Many thanks to everyone who responded to my request for comments about how to improve the blog. I am taking all of them under advisement! Here I’d like to flesh out a bit three specific suggestions and give my take on them (I will address a few others in my next post). Please consider each of these and respond if you feel so moved! These are themed: they are all about money and about how to raise more of it – one of my ongoing interests and concerns
1. The Price of the Blog.
Several people suggested that if I want to achieve my fund-raising goals for the charities I support (i.e., make more money), I could raise the cost of the blog. Simply charge more. Some suggested $50 instead of $24.95. I was amused to see that no one suggested I charge *less* in order to make more money. It made me think that maybe there are more Democrats than Republicans on the blog. J
The reason I don’t want to charge more is that I think the current levels ($3.95/month; $7.95/three months; $24.95/year) are reasonable and allow *most* people interested in such things to join. For some people $25 is a lot of money. On the other hand, for a lot of people it’s not much at all. But I think I’m going to keep the price structure for now.
Still, a related idea did occur to me. Several people said they’d certainly be willing to pay more. And this brings me back to the issue of donations, which very easy to make on the blog, and very appreciated. But what if everyone who really likes the blog – if you’ve read this far, that probably includes you – was urged specifically to donate $20/year on top of their membership fee? That would raise the kind of funds I want faster than I can down a canapé. Some people can’t afford $20. But those who really wouldn’t feel the pinch at all could donate $40 to make up the difference. Or people make regular monthly donations (as some people do), so as to make up for the people who really can’t give anything more.
Now, many of you *can* do that but simply don’t want to. And why *should* you want to, just because I want you to? Many of us donate our hard-earned money to causes we already believe in, and there’s only so much money to go around. But what I would argue is that in this case you are supporting not only important and valuable charities, but also the blog itself, where you have the privilege of reading about issues in early Christianity to your heart’s content. You could look at your $24.95 as a fair asking price for that, and your $20 (or $40; or $1000; or whatever) donation as a vote of confidence that this blog is doing what you want it to do. Consider it what the Old Testament calls a Thank Offering.
So I like this idea. Those who could afford it, could chip in a bit just to be nice. And as a nice guy, I nicely accept your nice donations and give them over to nice charities doing nice things. I feel good, you feel good, the charities feel good, and the world is a better place. I guess we can’t put it to a vote, but I would be happy to know your opinion of a “suggested donation” (like the museums in London or Washington) on top of a membership fee.
2. Selling Myself Shamelessly
Over the past couple of years I’ve received several suggestions that all boil down to the same thing: that I offer myself or my services to blog members (or to the world at large) for a hefty price, and give all the money to charity. The prices would indeed be hefty since, in reality, I don’t have time to do any of this and since, in more reality, the point is to raise as much money as I can. The person doing the “buying” would realize that they are not getting good bang for the buck.
As examples: For $500 I could do a half-hour live phone conversation or skype on any topic someone is interested in; for $1000 I could spend an evening with someone who comes to Durham/Chapel Hill (at their own expense) and takes me out to dinner (at their own expense); for $5000 and expenses I could fly to someone for an event – for example, I come on a Thursday, give a public lecture somewhere that evening or, even better, have an evening of conversation in someone’s living room with friends or whatever, do dinner (and drinks!) together either out someplace or in, and have a leisurely breakfast the next morning with the person before flying back. (I set the amount at $5000 for this one because that’s my standard fee for a speaking engagement, and this would be about the same amount of work. Before you gulp too hard and roll your eyes at my hefty fee: my policy is to give all the money from speaking gigs to charity; on average I do five speaking gigs a semester, so it adds up. I would have to decide whether I could afford to do something in *addition* to those or not, under this category of selling myself shamelessly).
Obviously I wouldn’t have a lot of takers for any of these schemes, since we’re talking serious money. But what do you think of the general idea? And do you have other suggestions for using my services to bring in cash?
3. Gift Memberships to the Blog
One suggestion that I especially like, that I’m having my computer assistant, the brilliant Steve Ray, who keeps this blog running, and without whom it would die in a nano-second, look into, is to create the option of members purchasing an annual membership on the blog for someone else – a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a … pastor. J This would NOT replace what I did last year and plan to do again this year, namely ask for donations for people who really would like to belong to the blog but cannot afford the price of admission. That was a huge success and I hope it will be again. But that involves helping out someone – an anonymous person — who is very interested in the blog but simply doesn’t have the funds to join. This new idea is different: is there someone your know who would really like, or maybe just kinda like, to be on the blog? You could buy them a guest membership for a year. It would be like other things: a friend of mine gets me a subscription to the New Yorker every year for Christmas. It’s not because I can’t afford it, but just because it’s a really nice gift. Seems like that would be a good idea here too. What do you think? (In theory it can be done now, but it’s way too complicated; we’re thinking of setting up a button you would click that would take you to a page that would make it possible.)