The Beggy Blogger: Are Blog Donations Cyber Panhandling?

     Growing up in Nashville, I grew accustomed to the local homeless population. On a weekend outing with friends, clicking down the sidewalk in shiny heels, I passed their sad eyes and dirt-stained fingernails. Beneath the grime, I could see loveliness. Crouched against rough,brick surfaces, they hopped up at the sight of passersby. Tattered guitar case flung open, they held wobbly knees atop buckets and began to serenade their guests with a personalized song. Their sleepy mutts donned hats and sometimes sunglasses, begging to be pet behind the ears. I always and with a happy heart, stopped to listen and pay for the treat. A few minutes passed, dollars and coins dropped gratefully into the beggar’s pocket, I went on my way, swallowing tears lest I be deemed the emotional drinker in the group of rowdy twentysomthings. But I was moved. For a person so down and out to offer what he has to the world is a beautiful thing. What these people had was limited to artistic ability and good souls, so that is what they gave. It is easy enough to ask for handouts, but could you constantly give?

     I suppose it was this upbringing that sent me into the world with a sympathetic love for people going “without”. I traveled, meeting the invisible folks as they blended into park benches and faded into alleys. Everywhere I went, it seemed, these people tried their hardest to meet your gift with a gift. In Savannah, Georgia a young man named Mikey said you had the “kindest face [he] ever did see”. He would love to make a flower for you, and would appreciate whatever help you could offer him in return. You told him he had the sweetest soul as he twisted dried palm fronds into delicate blooms. Ten dollars, at the end of this heartwarming exchange, seemed like lucking out with a discount price.

     In San Francisco you came across the Tree Man, an elderly, wild-eyed gentleman who worked the crowded blocks near Fisherman’s Wharf. You give him a dollar or two or five every day that you pass him. He wins extra points for originality as he hides beneath twigs and jumps out to the delighted shrieks of tourists. His act was perfectly timed, a one-man circus offering to scare your pants off (or at least your wallet). I appreciated his artistry in a way I’ve never felt gratitude for peeing my pants. I could pay a hefty ransom for sitting in a cushy theatre to see the latest horror film. But then again, the Tree Man’s routine caused equal thrill and edgy jumps. He tried his hardest to scare the ba-jesus out of me. And I thanked  him for it.

    My attitude towards helping has been shaped and molded by these experiences. So it was with a typically generous perspective that I stumbled upon a blog featured on Freshly Pressed several months ago. The post was witty and well-written. I smiled thinking that the author must be having a really great morning, what with all this newfound front page fame and all. I decided to stick around for a while and mosey through several older posts before settling on the About page.

And there it was.

Turning my help-happy smile to a cold, callous frown.

THE DONATION BUTTON.

     The young woman was about my age, and from her description of the blog it seemed to be a site similar to mine. She explained that she loves writing and the community that comes along with blogging, and I nodded behind my screen that I felt the very same way. But two paragraphs later, the tone switched.  I could visualize her words taking shape as facial expressions. Her lighthearted talk about the hobby she held dearest morphed into a beastly, serious discussion of why she was talented enough to deserve financial help from readers. After noticing that she did not write with much frequency (mostly sporadic postings every other week or so), I watched her page grow claws and fangs and foamy drool as she explained to the World of The Web that donating to her blog was, in essence, the same thing  as paying for a book from your favorite author. The script done been flipped.

    I clicked  away from her page with the swiftness of a crowd learning one member was carrying Anthrax and Bird Flu in her purse. The rest of the day I felt disoriented by such a blatant sense of entitlement and disappointed that this hobby I love so much could be manipulated by selfish schemes. I turned to search engines to shed light on the daunting questions: Is everyone out for cash? Is this real life? I was bummed to find that Google answered with a simple “Yup. Mostly.”

TO REVIEW:

I don’t want to work.

Rent costs money.

I’d have to work to pay rent.

Can you just pay it for me?

      The idea of Blog Donations irks my soul because it seems to take the concept of monetizing blogs to an extreme. In a world where popular, well-written blogs can benefit from sponsors, the idea of just asking for cash just appears lazy. Sponsored blogs offer a dedicated group of readers, a platform from which to attract the audience to what your selling. In return for the premium advertising space, a company pays a small fee (sometimes free product or actual moolah). I’m at peace with this form of fiscal exchange because, just as the country crooner, the flower-bender, and the Tree Man, it seems like a fair exchange. On the flip side, simply asking for money to write once in a while on a page meant to be an online journal of sorts, seemed like a beggar chasing you down the street for not buying a ticket to his sidewalk show. I can see now, there are more forms of Dennis in this world than I’d like to acknowledge.

