Urgent Site Fundraising Appeal: Who is Responsible for the Banner? November 8, 2022 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Over the last few days, there have been numerous comments on the Gray, the Blue, the Green, and on MetafilterMeta on Reddit asking why the fundraising banner in the Metafilter menubar isn't communicating the site's fundraising needs both more urgently and more noticeably. It's well-known that not everyone reads the Gray. That means that non-Gray readers, which includes long-time lurkers and friends of the site, are not being well-served here. Who has control over the banner, and why isn't this a priority?

As numerous people have commented, when Wikipedia puts its fundraising banner up, you can't miss it: It is big, it is obnoxious, the most noticeable version is bright yellow, and it always includes a dire urgent appeal, with links, and multiple giving options. (To all appearances, WIkipedia's fundraising banner is currently triggered by a second site search. Thus, it did not open when I searched for Fundraising, but it did appear when I then searched for Crowdfunding.) Why can't Metafilter create its own version of Wikipedia's fundraising appeal today?

Keeping in mind the Metafilter site likely has technical limitations that precludes some of those niceties, I still don't understand why:
  • The current banner doesn't include a link to a detailed summary of Metafilter's current dire budget shortfall, fundraising needs, and options for giving. As nice as the auction is, it only offers one giving option, rather than many. More importantly, it does not communicate just how depleted the site's operating reserves are.
  • Who is responsible for this? Is this something the SC can jumpstart? What about the mods? Jessamyn? Frimble?
  • Why no SC member—or delegated volunteer—isn't assigned to post on all the main sites and subsites (in the tradition of Brandon Blatcher during the sitewide survey) to ensure that as many users as possible are apprised of the urgent state of the site's finances?


——
Note this question was also posted on Ask.Metafilter because clear, effective high visibility messaging is fundamental to any fundraising drive, particularly one that was triggered by a crisis-level financial shortfall.
posted by Violet Blue to MetaFilter-Related at 11:43 AM (78 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Going to repeat my suggestion: a single page that briefly outlines the current financial situation with all the available donation options, link to the auction, and some kind of progress bar. Right now there’s a mess of MeTas and it’s difficult to keep track of what’s what, plus it would be nice to have one page to send out to people that may be interested in donating.
posted by Diskeater at 11:58 AM on November 8 [20 favorites]


RE: @Diskeater's comment — Elsewhere, I saw someone suggest Metafilter create a satellite site on a code- or WYSIWYG-friendly platform, as a possibly quicker, easier approach—and then that could be linked in the Banner.
posted by Violet Blue at 12:08 PM on November 8 [4 favorites]


To reiterate what I said in the AskMe post:
Hi! I'm on MeFi literally every day. I'm active enough on FF that I've made something like a fifth of all the movie posts there ever. I had no idea the financial situation was this bad until I read [the post on Ask] as I only check the gray sporadically. I just doubled my monthly contribution and sent a one-time donation to boot.

I'm also now taking very seriously a proposal aielen had sent to me to do a fundraising event on FF. It was interesting before, but now it feels like the least I can do and I am absolutely compelled.

And again, I did not previously grok how bad the financial hole was.

[The post on Ask] was useful, at least to me.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:26 PM on November 8 [6 favorites]


Folks on the other post were calling for--in this limited, dire case-- a banner of the size and style seen on Wikipedia that makes clear that the current campaign isn't just regularly fundraising or just the enthusiasm of refreshed leadership, we're well beyond the normal fund-raising in terms of urgency.

Many folks (myself included) were not aware.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:29 PM on November 8 [10 favorites]


I like the big banner idea.

Also: I am asked daily for money by various organizations. Many of them claim -- and have claimed for years -- that they "need money to keep the lights on," or "are on the verge of going broke," or say things like "if you don't donate today, democracy is dead." Sometimes these statements are true, and sometimes they are not. As a result, I have become mostly numb to funding requests, even from people and organizations I value.

My general fundraising radar, such as it is, perceives the current state of MetaFilter as "trying harder than usual to raise money." If the situation is dire, that is not being telegraphed in the way that I usually see "dire" telegraphed.

Is there, somewhere on the site, a brief summary of what the situation is? Not a 2-20,000-word policy post or discussion thread -- a paragraph or two. I understand if there is not, but I wanted to ask. If the answer is "no" or "not yet," perhaps the suggested banner would be the place.
posted by cupcakeninja at 1:59 PM on November 8 [11 favorites]


Cupcakeninja, I've copied and pasted the most pertinent sentences out of the very first thread, Metafilter Wants You. That's where you can go if the following is too abbreviated.

In the past 18 months, Metafilter has spent $57k more than it has taken in. Each month saw expenses exceed revenue. . . .the site's cash reserves were siphoned to make up the shortfall. There is no longer enough money in Metafilter’s savings to cover these ongoing shortfalls.

Monthly operating expenses are currently about $20k per month, based on September 2022’s expenses.

Average monthly income from recurring donations, the main source of Metafilter’s income, is currently estimated at $14k/month.

Survive - $7,000 / month in new or increased recurring contributions and revenue doesn’t give the site much breathing room in the budget or extra capacity to take on any new projects to improve the site, but we will be paying our bills month to month. This scenario has a total monthly budget of $20.7k, which is slightly higher than our September 2022 expenditure of $20k as it includes delayed payments and essential tools which are not included in the September accounts.

One-time donations would primarily be held to cover the inevitable drop in recurring donations as the year goes on to ensure budgets are maintained year-round and to pay one-time expenses that are not otherwise budgeted for.


This is the explanation cut to the bone and it's alarming. There are answers to all your questions about how we got here, and discussions of what comes next, but I totally agree, this long first post and the subsequent discussion on the gray can be overwhelming so I hope this helps.

I've been encouraged by the outpouring of support for this site and I think we can save it, but we have to act. Many members are suggesting thinking of what Metafilter is worth to you and comparing it to other subscription services like Prime or Netflix and supporting accordingly.

