I have a website whose goal is to provide a free educational service (like wikipedia does, not on the same scale obviously).

I wonder how I will continue to pay for the servers when I reach high traffic. I don't want to use any ads or sponsor things, because this is not the goal of the website (just like wikipedia once again).

Does "please donate" works ?

If no, is there any alternative to a "private/premium not free" part in the website ?


2 Answers 2


Along with Ferodynamics' suggestions, you could also do the following:

  • Charge some members for a premium membership (e.g. most deviantArt users don't pay a cent and have access to most features; but a small minority choose to pay for a premium membership that gives them access to additional features).
  • Sell branded merchandise (t-shirts, hats, mugs) or supplemental products (e.g. Wikipedia offers their entire database on DVDs; deviantArt users can sell prints of their artwork, with dA taking a small percentage of the proceeds).
  • Find corporate sponsors—this is similar to asking for donations, except that you target large companies that want to give to charities for tax or PR benefits.
  • Apply for grants—you can apply for grants offered by private companies, non-profit organizations, or the government.

Alternatively, some commercial companies (e.g. developers of open source software) offer products for free but gain free publicity and have their reputations boosted by the popularity of their products. They can then offer other commercial services which subsidize the development of their free products. For instance, CakeDC produces the open source MVC framework CakePHP. But they make their money from offering consulting, development, and training services related to CakePHP.

Likewise, if the educational platform you're using for the site can be re-purposed for enterprise e-learning or knowledge management, then you can license it to commercial companies to pay for the free website. Or, with an SaaS model, you can use business memberships to subsidize the free memberships offered to private users.

Christopher makes some good points about asking for donations. If you're only collecting relatively small amounts of money, you can easily set up a donate button from Paypal (if you're collecting a lot of money, you may consider subscribing to a payment gateway). Additionally, you should state what you'll be using the money for (e.g. hosting, hardware, new features/services, etc.) and perhaps offer recognition to those who donate. Some kind of fund-raising meter can also encourage donations and provide a sense of transparency/openness.

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    Great answer from Lese, as usual. Though I have something to add, it isn't good enough to count as an entire answer. Ask for donations via paypal and offer somekind of recognition for those who donated to your service. Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 4:06
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    @Christopher: That's a good idea. Some kind of "fund-raising target" meter like Wikipedia and many telethons have might also be advantageous. That way people can see how much money you need/are asking for vs. how much you've received. Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 6:00
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    However, if you're asking for donations you might want to advise the general public in which you are asking on what you're going to use the money for. Ex. Server payment / getting your own dedicated server, advanced features, better services, etc. Combine that with the two comments above and you get success! Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 7:13
  • Thanks you 2, I'll turn to donation first, with high transparency on how the money is used, and try also a "premium" area. Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 17:50

If your website is useful, look for a sympathetic webmaster or web host willing to exchange free hosting for an unobtrusive link.

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