     There was Memphis. This notoriously impoverished city was where I’d settle in for college. I met Dennis on the tiny concrete triangle to drop off his rations. Pulling my ill-functioning car to the wrong side of the street beside the I-40 off ramp was a difficult, but the real challenge proved to be the graceful maneuvering required to vacate the car without losing a door or a leg. Breathless and weary of the speeding traffic, I edged sideways towards this homeless man I called a friend. Just a block from my apartment, Dennis lived under bridges and spent his days on the median begging for scraps. I was overcome with love for him and made a point to bring him plastic bags filled with nourishment several times a week. Low on money and common sense, this nourishment typically consisted of cans of Diet Coke, peanut butter sandwiches, and stale baggies of Christmas cookies in June. But it was what I could give so I gave it. At first, Dennis seemed overcome with love and gratitude for me, too. He beamed as my little blue car jutted to a stop. He met my offerings with a gummy smile and a powerful high-five.

     One afternoon, as I drove away from Dennis after a regular meeting, I happened to look in my rearview mirror. I remember feeling happy to be his friend. I remember thinking that I got a lot from this relationship, too. While I gave him what food I could scrounge up, he gave me a smile and an affirmation that I, for all my imperfections, was still worthy of a high-five now and then. I remember nearly swerving my car into a light pole when I watched Dennis hand his lunch, a bag packed with care and well wishes, to another homeless sir. As bartering goes, the mystery man shoved a brown-bagged bottle into Dennis’ hand. This was a different, more sinister kind of exchange, and I cursed myself for being tricked into it.

TO REVIEW:

I made you think I’m starving.

I sold your good intentions for a beer.

      The similarities between Dennis and the newly discovered Beggy Bloggers were enough to make my stomach turn. It was the same feeling of being preyed upon for your kindness and belief that people are mostly good. I kept digging through the Web in a desperate attempt to get back to my positive outlook on humanity. It was there I found these two sites who chipped away at the jaded crust forming around my person:

 Leah at A Girl And A Boy writes a stellar, sponsor-worthy blog. While taking in my daily dose of ha-ha from her site I noticed a button on the page’s sidebar. I worried, fretfully and woefully worried, that I would have to stop reading her wordy genius if she was the beggy blogger type. Instead, I was pleased to learn she was a fan of Nice Things Now, a website based on paying it forward to friends and total strangers alike. Her “Donation Button” it seems encourages her readers to do nice things not for her personal benefit but for mankind.

Dan at Single Dad Laughing takes a more comedic approach to donations. His popular blog is successfully backed by sponsors, and for good reason, the dude can and does write well and write often. I couldn’t help but laugh when coming across his M&M Blogroll. Not one to ask for financial contributions from his dedicated readers, this single dad sells primo space on his blogroll for the low, low price of candy. A few bags of M&Ms grants a fellow blogger access to the VIP Things To Read section. Is it asking for donations? Well, sure. Is it innocent and playful enough that the reader doesn’t feel taken advantage of? Absolutely!

   I suppose there is hope in this Blogosphere. Where daily contributions are made by bloggers who write and share for the love of writing and sharing, I smile to think that this all this good is free (from donation buttons).

    What are your thoughts on Donation Buttons?

Do you think simply blogging should beget big bucks?

Has anyone seen Dennis? He owes me thirty-two cans of soda and a ton of tree-shaped cookies.

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40 thoughts on “The Beggy Blogger: Are Blog Donations Cyber Panhandling?

  1. In Miami they found $700 million for a new baseball stadium but not a dime for this city’s almost non existent homeless facilities or subsidized drug rehabs. Infuriates me.

    • That makes me really sad. I worked really closely with some Nashville organizations that focus on first feeding and housing the homeless and then educating and uplifting them to a position where jobs and financial stability are available. A little goes a long way. A lot goes WAY further. Something tells me $700 million could’ve saved a person or two.

