I run a very small community with a nascent population (online; not associated with a geographical area). Even though my intention is to not necessarily create a profitable business out of this community, I'd like to hear about ways I can offset the costs to start and operate this community, even in its early state.

I was told, however, that AdSense and such methods of sharing ads is worth only when a site has at least 8-10 thousand visitors a day. Adding to this story that I use Wikidot, the costs of achieveing even the possibility to share ads (Wikidot pro acc + custom domain for AdSense) reach 65 dolloars for every single year.

Since I'm not in the situation to risk this amount of money, I'd like to be interested: what are the user-friendly, yet beneficial ways to monetize a website which is driven by a community without being too intrusive on the user experience?

  • 3
    Good question. I'll be interested to see what people say. I agree with the AdSense not making you much money. I ran ads with several companies, including one that ran scary ads that put spyware on my users' computers!! (when I tried another ad network with higher revenue) My combined reveune for the year was about $120usd between the Ad Networks. - - Which is WAY not worth it when you anger your users by having ads that infect their computers.
    – Baronz
    Feb 23, 2016 at 15:45

5 Answers 5


I won't say you can't find others (and betters) ways to raise funds for your community, but I just can imagine few sources of income:

1. Donations. The best way (not saying it's the easiest). If you have a lot of people contributing with a low percentage of the incomes, nobody will feel hurt by spending a small amount of money - it's a matter of engage people to support the community.

2. Sponsors. It's delicate, actually, and you'll have to set an accurate policy about it, as sometimes sponsors have their own interests and seek for influence that is, sometimes, undesirable. Anyway, if you can find possible sponsors whose (clear) interests don't hurt the community interests, and that can be a mutual gain partnership, it's a great deal for the community and for the sponsor, either.

3. Affiliate programs. They are kinda similar to the advertising, but your participation could be longer than just showing ads, you could really create a page and tell that "every something your members buy, $$ will be donated to the community".

4. Services. Is there anything beyond the usual that community members and you could do for other community members and the general society? Remember that non commercial / non profit doesn't means "loss aiming", so it's not a problem to offer something more and fee someone to have a "premium" "status" or "service", or something like this. The only thing you must be clear about is that the money isn't for profit purposes, but for keeping the website online.

No matter what you choose, there are some important aspects to keep in mind:

  1. A community is for the community, and by the community. So, if you're carrying on all the expenses by your own, it's not actually a community, it's a "yourselfity". And this is why you must pay attention for the item 2:

  2. You must ask the community about this. You must be clear about the hardships related to keeping the community working, and ask them about how to pass through these hardships. This is the point when you'll know whether they're really a community, or just a lot of people who likes the gain but doesn't like the pain.

  3. Find your engaged people. If you figure out that you have not the desired question on 2, you must think whether you're the only one interested in the community's future; and if so, the only way will be to do it all by yourself till you find more engaged people, no magic formula for this.

  4. Don't be sad about the three, find among your closer friends, classmates, colleagues, family, etc, other people that might be REALLY interested and engaged about your community project. Once you convince a second person, you'll divide the weight of the community in two persons!!


Similar answer as the other, but perhaps with a slightly different direction. You didn't provide much information about your community, so this will be a fairly general answer. Your fundraising should be related to the purpose of your community. If you are able to provide high value experience related to the purpose of your community, it should be possible to find funding sources from a variety of means. None of these are exclusive. You can mix and match.

In addition to creating and focusing on a purpose, try to find a few other dedicated people who help you get started. These people will be the beginning of your elite core of members.

1. Ask for donations

Similar to another answer, but how and who to ask is part of the key. There are a few sources of money you can ask that might be relevant:

- Grants - if your purpose has a societal good impact, you might qualify for grants from government or philanthropic organizations

- Crowdfunding - Kickstarter or other crowd funding sites are a possibility. You might not get operating costs, but you could likely get startup funding for design and acquisition of software and services. This is also highly useful because it literally allows you to start building up your community as part of the crowd funding campaign. A key point here is to have a clear deliverable. The quote here from Kickstarter explains better:

Kickstarter can be used to create all sorts of things: art and gadgets, events and spaces, ideas and experiences. But every project needs a plan for creating something and sharing it with the world. At some point, the creator should be able to say: “It’s finished. Here’s what we created. Enjoy!”

- Ask your users - even Wikipedia asks for donations. They put out their costs and run a fund raising drive every year or so. A key thing to understand here is that your best and most elite users are the most likely to give you the biggest donations. So this is why you should have a plan for deeply engaging a few people rather than expecting a mass audience from giving you a little help from everyone.