I'm so glad you finally got the word!
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 2:43 PM on November 8 [8 favorites]


Thank you, probably not that Karen Blair!
posted by cupcakeninja at 2:48 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]


Anyone who wants to can, it seems, make fundraising posts. I have, NotLost has, someone put a plug for the fundraiser in the "more inside" part of their question. Maybe it can be the next potato fad.
posted by aniola at 2:55 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]




This is my personal interpretation of the significance of this fundraiser: between the immediate financial crunch and the new owner/management, this particular fundraising drive (both the actual funds and the surrounding conversations) will have an outsized impact on what Metafilter is in the future.

I have no idea what technical issues might exist with the banner, but from reading the other threads, some things that you might expect a website to have - like, the ability to send an email to everyone with an account - are not currently functional. I think the Steering Committee is doing their best here, but am very grateful for the MeFites who thought there was an information gap and decided to start sounding alarms.
posted by mersen at 4:40 PM on November 8 [9 favorites]


I am deeply grateful for the SC and do not envy their position, but count me in as someone who is mystified by the friendly little auction banner. I think the SC have explained the situation very thoroughly in various posts, but they need to explain it succinctly and urgently in a single prominent location across all sites.
posted by Mavri at 5:09 PM on November 8 [9 favorites]


Under the Survive Scenario that's 700 people signing up for a $10/month subscription; Revive that's 1300 people; Thrive that 2900 people.

It's helpful to break those numbers down for folks and give regular updates (in a banner) - Need 500 more subscribers, 250 more, 50 more, etc.

How many people commented or posted or asked a question in the past month? What percentage of that number would need to become a subscriber to meet the various scenario goals?
posted by brookeb at 5:12 PM on November 8 [6 favorites]


The messaging is way, way too soft. It simply is. If the banner is a PITA to update, keep it simple:

MetaFilter will run out of money in 5 weeks. Contribute now.

Or similar. This is the time for a direct call to action. No fluff.
posted by hijinx at 5:40 PM on November 8 [31 favorites]


the auction post on the front page has two comments on it, one of which is by me.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:13 PM on November 8


Just as a data point, I signed up for a monthly contribution on October 25. (Count me as one who had absolutely no idea the financial situation here was so dire.) I happened to notice after I signed up that the message at the bottom of the screen was "Join 6969 readers in helping fund MetaFilter." Cause, you know, "nice", ha ha. That number is now 7467. So since October 25, almost 500 people have signed up to give something. That number at the bottom of the screen seems to update itself automatically (I think? or is someone manually updating it?) In any event, that could be a number to put in the top-of-screen fundraising banner to give people a sense of progress.

The fundraising appeal needs to be much louder, IMO. It should be at least as obtrusive as an NPR pledge drive. Post a link in every thread? If there's a big longboat thread like for US Election Night, post a link every 100 comments? For sure a great big banner at the top.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:28 PM on November 8 [11 favorites]


If this is a case that the current SC is doing the best they can with their resources and volunteers, maybe there could be a new urgent emergency task volunteer committee for the next two weeks?
posted by yueliang at 6:54 PM on November 8


Help fund MeFi!
We rely on reader and community funding to operate. Your voluntary subscription can help sustain the site.


This is the current sidebar, which has no indication there's any urgency at all to MeFi funding.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:01 PM on November 8 [6 favorites]


Hey, this is Kim from the Steering Committee - thank you for posting about this. Yes, it is frustrating that we can't easily make these very important things happen quickly and they're things that I (me, Kim, personally) wish we could have had figured out before we had to launch the fundraiser.

I'm going to take this back to the Steering Committee Zulip (our team platform) and see what we can get rolling. The sidebar text should be easiest to get changed.

Thank you.
posted by kimberussell at 7:49 PM on November 8 [11 favorites]


Something I didn't see mentioned above -- even the Donate page, which is linked from the sidebar, doesn't convey any sense of urgency. Adding one line at the top about it would at least be something.

Also, despite having all of my adblock and everything turned off for MetaFilter, I'm not even seeing a banner. Am I doing something wrong?
posted by tubedogg at 8:33 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


aielen from the Steering Committee here...

yueliang:
We've been regularly onboarding the available volunteers that we can accommodate for this fundraising drive. If anyone is available to volunteer for this fundraising drive but has not yet filled out our contributor form - we would be glad to receive your form submission.

We have had a lot of offers to work on code/UX, but unfortunately have been limited in our ability to onboard code/UX-related volunteers during this time (lazaruslong explained a bit more about this previously).

Right now, we are more able to onboard non-code/non-UX volunteers - so if anyone has regular availability for this month (and hopefully 1-2 months beyond), and skillsets that would be useful to the fundraising drive in an immediate capacity (e.g. writing, communications/liaising, graphic design), please consider reaching out.
posted by aielen at 9:00 PM on November 8 [4 favorites]


At very least we could change the background colour on that HELP MEFI sidebar to something loud and conspicuous. That's not even making something new, just updating the stylesheet, no??
posted by emeiji at 9:41 PM on November 8


No but seriously, why the heck isn’t there a Wikipedia-style banner already? It’s been a week, y’all, for something that should take a couple hours (the technical parts, at least). What the heck is going on?

- Is it not a priority for the SC?
- Are you unable to agree on what it should say/what it should look like?
- Has Jessamyn vetoed the idea?
- Does nobody have the technical skill or required level of access to make the change?
- Is the site so incredibly brittle that everyone’s afraid to make the change?
- Is the fundraiser going so well that you don’t think you need this but just nobody’s communicating that to the membership?
- Has the SC decided the current level of notification is all they want to do, but nobody wants to say “no”?

The SC has talked a bunch about transparency; I’d really like some here. What the actual fuck is going on?

If it takes the current leadership structure over a week to do something this simple (or say no to it), how in the world are we supposed to trust y’all with the incalculably-more-difficult changes and decisions to come?
posted by dorothy hawk at 10:11 PM on November 8 [8 favorites]


aielen from the Steering Committee here -

dorothy hawk:

- Is it not a priority for the SC?
It is a priority for the SC.