  2. I worked for years in downtown Chicago. There were a lot of beggars, but a fair number of them would at least attempt some form of music. They were the ones to whom I’d give money, since I felt they earned it.
    I’ve seen many “donate” buttons on blogs, but I have yet to click one. Primary is money – we have a VERY tight budget, and our Internet is medical treatment – it keeps me from going literally insane. (You can tell by my previous posts, it doesn’t always work! ;) The only fellow I’d consider donating to, is writing a book about Portsmouth (England) veterans. In lieu of money, I’ve done proof-reading for him, which he feels is just as good.
    If it’s a donation to, say, help the folks in Alabama (a blog friend of mine lost a close personal friend in the storms), I have no problem. Otherwise, if you want to get paid to write, write a book for a publisher like my Portsmouthian friend. There’s too many people out there who could use the money in their lives (like a certain Idiot who Speaketh elsewhere) and don’t ask for it. Maybe that sounds a bit cold, but all those years fighting off panhandlers gave me a bit of a thick skin.

    • I guess the entitlement is what gets me. Often times the bloggers asking for money genuinely feel they DESERVE it, rather than a more humble and less ass-kick worthy approach of “I’m trying my hardest to entertain or move or enlighten you with words and I might need some financial help”. It comes across like a Bratty Only Child Syndrome, that they need my money more than I do but can’t give anything (even a valid reason for needing said donations) in return. Is that called Tat for Tat and Then Some More Tat With All The Tatness?

  3. Tori, this blog was beautiful and moving. It reminded me of something I’ve never quite forgotten. One day my mom took us to MCDonals and while we were outside playing a woman and here two kids entered the play area. We started playing with them and their mom went inside. A few mins later she came back with a one dollar cheese burger 3 waters and a hand full of ketchup packets. she split the burger in two for the kids and she startes eating ketchup. My mom walked into that McDonalds and bought 20 burgers for them and a few fries. I remember asking why she didn’t just give them the money and she said shed rather know they have food for the week. We don’t know if they sold those burgers, and we never saw them again but atleast those kids were full that day. Paying it forward its the only way to live!

    • It is! I am a firm believer in helping those who need help, not those who want help because working isn’t fun. I think the beggy bloggers missed the Effort Equals Reward memo.

  4. I think if you’re blogging for money, then you are in the wrong business. Try selling a book or something. Blog platforms are free for a reason – it’s equal opportunity. To attempt to charge someone for something you didn’t invest any money and very little time in, is ridiculous.

    A lot of the panhandlers around here have dogs. They use them to get sympathy. I don’t give them money cause they’ll just spend it on themselves. I give them dog food instead.

    • I learned my lesson the hard way with Dennis. I felt good about giving him food and turns out he used that food to get drunk. Not exactly the way I saw that playing out! The donation buttons blow my mind. I’ve never seen one on a page where the author writes frequently. They always seem to reside on the sites where the occasional blog post is thrown up. It screams “I’d like to live for FREE and not work for it”.

  5. I agree with you about the beggy bloggers. While I could easily throw a “pay me” button on my site and wait for readers to back my 30 Before 30 quest, I much prefer guilting them into simply spreading the word about my blog in hopes of connecting with the right people to help me out. See, I don’t require your money, just your forwarding capabilities!

    • Nothing wrong with networking! I was just baffled by the bloggers who actually do throw the Pay Me button on their sites. They just so happen to not write that much, which tells me that 1. They don’t take writing that seriously and 2. They want someone, anyone to pay their bills but refuse to take writing seriously enough to turn it into a profitable business.

  6. My sister-in-law put a Donation button on her blog asking to help pay to have her dog neutered. I wasn’t sure what to think of that…a good cause, yes, but still – asking people to help with that seemed a little tacky, to say the least! Personally, I don’t have a problem with Donation buttons, though. If the blog were well-written and the author never came right out and begged for money, I’d continue to read him or her and just never click on the button. In some instances, I might even be willing to pitch in to help out. I guess the distinction is how in-your-face the whole thing is.

    • That’s a good point. The donation buttons I’ve seen have been accompanied by kind of blatant demands for cash, though. I still think if the blog is well-written enough it will (eventually) attract readers and eventually attract the attention of sponsors. I guess I kind of agree with Amy on this one. Blogging (unless done so on behalf of a company or review site) isn’t the Big Money Business type of path people should take.

    • I wish I never saw The Donate Button. Seriously made me hate people for a minute. I wanted to (but refrained for reasons I think were about morals and being nice) to ask her how creepy she felt asking strangers to pay for her groceries. I would feel eight kinds of awful taking money for writing most of the nonsense I put on here!

