What You Told Us
(Book Salon is still on vacation while we get a new editor for the weekly feature in place. I think we'll have a book for community review next week at this time, so please stay tuned. — Pach)
A couple of weeks ago I asked our readers to complete a short survey. The summary statistical results are here. You told us what ways you felt you could support the work we do here at the site so we can keep doing it. Today I want to brief you on the results, a kind of community report. This is what you told us:
Who Completed the Survey?
We didn't do demographics, but 2962 of you completed the survey over a 24 hour period. 6% of you described yourselves as regular commenters, which says to me we got a good amount of input from people who don't usually communicate with us. Based on site visit stats, roughly 1% of you comment, so commenters still represent, in this sample, a larger proportion of respondents relative to our entire readership base, but they are also the people who invest the most energy and participation in the community. Of the rest of you, 28% said you do not comment, 30% said you occasionally leave comments and 36% of you said you read comments but don't make comments.
The survey was specifically about how we can generate funds sufficient to keep our work ongoing here, so we also asked how many people had already given some money through this site, either to the site directly or to any of our selected candidates in the Blue America list. 38% of respondents said they had already given before, while 57% said they had not and 5% said they don't remember. That was a high rate of past givers, and it meant to me that we have a pretty well established level of trust with our readers, since so many of you are willing to be responsive to our calls for financial support, one way or another.
44% of you said you read the blog multiple times per day, so this is a survey of our most loyal readers. This makes sense, as the survey was only active for a day. 36% of you said you read the site daily and 16% said you read just a few times per week. So, 96% of respondents read the site at least a few times per week. Again, this suggests the survey sampled what could be considered to be our base audience/community.
Are You Willing to Provide Continued Support?
Okay, a high proportion of you said you have already given money to support us or our selected progressive candidates before, but what about the future?
40% of you said you would be willing to provide us future financial support, a number comparable to the proportion who said they have given in the past. Okay, so we're at least maintaining our goodwill and community trust, based on the data so far. Only 6% of you said you would not be willing to provide financial support, and 54% of you said maybe you would be willing. We did not ask specifically for reasons behind all these choices, but so many of you chose to leave comments for us (more than a third of survey respondents), I think we know the answers. More on that later.
The bottom line is, you are willing to continue to give us support and almost all of you are at least willing to give it serious thought. What are the potential obstacles to giving? We did not specifically ask, but once again, your generosity in providing us comments (qualitative data) probably contains the answers.
What's the Most Preferred Funding Model?
We offered some different funding options to you, just some ideas, and you told us which ones you thought were good and bad ideas according to a five point rating scale.
Cumulatively, across all ratings, two options enjoyed virtually equal, top level support. For the whole sample, when you translate the number 3.75 into words, that falls just a tad below the rating of 4.0 ("a pretty good idea"). When you pull out the responses of those who said they would not be interested in supporting the site, those numbers rise but the overall pattern does not change. So, for those who are at least possibly interested in supporting the site, these top two funding models represent "a pretty good idea." Running closely behind these two is a third option: quarterly funding drives, something like the NPR model.
But let's focus on the top two funding models, since those are the ones you have told us you prefer. One option is the voluntary recurring subscription model, and the specific example in the survey was $5 per month. People like that idea. There was some input in the comments that $60 a year is a little high for them, and the key here is the subscription model is voluntary: content currently available to all would remain available to all. More on the price point issues in a little bit, but the main takeaway here is, the voluntary subscription model is popular.
The other top funding model involves targeted fund drives for projects, such as the Plame House to allow us to cover the Libby trial, or the current drive to help complete the creation and design of the Roots Project (see the thermometer on the right side of this page). This makes sense. People like to know what they're investing in.
Marginally, and these differences are slight, our more regular readers and/or our past givers are a little more enthused about the regular subscription model, relative to the project fundraising model, but the difference is not enough to change the overall preference pattern apparent in the generic results visible through the link above.