- Are you unable to agree on what it should say/what it should look like?
Consensus on text/visuals is not the issue.

- Has Jessamyn vetoed the idea?
Jessamyn is in favor of finding ways to bring more attention to the fundraising drive, including working on UX/banner ideas within our current immediate constraints.

- Does nobody have the technical skill or required level of access to make the change?
The skill is available, the level of access has been more challenging.

- Is the site so incredibly brittle that everyone’s afraid to make the change?
We very much want to make changes, and are working to make this happen as much as we can, given current limitations.

- Is the fundraiser going so well that you don’t think you need this but just nobody’s communicating that to the membership?
We are grateful for every contribution and every effort that has come in, and Metafilter does very much need help, change and support. We want to emphasize that we do think we need UX/banner/header changes - being able to get these changes implemented is another issue.

- Has the SC decided the current level of notification is all they want to do, but nobody wants to say “no”?
This is not the case.

For the banner, UX, heading changes: the Steering Committee is working with the tools we have available to us. That includes being able to post on Metafilter like any other member, but with no additional special powers. We can and do request that staff update the banner and the sidebar which we have been doing with each major update in fundraising. We would love to be able to have more control over things like the size of the banner and copy on various parts of the website — the code working group of the Steering Committee is liaising with the admin to make changes like this easier — but that is a slow process, and we do not expect to be able to make a lot of changes for this fundraiser.

This fundraiser was put together within an extremely short period of time, after the SC were alerted to the urgency of the site's financial situation. As kimberussell has mentioned - we would have liked to have a better working structure and plans in place before launching this fundraiser - including the ability to have more control, access and customization regarding the site's pages and display. This has not been an ideal scenario, but we are working to make things better - both in the short run and long run. This fundraising drive in itself is, in many aspects, an immediate, urgent short-term fire that we are trying to navigate without some much-needed foundational tools/access/information that would make the fire-fighting easier. It isn't a situation we've chosen, but it's what has been dealt - and while we work to do as much as we can within the limits of what we have now, we also intend to make sure future SCs have a better foundation and working structure to conduct any subsequent fundraising drives and/or outreach.

We share your frustrations - please know these issues of banner and UX changes are also a priority to us. We are doing our best to find workable solutions within current limitations.
posted by aielen at 11:04 PM on November 8 [36 favorites]


I just heard about metafilter fundraising issues for the first time today on Twitter(!!), and I check the site now and then sporadically. So yeah, needs klaxons going off on all the pages please.
posted by CarolynG at 11:40 PM on November 8 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter will run out of money in 5 weeks. Contribute now.

Is this true? Like, when we're saying that mefi is out of money, what does that actually mean? The coffers are empty and the site is closing at the end of the month? There's enough in the coffers to keep going a month or two?

Like, "we're out of money" can mean so many different things if it isn't strictly literal and other than being told repeatedly that it's urgent, I've not seen an explanation of the scale and immediacy of the problem.

I say this, because vague "no no, really, we're out of money and need your help" is absolutely standard fundraising verbiage, and that seems to be as specific as anyone has been about the problem.

What does "urgent" actually mean to the SC?
posted by Dysk at 1:12 AM on November 9 [4 favorites]


aielen from the SC here -

Dysk:

MetaFilter will run out of money in 5 weeks. Contribute now.

Is this true? Like, when we're saying that mefi is out of money, what does that actually mean? The coffers are empty and the site is closing at the end of the month? There's enough in the coffers to keep going a month or two?

Like, "we're out of money" can mean so many different things if it isn't strictly literal and other than being told repeatedly that it's urgent, I've not seen an explanation of the scale and immediacy of the problem.


That statement was made by someone not from the SC.

These are the posts made by the SC thus far, detailing Metafilter's financial situation and fundraising:

The first fundraising post
The Week 1 update
The financial summary

I hope that helps in filling in the scale and immediacy of the problem, as you mentioned. For answering that especially, the financial summary MeTa might be helpful.
posted by aielen at 2:10 AM on November 9 [4 favorites]


Thank you!
posted by Dysk at 3:36 AM on November 9


Steering Committee: thank you for your continued transparency and clearly evident effort.

Metafilter Staff: where are you? Help us save your jobs?
posted by thoroughburro at 4:45 AM on November 9 [4 favorites]


Thank you, aielen and SC for the updates. Likewise, thank you to Jessamyn, Loup, staff, BIPOC board, and volunteer groups for your labor. Inspired by the summaries here, I went in and read the posts and as much of the financial summary as I could usefully process (primarily the TL;DR).

Something I got from the "What now?" section that resonated was the call for presenters, which was news to me. I have expertise in various fields that people pay to hear, and I would be very happy to offer that at no charge. I will be filling out the form shortly.

Related: has there ever been a MetaFilter Telethon? Webathon? Online performing/spoken arts festival? Many of us have talent in these areas and would be happy to share. I'm assuming the majority of us are amateur-to-modestly-successful, but there are also some Big Names around here.

Please excuse me if that last idea has happened, been suggested, etc., before. I know there would be many kinks to work out, platform issues, etc., and idk if this is useful in the current timeframe. I ask because I had never considered it prior to... 45 minutes ago.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:50 AM on November 9 [2 favorites]


has there ever been a MetaFilter Telethon? Webathon? Online performing/spoken arts festival?

We did that in 2020/2021 over the holidays, actually. It was fun! You can still see the stream on YouTube if you're curious.
posted by restless_nomad (retired) at 5:27 AM on November 9 [3 favorites]


Aielen, thank you for the links, and thank you and all the SC for all the work they're doing.

But to be honest, I've looked through the links, I've read the various Meta posts, and I still struggle to understand just how dire the situation is or isn't.

I think a lot of us are alarmed by this sentence from Metafilter Wants You:
There is no longer enough money in Metafilter’s savings to cover these ongoing shortfalls.
That seems to say that Metafilter is a few weeks away from going bankrupt.