  7. Very interesting discussion! Not so long ago, I was invited to a press event at The American Museum of Natural History in NYC. Don’t ask me how I got invited, NO CLUE! Anyway, I met a man there who was a bonafied reporter. He also blogs. I recently noticed that he has a donation button on his blog, and I couldn’t help but to think it odd. I’m in toss up on actually moving to a self-hosted site. I’ve had several sponsor offers and a few emails requesting advertising space, so I’ve considered moving my blog in order to make a few bucks off of it. I just haven’t done it. Mainly because I’m not convinced it’s a good idea. I’m still up in the air on how I feel. I definitely wouldn’t add a donation button, but I think selling ads is different.
    Lots to think about! Great post.
    -FringeGirl

    • I think Sponsorship can be a good thing! Several blogs I read have giant sidebars filled to the brim with advertisements. The key, I think, is to make sure your content doesn’t up and change on your readers, as in “I have to write about all these sponsors now, so all future posts will be about the benefits of weightloss supplements and DVD players”. Sponsors make sense to me because you are giving them advertising space and an audience. Just plain asking for money, though, totally weirds me out!

  8. Sorry if I’m coming in late to the conversation and repeat anything. have I dreamed of somehow turning my blog into helping with the finances, sure. But I think in my (totally unrealistic dream) it would come in the form of some publisher seeing the genius of my words and offering me a book deal (like Julie and Julia). Of course, that would require my words to be surpassingly genius, and I can’t even get Freshly Pressed. But, would I ask for donations so that I can live a life of blogging leisure. No. I think that is repulsive.

    • I think you don’t give yourself enough credit, Miss Thang. You could totally snag a sponsor. I think sponsorship would be the only way I’d feel even a little bit comfortable taking money for a blog. The beggy donation buttons just make my eye twitch.

  9. Oh my gosh. The M&M Blogroll is hilarious! I can’t even imagine what 33lbs of M&Ms look like (which is how much the first person on the list paid).

    As for panhandlers, I use to give them spare change or buy them food but recently, I’ve noticed that they’ve become really really aggressive. There is a sense of entitlement now when they ask for donations that makes me really angry. It’s the same thing when I see a blogger with a Donate Now button. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s for a good cause (raising funds for a sick family member or for a cause that’s not related to you at all) then I’m happy to donate and support you. But if you’re just asking for money for the heck of it, that irks me.

    I also think a lot of ppl are trying to make a quick buck these days. Blogging/writing is seen as something people can do “easily” when in reality, it takes time and dedication and a lot of hard work to do it right. People don’t get that and it drives me crazy.

    • I would definitely start a Ben & Jerry’s blogroll, except I suspect people would have to pay an arm and a leg for shipping frozen goods, and having 33 lbs. of Chunky Monkey ice cream would probably go against this whole losing weight kick I’m on!

      I was happy to read your last paragraph. TOO many people decide on making art a career because they assume it requires little discipline and effort. Clearly, mowing lawns or bagging groceries would be a simpler choice :)

  10. What a fascinating and beautifully written post! I’m afraid I’m like Renee and have never seen (or noticed, maybe) a donate button, but clearly a sense of entitlement nauseates me.

    Like Lisa, I have fantacized about making money from my blog, but not by asking for donations!

    This is truly wonderful post, Tori, one that I will give more thought to.
    Kathy

    • Thanks, Kathy! I hope you NEVER see a donation button. It made me think all people are generally a-holes, and that’s an awful perspective to have! I think sponsorship is the only decent, respectable way to bring money into a blog. Unfortunately, I think my sponsors would have to be companies offering online parenting courses or maybe King of The Small Word, Hooked-On-Phonics!

  11. When I see how many people “work” a certain street corner or try to appeal to your sympathetic side, I’m afraid I have toughened up a bit. My hub has been helpful to a person on the street more than once and has been generous in his contributions, but we go through channels.

    I personally don’t enjoy blogs with so many advertisements on the sidebars. Blogging is just for fun, for me. Thanks for the fun FB video :)

    • I’ve definitley come across enough dishonest people to question the motives and agendas of some people, but I am always leaning towards sympathetic. I guess the buck stopped at Beggy Bloggers, because I could not- in any way, shape, or form- understand or appreciate why a blogger would just ask for money. I’m with you. Blogging is purely fun!

  12. I haven’t seen the ‘donate’ button on any blogs I go to, but it would irritate me. The writing would have to be spectacular for me to visit again. And I don’t care how fantastic the writing is, they wouldn’t get a penny out of me.

