofit would preclude cortex from paying himself a salary, and all the mods and frimble could of course receive salaries as well. Perhaps I'm naive, but I'd think the site's mission and ethos would be suitable to securing some sort of tax exempt status from the IRS. Fundraising for an entity that can accept tax-deductible donations is obviously easier than doing so for a for-profit entity. I don't know Jeff Atwood from Adam, but I'm grateful and impressed that he made his $15,000 gift. (Thanks, Jeff!) If he could've made that gift, or a larger one, and also received a charitable income tax deduction, surely that would've appealed to him, right? And to many other users and/or fans of the site?

Defector recently featured an interesting and informative post about its one-year anniversary as a worker-owned media company. They're admirably transparent about how they spent the $3.2 million in revenue they brought in. The majority of their subscribers, myself included, pay $119 annually for the privilege of reading and commenting. It's a fair deal. I know there are a lot of differences between a media company like Defector and Metafilter, not the least of which is this site's (admirable, in my opinion) commitment to including those without the means to afford monthly or annual subscriptions. It seems to me, though, that the Defector model is what the owner(s) of a thoughtful for-profit company who have ambitions to run a lifestyle business might choose, whereas Metafilter might be a better fit for a nonprofit model. As trig astutely suggests, why not retain a fundraising consultant to explore the possibilities?
posted by cheapskatebay at 1:14 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


Is there a way to donate anonymously?
posted by bendy at 7:00 PM on September 9


I'd think that Metafilter would be a very nice fit as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit

In case you didn't read it, some comments in the July site update included links to Autostraddle explaining why they haven't become a non-profit and there was also some discussion about how their model compares to Metafilter's situation.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 5:14 AM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Speaking for myself: Yes - I want plenty of young, diverse members.

Me, too. Which is why my now-lapsed monthly contributions (sorry, cortex, will get those going again soon) were earmarked for the BIPOC board honoraria because we have collectively chased away too many people of color already, never mind folks who are trans and/or marginalized in other ways.

This place used to be matt's baby. Now it's cortex's baby. I feel a certain sense of ownership in it but I know that happens to be a feeling rather than a fact. I will never get to decide what happens to or with MF, but I can share my opinion. Like, we need to keep paying the BIPOC board members and golly, I hope there is progress on that front. Also, I really like the recent (ish) change in the moderator comments format. Hugs to anyone who wants 'em and thanks for being here.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:44 AM on September 10 [6 favorites]


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