But then the financial summary says this:
These overall numbers don’t look good - $55k of negative profit is cause for concern. At the same time - while these numbers tell a story, they are part of a more nuanced narrative that should be understood in more context and detail.
That seems to say that this needs to be dealt with but Metafilter is not a few weeks away from going bankrupt.

I hate to add more work to the staff and the SC’s considerable burden. But I feel like I, personally, am a single sentence away from understanding the situation. And that sentence is something like "At its current rate of spending, Metafilter is X weeks away from ceasing to function."

I know that it is in the site's DNA to avoid oversimplifications. (Metafilter: A more nuanced narrative should be understood in more context and detail.) If you just feel like you can't give a straightforward "We have X weeks before shutdown," perhaps you could give us a few additional scenarios. Currently, the scenarios in Metafilter Wants You start with the assumption that the site gets the additional $7,000 monthly income it gets to survive. Well, what if the site gets only $5,000 additional per month? $1,000 per month? Nothing additional per month?

Again, I hate to add more work. I haven't said anything before, because I thought it was just me being a little thick. But based on the confusion I keep seeing in threads like this, I think I'm not the only one.
posted by yankeefog at 5:51 AM on November 9 [15 favorites]


Are you able to edit the css file for metafilter, or ONLY the text and link for the banner? If you can edit the css, then the banner class can be set to be noticably bigger with highly visible colours and the text and link can be edited, possibly with unicode characters for visual icon elements. If it's JUST the text and link for the banner, you can still use local style coding to make the font bigger and the color more noticable. I have to use an aging system with restrictions on what fields can be uploaded, so that's how I rig up titles etc for text fields.

I suggest:
Funding Crisis - Help needed NOW or MetaFilter will close!

Also the current funding situation page is a wall of text. I can spend a couple of hours tomorrow editing it down to being something people can scan and that links to direct actions to take using some html styling to make it much more structured, if that's helpful.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:57 AM on November 9 [2 favorites]


It’s been a week, y’all…

I don't want to correct you in the sense of "ha ha you're wrong" but more in the sense of "it's even worse than that, if you can believe it": it's been more than two weeks since fund raising quietly started.

I feel bad for criticising those of you who have volunteered and, I'm sure, are giving up more of your time and energy than you predicted. I am grateful. But I'm also bewildered and saddened at all this. It's like watching the 27th COP fix climate change. How close to the site closing do we have to get before someone kicks some arse?
posted by fabius at 5:58 AM on November 9 [4 favorites]


One thing this conversation has made me realize I don't understand is the corporate structure of MeFi. I had assumed somehow that the SC is like a committee of bosses, who have authority over staff. But this conversation makes me think I've had that wrong and the SC should be understood more like a board of directors, which (in a functioning organization) only acts through the executive of the institution. (who is... Jessamyn? That doesn't sound right but I don't know who else it would be. I am clearly missing a trick here.)

Anyway, not to pile on, just adding my voice to say I also didn't understand and maybe still don't understand how dire the situation is, even though I do read the grey!, but I am behind MeFi all the way and am grateful to the MeFites who have been sounding the alarm more widely. Looking forward to today's fundraiser update and hoping for some good news.
posted by eirias at 6:01 AM on November 9 [2 favorites]


[Update: I submitted programming ideas associated with my expertise in research skills; scholarship of horror/weird fiction; presenting creative work.]


I agree with yankeefog. I have been motivated by reading this stuff, but that extra sentence or two would be useful. If the point of no return is three weeks away, in my opinion it is indeed time for the megaphone. If we are there, I suspect that thousands of regular-to-intermittent site users truly do not know. I started reading the gray off and on the last year or two, but if I had not, odds are that MetaFilter would appear to me to be chugging along just like always.
posted by cupcakeninja at 6:24 AM on November 9 [1 favorite]


cupcakeninja:
Related: has there ever been a MetaFilter Telethon? Webathon? Online performing/spoken arts festival? Many of us have talent in these areas and would be happy to share. I'm assuming the majority of us are amateur-to-modestly-successful, but there are also some Big Names around here.

There's an ongoing call for participation in the Metafilter Variety Show - signup form is here.
posted by aielen at 6:28 AM on November 9 [1 favorite]


The reason we haven't been using hooks like "Funding Crisis - Help needed NOW or MetaFilter will close!" is because that isn't the situation that we're in. A lot of people read the financial update and assumed that, based on the (true) information that MetaFilter was extremely close to having $0 in the bank, but we have consistently had revenue coming in.

We haven't been focusing on communicating worst-case plans, since the sort of pessimism that tends to invite is counterproductive. I understand that this is frustrating for some people, but I believe it's the right decision. (We have addressed contingency planning here and here)

There's a week two fundraising update coming sometime today, and we think it will show good progress towards the fundraising goals — we're looking forward to sharing it with you.
posted by wesleyac at 6:31 AM on November 9 [11 favorites]


> the sort of pessimism that tends to invite is counterproductive

Is this unique to Metafilter? Most of the fundraising efforts I’m familiar with have reached the opposite conclusion.
posted by thoroughburro at 6:39 AM on November 9 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the update, wesleyac.

But I think many of us still feel somewhat in the dark about the bottom line. It would help a lot to know how long Metafilter would be able to operate if nothing else changes -- at the same level of funding and without cutting costs.

I hope that information will be included in the next financial update.

We do need to know how worried we should be, in order to decide the urgency of our actions.
posted by NotLost at 6:39 AM on November 9 [5 favorites]


Thank you for the explanation, wesleyac. I am looking forward to the funding update, but am also slightly less pressingly worried.

Likewise, thank you for the link, aielen. I did not know about the existence of the Variety Show.
posted by cupcakeninja at 7:10 AM on November 9


Thanks, wesleyac! That's very helpful.