2. Create a subscription service

Here you need to figure out a tier of service or capabilities or features related to your community's purpose that your users might be willing to pay for. This likely will require significant build-out and investment before its good enough to be a premium experience. It will also take a while to have enough critical mass of subscribers to be a good revenue source. The thing to be careful of here is not to restrict access to features that actually help build your community. For example, not letting people post to forums or engage in online chat would keep them from meeting other people in your community, and thus fail to help you find more potential subscribers. Again, here, look to your elite users. Is there something they want or need that perhaps they'll be willing to pay for? They're your most likely subscribers first.

3. Affiliates, referrals, sponsorships

Similar to the affiliates suggestion in another answer. Are there products or companies that would clearly be of interest to members of your community. Ideally it should be related to its purpose. Perhaps you are a community of Poodle lovers. Then providing information for dog grooming supplies might be a value added affiliation page that companies could pay for. You could also ask for purchase referral fees for every successful purchase thats made. Such programs exist for books, and for apps as well. Sponsorships are similar, but a bit more wide open. If there's a company that members of your community will appreciate, try getting them to sponsor your community in exchange for branding or banner ads. Except here you control what's displayed, not a 3rd party ad service, and you get a higher share of the sponsorship. Obviously this gets better as you get more members.

4. Extend off a paid service

You didn't talk about this in your description, but its worth mentioning anyways. Many communities are collaborative experiences related to a paid for product or service. This could be commercial, or non-commercial. Some examples include support forums for products, social media for sports leagues, fan clubs, etc. If your community helps drive a physical experience or sales of a related product, the business should provide at least some funds for startup.


You are essentially acting as a broker between the people in the community and the fulfillment of community needs. Therefore, a commission based process with local business' for driving sales could be a way for money to go from the community and then back into the community. Just a thought.

  • This does not add much to the other answers. It also assumes the community is limited geographically. Nothing in the question says so.
    – user732
    Jun 20, 2016 at 7:52

Donations are certainly a good way to offset your expenses.

However, the fees are quite high at 2.7% for PayPal, and that's not counting foreign currency exchange fees if your community is dispersed around the world.

Accepting Bitcoin donations is a viable alternative that can be relatively easy to set up.

You can sign up for an online wallet at https://blockchain.info/wallet and once you have your Bitcoin address, you can simply copy/paste it onto your website.

If you do decide to accept Bitcoin donations, feel free to say hello to the Bitcoin community at http://reddit.com/r/bitcoin and let them know you are accepting donations.


www.koiphen.com www.tractorbynet.com are my big 2.

a good amount of it for me is DIY. and folks posting projects and helping each other out.

getting small business owners to help off set cost of site that directly sell product / doings for community. and having them as an active member. rule is no business listings that are directly related of what site is about. and let those small business owners get a "listing" in admin/mod listing but just a title like "pro member" and let them add there details to signature of each post. so they get marketing. let them post ad's these "pro members".

good moderators and active moderators. that act on above, and dealing with spam. and helping newbies.

if community has enough folks, see about starting a "paid club" and get the small business put up some rewards with x amount off or something. if there enough small businesses and enough folks willing to pay 10 to 20 bucks. it kinda of a win win for all. the individuals help pay for site, and get a discount at one of the businesses of there choice.

get the business folks engaged with info, and post it to the forum it belongs in. to help newbies. no need to mass mail, post it on front page, etc... were traffic is not there and no were to be found easily, but right there in the forums.

do not restrict businesses to forums, by placing them as moderators, or main listing of sub forums for the site with a banner/add, let them move about. and place given "stickies" with notes of something that the small business really wants to promote.

=========== back to "club" if there is enough folks, put on some sort of "virtual show". or some such.

run some sort of "online speaker" doing. via club doing. to engage folks.

toss up a donation button, through say paypal or some such. through a single add spot at top of page, that business owners can also list a single small little ad.

be truthful, and put extra work, and post actual costs of server per month, any domain name fee, any software costs / update software costs that might come up, and any income coming in, keep business names out, folks name out. just straight copy and paste from a spreadsheet with just numbers. and keep on it and do not let things slip of monthly cost from what is incoming and outgoing for site itself.

folks could be out doing drugs, getting drunk off there rockers, but online doings can be a hobby thing for them. that works for them. any hobby can get expensive really really fast. but online forum is like going to a local club about something but online. a few bucks here or there, can be very well worth it for folks.

money can turn things ugly, keep it easy going, family friendly and fun!

  • 1
    Hey Ryan, welcome to Community Building on Stack Exchange. Could you work on cleaning up and focusing the answer a bit? It seems to wander about a lot and is really hard to follow what some sections of it are trying to get at. Ideally, answers should be clear, easy to read, and on topic with the original question. Right now, this answer is pretty borderline on meeting that standard.
    – AJ Henderson
    Mar 1, 2016 at 5:02

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