Programming for Donations – Is it sustainable? 2


central wp plugin donation collection point

Physical stores encourage people to tip for products/service already paid for. Shouldn't those offering free products also encourage tipping/donations?  /instagram

If you are not a programmer, or a web designer like me, the times you try to hire one always end up feeling like a very expensive affair.  This is especially so you if you have ever searched for a theme, or plugin from the WordPress repository. Seriously, is there any kind website that you cannot create with the resources available at no cost?

The question I always ask myself is whether these programmers truly enjoy the fruits of their labor. Before trying to answer that, it is a good idea to find out why a programmer would work endless hours to create a great plugin or theme, and then offer it free to others to use as they please – some even running businesses for profit. The 4 reasons below are the most likely reasons;

  1. Looking for Donations

When downloading any theme or plugin from the WordPress repository, there is an option for you to donate any amount you feel like, to the author of the plugin. In addition to this, some developers include a reminder in their products, prompting the user to donate some money if the product is valuable. With some products recording millions of downloads, this is an easy way to make money. For instance, if 50% of the people who download a product with 100,000+ downloads, donate $2 each, the programmer would make enough to keep the product up to date and even add new features.

But, how many of these downloads come with a donation?

wp plugin download stats

  1. To enjoy free marketing for a product or service

There is no better way to market one's programming skills than creating a theme or plugin that many people find useful. This can mean a regular supply of paying clients – whether they want the product customized further, or they want something completely different, the programmer will be paid for every minute spent on these new projects.

Many plugins and themes also include advanced features that are only available to paying clients. Offering a limited version is a good way to market the full version to paying clients. Anyone who has tried using Google or Facebook ads and other PPC programs to market something can appreciate the value of free advertising. For instance, even if 100,000 downloads have not brought in sufficient cash, the programmer will have enjoyed at least $10,000 worth of free advertising had he or she tried to market the product through a PPC campaign on Facebook and got the same level of engagement.


  1. To be famous
fame for your programming skills

Wouldn't you want these to be your plugin or theme stats? /

I doubt many programmers have this in mind, but who wouldn't want a product that everyone is talking about? If your product finds its way into almost every list of "best WP plugins" being published every year, the satisfaction this brings will be worth much more than the monetary value of your product.

  1. Programming as a hobby

Several people program as a hobby. Some also create plugins or themes for their own use, but decide to share the end product with others. Someone creating a theme or plugin as a hobby or for personal use will be more concerned about its functionality than how much money people contribute.

Why the few donations?

Almost every WordPress user has some idea why programmers upload their products in the free repository and not a premium marketplace like Envato. However, almost everyone seems to ignore the fact that the programmers need to earn some money for the work they do, so donating is the last thing that crosses their minds. That is why you will find some great plugins in the repository that were last updated 1 or 2 years ago and disappear altogether because the authors can no longer set aside time to update them.

Reasons people don't donate

  • The strong belief that things should be free
  • Because it won't change anything
  • Because they are just testing the product
  • Because they use the product for non-profit projects
  • Because they have no idea a product is available


The alternative

A crowdfunding-crowddonations campaign

A typical crowdfunding campaign/GoFundme

Since there are benefits of free themes and plugins to users and programmers, an alternative approach should be available, that allows programmers to reap more monetary benefits from their hard work. Users too would continue enjoying the free products and most importantly, the best themes and plugins would be easily kept up to date.

One good alternative is to create a crowdfunding-like website where plugin owners can post details about their free plugins alongside a donation campaign so that those willing to donate can do so on the website.

Why a central donation point approach?

One of the reasons some people don't donate is the feeling that such an action will not change anything.

They will ask, "How will my $2 ensure that this product is kept up to date yet I know it would cost at least $500 to hire a programmer for simple maintenance?"

The best thing about crowdfunding platforms is that people will see what percentage of the set goal has been met, so they will not feel like their contributions are not making any difference. If the platform is set in such a way that donations go directly to each author's account, there will be no need to wait until the campaign is over to reap the benefits.

Plugin & theme authors can also set achievable goals for people e.g. a 3-month campaign to raise $500.

A centralized platform will also be a great discovery point. Many people simply don't donate because they do not know a plugin exists. This is especially the case where a few major plugins dominate the field.


Why would it work better than collecting donations from the plugin page

  1. The herd mentality is real – there are many people out there who do things because of what others are doing.
  2. The focus would be on donations only
  3. Incentives for people to donate - for instance, free premium licenses for the most active members of the platform


Incentives and membership

A platform is only as vibrant as the members who dominate its membership ranks. If there are incentives for everyone to participate in the growth of the platform, it is more likely to achieve its primary goal, which is generation of cash for the programmers. Various incentives can make the platform very vibrant

  • Feature or plugin requests – members could be given a central wish-list where they could request certain functionality to be added to existing plugins or even brand new plugins created. For example, I have seen many WordPress author management plugins but I have never seen one with a countdown timer. In ordinary circumstances, such a feature is not necessary, but since freelance writing has been a big business, many people could use a plugin with such a feature to create freelance sites.
  • Free premium licenses – theme and plugin developers can offer free licenses when they achieve certain milestones. For instance, a free license for every 10% of the set goal. Such licenses would be redeemed by members with the points they earn from their participation in the platform.
  • Monetary rewards – such a platform would definitely enjoy a huge number of visitors. If such traffic is monetized some members could be rewarded in monetary terms. For instance, members who introduce new people could be given a percentage of the money generated from advertising.

What do you guys think? Would a centralized donation point collect more money than individuals collect on their plugin pages?

Which combination of themes and plugins (both free and paid) could be used to create such a platform?

Leave your comments below

About Douglas Kanyi

I'm a Freelance article writer and Forex trader from Kenya. I enjoy finding solutions to problems. Don't forget to leave a comment...

  • Probably lack of cash could also be a reason for few donations.

    • That’s not really a reason because the same person will have to pay for hosting (a recurring cost)