I don't want to step on any toes or put words in your mouth. But I'm a writer, and in the spirit of Mefites using their skills to help the site, I've written up a brief executive summary of the situation. This is basically taking the explanation you’ve just given, adding it to information in the previous Metafilter Wants You Post and the Fundraising Drive Financial Packet, and then trying to condense everything down to a more readily absorbable amount of information. The idea is to put it in one place so it can be copied and pasted whenever this kind of question comes up:
For a long time, Metafilter has spent more money than it has taken in. This was never going to be sustainable, and the site’s savings have shrunk to the point where they can no longer cover the shortfall.

This doesn’t mean that the site is on the verge of shutting down! Although the cash reserves are mostly gone, there is still revenue coming in. To make the budget work, the site has reduced its operating expenses to about $20k per month. This is not a great level of spending for the site. It involves the lowest level of moderation coverage in the site's history, as well as minimal site maintenance and development. Unfortunately, even this low level of spending is not sustainable without additional income.

Under the site’s new ownership and new Steering Committee, we’re working on building new revenue streams and stabilizing the site’s finances. But that’s a long term solution. In the short term, we need increased contributions from the site’s users.

We’ve outlined 3 scenarios, depending on how much additional revenue we can get in the short term:
Survive: $7,000 / month in new or increased recurring contributions and revenue
This scenario doesn’t give the site much breathing room in the budget or extra capacity to take on any new projects to improve the site, but we will be paying our bills month to month. We won't have to cut the budget any lower than it already is.

Revive - $13,000 / month in new or increased recurring contributions or revenue
In this scenario, we are able to bring some life back into Metafilter’s budget. We could: reschedule weekend coverage, increase the development budget by about 50% to give frimble adequate time to maintain the site and add in some new features; and pay certain one-time expenses like legal advice or outside consultants.

Thrive - $29,000 / month in new or increased contributions or revenue
This is our long-term dream scenario, where Metafilter truly has enough resources to thrive. It would include a return to full-time moderation, increased itemization of admin hours to ensure all staff are properly compensated for all hours they work, and a doubling of the development budget so we can recruit another coder to work with frimble. There’s also an increase for the BIPOC board, allowing for more members, more hours of work and more community building events.
We’re optimistic that, with the help of our users, the site will not merely survive but can revive and thrive.

However, if we aren’t able to reach that minimum target of an additional $7,000, then we’ll reduce expenses by cutting staff hours even further. Obviously this is not a great outcome, but it will allow the site to stay alive longer while we look for long-term solutions.

More detailed information on the site’s finances can be found in the Fundraising Drive Financial Packet.
Is that an accurate summary of the situation?
posted by yankeefog at 7:11 AM on November 9 [11 favorites]


The SC has talked a bunch about transparency; I’d really like some here. What the actual fuck is going on?

If it takes the current leadership structure over a week to do something this simple (or say no to it), how in the world are we supposed to trust y’all with the incalculably-more-difficult changes and decisions to come?


I object to the tone of this post generally and to this particular comment snippet. The SC has been doing a ridiculous amount of work as volunteers and provided a ton of transparency. They are not expected to (by me) pull together a highly polished, full-time-non-pro**t-with-many-months-to-plan fundraising drive in the course of a few weeks. They have already raised a significant amount of money. I would like us to treat them with respect and kindness.

Some people seem confused about why people aren't ripping into the volunteer SC, so let me explain something: Besides just being the right thing to do, being gentle with the SC is the strategically smart thing to do. The future of this site (which will require contributions of labor as well as time) is important. Harsh criticism of the people volunteering to help makes people less likely to want to volunteer. That means it ultimately is counterproductive if you want to see the site survive.

So: if you want to pitch in, one of the easiest ways is by being supportive, positive, and constructive towards the SC.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:51 AM on November 9 [45 favorites]


The reason we haven't been using hooks like "Funding Crisis - Help needed NOW or MetaFilter will close!" is because that isn't the situation that we're in. A lot of people read the financial update and assumed that, based on the (true) information that MetaFilter was extremely close to having $0 in the bank, but we have consistently had revenue coming in.

But having less than a month's worth of cash on hand, and spending more money than there was coming in... sounds urgent for a business?
posted by fabius at 8:33 AM on November 9 [7 favorites]


This might be totally unrealistic, and if so please do ignore. But is there any chance of asking pb whether he would be willing to volunteer a few hours (or less) as a fundraiser donation to take care of the really basic stuff like adjusting the banner such that it stands out? Just because he knows (or knew) the site inside-out, which takes care of the ramp-up period (and possibly access issues?). I ask because I know frimble has very limited hours.

Meanwhile the messaging on social media (like the twitter page) seems like it could be updated with less friction.

--

The reason we haven't been using hooks like "Funding Crisis - Help needed NOW or MetaFilter will close!" is because that isn't the situation that we're in. A lot of people read the financial update and assumed that, based on the (true) information that MetaFilter was extremely close to having $0 in the bank, but we have consistently had revenue coming in.


I'm not sure I understand this. If revenue is coming in but is not high enough to sustain the staff, even at minimal levels of coverage, then "Help needed NOW or MetaFilter will close!" seems well accurate -- especially when reserves are so low.

Even if the site can get a few months of leeway by cutting moderation and services even more to the bone and delaying staff payments, there's no realistic guarantee that any hoped-for long-term solution not based on intensive fundraising will pan out as hoped. (It's also not fair to staff.) I don't think waiting until the desperate last minute to say "MetaFilter might close" makes sense. It makes sense now, after 18 months of operating at a deficit and with less than a month of operating cash on hand.

I sympathize with the desire to avoid negativity, but a sense of urgency also has positive effects, like people donating more and realizing the value of the site. And it lets members feel that the situation is being viewed realistically.
posted by trig at 8:44 AM on November 9 [8 favorites]


Also that emphasizing the urgency will not only up the contribution amounts, but will save a whole lot of hard work by a LOT of people (steering committee, technical team, moderators, donors to the auction...) from going down the drain. Y'all have worked SO HARD, there's no way we get to the Survive-Revive-Thrive levels of support if we don't shout about it!
posted by hangashore at 8:53 AM on November 9 [4 favorites]


I’m gathering at this point that there’s a massive disconnect between what the SC perceives the financial state of Metafilter to be and what the rest of the community is interpreting from the recent financial updates.