This makes sense. Those who know us the best, who have also given to us in the past, perhaps have a greater sense of or appreciation for the nuts and bolts that make the site run: paying for servers and bandwidth, trying to compensate writer, moderators and tech folks in a fair way, and so on. Those who may be a little less deeply immersed in the community very slightly, marginally, prefer the projects model over the subscriptions model, which is just fine with us, too. We need both, and there's far more agreement between these groups and no essential disagreement. It's all a matter of shaded preference rates.
Respondents told us they don't really like the Salon model of click through advertising to view content, which Salon uses as an alternative to a voluntaryo subscription model. In the middle preference range – reflecting a kind of ambivalence – comes the email mailing list model for funding appeals,projects, etc. Again, those who know us and like us best are much more comfortable with this model than those who do not.
What Did You Tell Us In Your Own Words?
1034 of you left voluntary comments, feedback and suggestions for us in the survey, or 35%. I read them all. I can count the number of comments that included criticism or any negativity about what we do here on my fingers. Across 1034 comments, I find that absolutely astonishing. I've done survey research before and I've never seen anything like it.
Your responses overwhelmed me, not in their volume, but in their depth of appreciation and enthusiasm. I wish I could open that part of the survey to you all because it would make an awesome set of testimonial quotes, but I can't because many of you shared personal email addresses and identifying, confidential information that I need to keep hidden.
You also had a lot of suggestions, too many for me to recount or summarize. Many of these suggestions are very good and we'll pursue them. For example, we may see about doing some audio podcasts of some kind for some as yet undefined level of higher end, generous support, as an added perk and way of saying "thank you." We want to keep all our current content freely available, but that doesn't mean we can't do things to thank and recognize our most generous benefactors, within the confines of our mission and values.
The overwhelming thing I take away from the comments is the willingness of people to provide support, but currently, we make it hard for a lot of you to do so. Many of you don't realize we already have a link at the right side of the page for you to donate via PayPal or through your credit card. We've done a lousy job of communicating with people how they can support us, and we need to make changes so those who are willing and able to support our collective work here can do so easily.
There were also a number of misconceptions about what it takes to keep the site going. For example, a number of people don't realize that our current income from advertising does not in fact support the site. Sometimes it covers basic monthly overhead (servers, bandwidth) but when it doesn't, Jane steps in to cover it. Even with our current advertising income, we are not able to fairly compensate the labor and energy of the writers and moderators who make the site function: the site is supported by generous people donating their time and talent, but we need to get beyond that, or we're not practicing what we preach.
Finally, a lot of you volunteered that you hate PayPal, that you don't trust it. While many people are uncomfortable with online commerce, even more of you shy away form PayPal. Since our basic donation pipeline to date has been through PayPal, this means we have to change.
There's a whole lot more in the comments, but I'll have to leave it at that for now, as a summary.
What Are The Next Steps?
As liberal as we are, there's some serious business experience in the team on this site, at a pretty high level. Hopefully, we can get a lot better at this. The survey results suggest to me a lot of room for growing in the stability and consistency of what we do here together, and doing it even better. A lot of your ideas were very good, and I'm exploring a few of them right away. But, in the immediate term, we can go a long way toward getting some basic things right by taking these next steps:
- We need to make it easier for you to support us if you want to. This may involve some front page redesign of some sort, since many of you don't even see the donation options on the page.
- We also need to be a little less apologetic and a little more professional about asking for your support a little more frequently and openly.
- We need to set up a merchant account to process credit cards and move beyond our reliance on PayPal.
- We need to invest in a good shopping cart option that will allow us to craft voluntary subscription models at varying donation levels and options, including options targeted to specific fundraising campaigns for projects, to accommodate the preferences you shared with us in the survey.
- We need to keep listening to your preferences and feedback about any new options we provide so that we can remain responsive to you. This survey was very helpful and very successful in garnering your input.
Thanks again for all your help, feedback and guidance. Supporting this site means supporting this community: whatever we get is channeled back into the site and the community, so we can all work together to bring about lasting change in our country. From Jane, Christy, TRex, Siun, our moderators, tech people, guest writers and myself, we all really appreciate you. You make everything that happens here possible.