So which is reality? Are people overreacting? Is Metafilter actually not in such a precarious position right now, and that’s the reason why the fundraising banner and sidebar don’t sound more urgent and why the responses we’ve gotten have seemed kind of out of touch?

You’ve got people who love this site running around thinking it’s literally about to disappear in the next few weeks if enough money isn’t raised.
posted by wondermouse at 9:03 AM on November 9 [7 favorites]


If there is a $57,000 shortfall overall, and a monthly shortfall of $5-7000, then the site is operating on credit, which is not ideal for any company. To be safe, it needs to be bringing in at least as much as it is spending. Moreover, it has two kinds of costs, which the Survive-Revive-Thrive model sort of illustrates and sort of obscures: The difference between operating costs (the basics: lights, rent, etc.) and capital expenditures (updates, long-term changes, realizing the site's ambitions).

To address survival mode and maybe more, the immediate focus should be on messaging and money. (1) The most basic messaging is a banner issue. (2) The most basic money issue is figuring out if we need more donor payment/access options, like credit cards, or Patreon.

I'm 100% sure the SC has spent many more hours than the originally estimated four (4) hours a month per person, gathering the financials, writing them up in readable format, forming committees, including one to study the existing code, jumpstarting the auction, reading MetaTalk threads, answering questions, posting detailed summaries, and probably several other things I have inadvertently overlooked. This situation does not reflect on them.

What we're missing is: (1) One more layer of leadership/decision-making between Jessamyn, the SC, and the community who can act as liaison between those groups, and has the power to act quickly, (2) a way to turn best practice ideas in the MetaTalk threads into actionable items, and (3) a way to communicate that is easily accessible to all the users and readers on MetaFilter, which MetaTalk demonstrably doesn't do.
posted by Violet Blue at 9:04 AM on November 9 [9 favorites]


Yes, trig, I made a one-time donation last night, wrote a little FanFare post to get DirtyOldTown's funding match, and offered to volunteer in a limited capacity this morning because of the sense of urgency, realizing the value of the site, etc.

Rock 'em Sock 'em, I am sympathetic the challenges faced by orgs with much or all of the work being done by volunteers. I've been there. I think we should treat the SC well. I would also urge you to consider the experience of being a MeFite and hearing--what seems like out of nowhere--that MetaFilter may be facing a dire situation. Objecting to the tone of this post generally strikes me as both painting everything here with a broad brush and being not particularly empathetic in the bargain. Please think about people experiencing a shock, if for no other reason than that the user base may en masse be in for a shock if funding goals are not met.
posted by cupcakeninja at 9:16 AM on November 9 [4 favorites]


I think a lot of the confusion/disconnect about urgency is explained by these facts: (1) the site has enough revenue to pay for hosting and basic IT stuff to keep it going, it is not going dark; (2) the site does not have enough money to pay mods to do the modding we are accustomed to. So, it's not really true that the "site is going away" or "will close." The issue is paying for mods, which is complicated because some people think volunteer mods could be a solution and other people thing that not paying mods is wrong. I understand why it could be counterproductive to try to hash this issue out in a public way - it is divisive, for one - but I suspect that this issue is the lurking elephant in the room that explains some of the disconnects/miscommunications.
posted by Mid at 9:28 AM on November 9 [10 favorites]

I think a lot of the confusion/disconnect about urgency is explained by these facts: (1) the site has enough revenue to pay for hosting and basic IT stuff to keep it going, it is not going dark; (2) the site does not have enough money to pay mods to do the modding we are accustomed to.
There's likely something to that, but it still doesn't address the fact that mods or no mods, the site still needs more money if they've used up a lot of savings: So why hasn't someone already been empowered to change the banner?
posted by Violet Blue at 9:49 AM on November 9 [2 favorites]


The skill is available, the level of access has been more challenging.

What I'm hearing is that MeFi has a "hit by a bus" problem. Is frimble literally the only person with credentials to the hosting environment? If so, that's concerning.
posted by hades at 10:01 AM on November 9 [8 favorites]


I ask because I know frimble has very limited hours.

Is this really the case? The first fundraising post said that frimble is being paid for 86 hours per month of development time, or about 20 hours per week. It seems like that should be more than enough time to update the banner.
posted by buntastic at 10:01 AM on November 9 [5 favorites]


I'm still confused and do not understand what is happening -- my brain is overloaded by my actual life and dealing with layoffs and firing and the economy that I need to know what Metafilter wants from me. I do not actually have time to change my basic routine to understand that deeply what is going on, please just tell me what I am supposed to do. I feel that is what a lot of the userbase including me is going through right now, and we go to Metafilter as a source of relief and fun during some of these pretty dark days.
posted by yueliang at 10:05 AM on November 9 [5 favorites]


wondermouse: So which is reality? Are people overreacting? Is Metafilter actually not in such a precarious position right now, and that’s the reason why the fundraising banner and sidebar don’t sound more urgent and why the responses we’ve gotten have seemed kind of out of touch?

If anyone hasn't seen this, from the Quick Summary section of the Fundraising Drive Financial Packet:
Over the past 18 months, Metafilter has made a profit of -$55,005.38, with a total income of ~$364.4k and total expenses of ~$419.4k. Shortfalls over these months were made up by drawing on cash reserves/savings, which were depleted by late October 2022.
Losing over US$3000 a month over the last year and a half is surely cause for concern, and I hope we'd all agree that getting more aggressive with fundraising efforts is entirely justified.
posted by hangashore at 10:10 AM on November 9 [5 favorites]


And I'll shut up now but I should have put this in my comment above: HUGE thanks to all who put together the aforementioned Fundraising Drive Financial Packet. If you want the simple facts OR if you really want to dig deep, there's so much there. If/when the banner gets changed, it should be one of the links most prominently featured therein, or put into the first level of READ THIS FIRST! pages linked off of said banner.
posted by hangashore at 10:19 AM on November 9 [5 favorites]


The skill is available, the level of access has been more challenging

This is seriously nuts. So either nobody with managerial authority over frimble thinks changing the banner is a priority, and the SC haven’t been able to convince (?loup ?jessamyn) otherwise? Or frimble has been ignoring directions to spend their time on changing the banner and nobody can make them, because they are the only people with access to the code?

There has been a funding drive for two weeks now, and the only conclusion I can draw from this thread is that whoever is defacto in change seems to be completely asleep at the wheel here.

Either that, or the financial situation is nothing like as bad as painted, this is basically scaremongering, and it doesn’t matter if contributions go up or not as apparently it is so unimportant to the actual people in charge that it isn’t even worth updating a banner for.

The SC seem to be trying to save the site in spite of “the admins”, not pulling together with the owners as a team. This is really dysfunctional. It does at least explain how the site got into this situation in the first place. I do not envy the SC at all - they are working with their hands tied.
posted by tinkletown at 10:25 AM on November 9 [9 favorites]


OK, I feel pretty bad asking this, because it's probably going to come off sounding more accusatory than I intend it, so let me start by saying that I understand people are busy and can't spend all their lives here and there's a reason that I haven't volunteered for stuff. But there have been kind of a lot of these urgent discussions on Metatalk recently, and I've noticed that loup isn't participating in any of them. It's been almost two weeks since they've commented on the gray, and six days since their last activity of any sort (a non-staff response to an Ask). Is loup intentionally keeping a low profile? Because this seems like a weird time to do that. There are a lot of questions for people in power, and Steering Committee members are trying to fill the void, but there's only so much they can do. Again, not being accusatory, just wondering what's going on.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:51 AM on November 9 [7 favorites]


I think a pretty wide range of approaches fits within an overall spectrum of what is reasonable. It seems that a chronic shortfall left the site with basically no money at the time the fundraiser was launched. The fundraiser was presented in an honest, but optimistic way, which I think was a good way to appeal to at least some portion of the site. Within the first week of fundraising in this mode, the site got a significant bump of recurring funding, cut costs and got a multi-month cushion of one-time donations. The idea of continuing in this vein of somewhat low-key and optimistic fundraising does not seem ridiculous to me. There have also been a variety of grassroots fundraising initiatives from the community and people have been sharing the fundraising message through a variety of posts, which has been interesting to see.

On the other hand, it also seems totally reasonable to want an approach that highlights the severity of the situation and uses any means necessary to get the fundraising message front and center. I think it is natural to be concerned and to want more information.

I think that discussion around this is a good idea. I think we should give the benefit of the doubt to those working hard to make the fundraiser succeed, especially those volunteering their time. I think it is reasonable to expect that suggestions from the community about the fundraising approach will be acknowledged, considered and adopted when they are feasible and desirable. We have a fundraiser, we have a first week update, we have a detailed financial report, we have feedback from individual SC members that they are hearing and working on things. All of these things give me confidence that they will continue in the right direction.
posted by snofoam at 11:04 AM on November 9 [3 favorites]


FYI, the week two update has been posted. Will also circle back and answer some of the questions here specifically when I have a bit more time (unless other SC members/staff beat me to it).
posted by wesleyac at 11:07 AM on November 9 [3 favorites]


Metafilter Staff: where are you? Help us save your jobs?

We're here and we're listening. However, most of the mods are currently focused on the content realm, the BIPOC Advisory Board, and internal admin tasks. Any decisions regarding changes to the site are mostly up to the Steering Committee and then need to be executed by the staff. That being said, I met with frimble and they are looking into making the banner more prominent (and seeing how this affects the mobile experience) as we speak.

So, if you don't see many replies from the mods in MetaTalk recently, is mostly because we consider the SC is already doing a wonderful job with the communication and see no need to speak as a separate group since we're in constant communication with them every day.

Also, on a personal side note, I'm way more concerned about the long term well-being of the site than in my personal job security right now.
posted by loup (staff) at 11:32 AM on November 9 [24 favorites]


Hey! The banner got bigger!
posted by sagc at 12:09 PM on November 9 [5 favorites]


Hey! I just saw the nice new banner! Definitely an improvement! (In my humble opinion.)

Thanks, frimble (and others involved) for working on that!
posted by kristi at 12:10 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


yankeefog, you are definitely not the only one utterly confused at the financials here. I think I just give up on trying to understand them. I'm not sure what the definition of "shut down in weeks" is here either. At what point does the site totally close for lack of money, or is it just "we can't pay mods any more, free-for-all-hellscape starts," or what.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:11 PM on November 9


Big banner! Thanks!
posted by hangashore at 12:13 PM on November 9


big banner is very good. I had not even noticed the previous one AT.ALL.
posted by supermedusa at 12:22 PM on November 9


Loup, to clarify, when you say “Any decisions regarding changes to the site are mostly up to the Steering Committee and then need to be executed by the staff” do you mean literally all decision? Spending decisions, staffing decisions etc? Or do you as manager (or Jessamyn as owner) retain authority for balancing the books, ensuring Metafilter makes payroll/can pay its taxes, and deciding on layoffs etc?

I think people are unclear on where this responsibility lies - I assumed it was with Jessamyn but delegated to you as manager, however your post implies it lies with the steering committee?
posted by tinkletown at 12:24 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


Thank you for the banner resize, Frimble.
posted by kimberussell at 12:28 PM on November 9 [4 favorites]


Hey, nice banner! Thank you, Frimble & all involved!
posted by cupcakeninja at 12:41 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


> If there is a $57,000 shortfall overall, and a monthly shortfall of $5-7000, then the site is operating on credit

The site has not been operating on credit. We moved the fundraiser forward several weeks from when it was originally planned when we learned that we were almost out of money, in order to avoid that situation.

In regards to various concerns about the difficulty of making changes to the code, and the fact that frimble is currently a single point of failure: The Steering Committee is aware of this and actively working to fix it. We've formed a code working group, which so far has read-only access to the code, AWS, and the analytics data. We're working on developing processes to work with frimble and to be able to change the code ourselves. We would love it as much as everyone else if we were able to do that now, but we aren't. It's a slow process, but we are making progress, and I'm excited about what the future holds.

> please just tell me what I am supposed to do

If you can afford to donate, please do. A recurring donation, even a small one, is the most useful thing right now, but everything helps.

If you have skills that you think might help MetaFilter, fill out the contributor form.

There are also several other ways of helping laid out in the week two update: > I'm not sure what the definition of "shut down in weeks" is here either. At what point does the site totally close for lack of money, or is it just "we can't pay mods any more, free-for-all-hellscape starts," or what.

This is much less relevant given the most recent update (please read it if you haven't, it's very optimistic news!), but I'll try to reiterate the answer just for clarity.

Members of the Steering Committee have never (as far as I'm aware) used the phrase "shut down in weeks", because that was not a scenario that would happen. Some members read the financial update and inferred that that would happen, and we've tried to correct that where we can (without going into detail that we believe to be unhelpful in doom-and-gloom thinking), but these threads are busy and people don't see everything.

There were some plans in place for what would have to happen if we didn't meet the Survive goal — Steering Committee member aielen talked about them here:
We're not going to take that $7k goal for granted as a given, though. If we don't reach that goal, we do have contingency plans: even more expense cuts will have to be put in place, and there may be more delayed staff payments to keep the site running for the next few months while we put other revenue-stream plans into action. We do not intend to rely on fundraising as a sole income source in the long term, going forward. But for now, the reality and urgency of the situation has necessitated this appeal to our community. We're hoping that Mefites come through.
Luckily, it's looking very likely that we'll hit the Survive goal, so that won't have to happen.

I hope that answers the question — we're trying to be as transparent as we can be given the information we have. Feel free to ask in the week two update thread if you have any specific questions about the financials that aren't answered by the Financial Packet.

And yeah, the banner is big now — thanks to frimble for getting that done :)
posted by wesleyac at 12:58 PM on November 9 [11 favorites]


FWIW, I have known people who thought finances like these were totally normal. Not great, sometimes annoying when they led to cuts or bailouts or me telling them "no ponies, we are broke", but normal.

I found it a godawful way to run an organization. So I'm glad a lot of people do see the situation here as a problem, and are taking action as they are able. Today's update is great!
posted by mersen at 1:07 PM on November 9 [6 favorites]


When you say “Any decisions regarding changes to the site are mostly up to the Steering Committee and then need to be executed by the staff” do you mean literally all decision?

As you know, we're still going through a, much needed, transition towards a more community-driven site. As part of this, since the beginning, the SC has been primarily responsible for:
  • Setting and implementing site policies and priorities
  • Directing and approving budget expenditures
  • Communicating clearly and transparently to the community on SC issues and projects
  • Acting as spokespeople, champions, and mediators for concerns of community members
posted by loup (staff) at 1:19 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


There will be no free-for-all-hellscape because the $7,000 "survive" goal is almost met. That means metafilter...
can cover all the site’s bills and continue to pay the moderators for 95 hours per week of moderation coverage. Frimble’s development budget is based on 86 hours a month. There are some additional admin hours that loup puts in outside mod shifts and which currently are not compensated, nor is Jessamyn fully compensated for the admin work she undertakes for the site. These would remain uncompensated in this scenario.
As far as I can tell, at "survive" levels, paid workers are doing unpaid work. Paying staff for all their currently-unpaid work doesn't seem to happen until the "thrive" goal of "$29,000 / month in new or increased contributions or revenue" is reached.
posted by aniola at 1:36 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, at "survive" levels, paid workers are doing unpaid work.

That's not quite accurate, let me clarify somewhat.

My position was never intended to be paid--I envision this as my donation to MetaFilter, I do get reimbursed for necessary expenses (licenses and the like) and paid for some specific time outlays--though, yes, if the site was thriving it would be nice to have this be more of a job but I am not staff except on this badge.

In current fundraising mode with the SC needing a lot of site data at odd hours, loup occasionally steps in to deliver info outside of their own work hours. This has been an awkward transition because back in the day MeFi had extra money on hand specifically designated to pay for off-shift hours and in the current crunch (i.e. the past month or two) it does not. This should rectify both as we replenish the reserves and as the SC requires less from staff as they get more up to speed and have more of the data they need. So this is less "loup works a mod shift without pay" and more "loup answers some emails and generates a report or tracks down some information for the SC when they are not on shift" And yes we are actively working to have this not be the case. It is not an expectation of how even the Survive level would work moving forward but was an accurate assessment of how the SC found us.

When cortex was the owner, he was both the site owner and a worker who got paid. As a result it made more sense for him to be "always on" in some ways because the business belonged to him. With the current configuration, I try to step in when I can but I don't have ready access to all the information the way loup does.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:58 PM on November 9 [21 favorites]


Thanks for answering so clearly and promptly Loup.
posted by tinkletown at 2:08 PM on November 9 [4 favorites]


It is not an expectation of how even the Survive level would work moving forward but was an accurate assessment of how the SC found us.

Thanks for explaining! That is helpful and reassuring.
posted by aniola at 2:23 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


Thank y'all for updating the banner and for the helpful responses.
posted by wondermouse at 6:25 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


It is so refreshing to have quick and transparent answers to questions about site management. It's not perfect yet, and there's kind of an in-built panic response from a lot of the community left over from the old black-box days, but it's really night and day. It feels like the current staff are super professional and confident of their roles, rather than embattled and always under the gun. Just having a steering committee has solved so many issues, it makes you wonder where we'd be if we'd made than transition eight or ten years ago. Better late than never!
posted by rikschell at 5:06 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


Just doubled my monthly contribution. I think. I can't check my old one on PayPal (travelling, don't have access to my home phone) so have set up a new one on a new card. Thanks for the great work, and all the reminders!
posted by twirlypen at 4:01 PM on November 10


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