    I’d never consider asking readers for donations…I think I’m lucky I have readers that stop by at all.

    • I think your last sentence pretty much summed up how I feel. I feel fortunate to have anyone just read what I write. Asking a someone to pay my utility bill for it? Not so much.

  13. Wow–I’ve never seen that button either; I agree with what you said just above!
    The tree man scared my family and I TO DEATH! I about had a fit and fell in it. In New York, we had our ‘accordion Johnny’ who we adored. On special days we’d invite him into the office and give him food, and he played many a tune–wonderful memories.
    Like you with Dennis, I also give them food whenever I pass by, not money. Loved this touching, heartfelt post!

    • You’ve seen the Tree Man? Isn’t he scary and wonderful? Are people even allowed to be scary AND wonderful? I appreciated his effort, even if it was to make me faint :)

  14. I have run across a few beggy bloggers and I feel the same way you do. So far, I have not monetized my site, and someday I *would* like to makes some moolah. But simply asking readers to give me money “because I am worth it” seems too needy and entitled and just. plain. wrong. I *do* understand as a freelance writer that if I sell my work for free then I am asking to be taken advantage of. As a result, I typically respond to inquiries with my fee structure. When the editor replies she/he misunderstood and thought I was offering the piece for free, I say “no,” unless there is some real good reason to give the milk away… Perhaps beggy bloggers should make their sites “subscription only” and then the inequity would be removed.

    Thanks for stopping by and linking up with Soapbox Sunday. I’m just getting started with it but love reading the opinion posts!!

    • It is a great idea! Would you mind if I post about it? Send some Ramblings folks that way to participate?

      I think offering an interested company ad space or freelance work is completely fair. You offer them a service for which they pay. Simply asking for money from strangers is just crazy weird!

      • Tori, if you want, I can offer my wife’s services to help design the page – only if you need it, of course. She’s done some work for friends of her online. And if you need help researching potential companies to advertise for, I can check those out for you. For free, of course – my only charge to you is to annoy you with my presence, and I think I’ve built up WAY too much on my side of the ledger! :D

      • That is nice! I don’t think MY site is sponsor-worthy. I hear you need a bajillion readers and a blog theme other than: Bat Shit Crazy Pants :)

      • I don’t know, I’ve seen less-populated blogs with ads on them. And don’t sell yourself short – you do seem to be making “Bat Shit Crazy Pants” work quite well! :D

  15. I am completely on the other side of the fence here. (For once!) I have seen the “Donate Now” buttons on a few blogs and mostly admire the authors for being ballsy enough to ask for money. Is it a bit tacky? Yes! But am I morally against these buttons? Nope. Not at all. (It doesn’t mean I’ve given them anything– confession: I’ve never actually donated any money to these sites… yet… but the buttons, in and of themselves, don’t bother me.)

    Granted, the blogs I’ve seen that have the Donate Now buttons usually fall into one of three categories:
    1. Blogs whose readers have asked the author to put the button up (not authors forcing the donations on their readers). This was (I think!) the case with the Julie & Julia blog, and it’s also what happened at Hyperbole & A Half.
    2. Blogs whose authors *temporarily* put up a Donate Now button to help cover unexpected/emergency expenses. Bye Bye Pie did this when her E.I. payments got effed up unexpectedly and she needed to cover the mid-month expenses. The button was up for a day or something and then it came back down again. No biggie!
    3. Blogs whose authors have a humble request such as “Did you enjoy this post enough to buy me a coffee? Click here!” I don’t read any arrogance into this request and often find myself thinking “Sure, I’ll buy you a coffee!” (In this particular case, I happen to know the blog author in real life, so I just go out for coffee with him instead of clicking on the Paypal button. Such is life.)

    The last thing I’ll say on this topic (because apparently I’m about to write an entire book in the comments section!) is that I’ve actually *wanted* a few blog authors to put up a Donate Now button so I could give them something. One blogger in particular has published a few books and I want to support her. However, I’ve only taken the books out of my public library, meaning she hasn’t gotten 10 red cents out of me. I’d like her to have a Donate Now button on her blog so I could give her a few bucks– probably more than she’d receive from her publishing company for a book sale, but less than I’d have to pay to buy both of her books brand new from a store. Make sense? :)

    In summary: these buttons don’t bother me at all. Furthermore, if you had one on your own site, I would probably be persuaded to press the Donate Now link! ;)

    • That was pretty much the most convincing argument ever!
      I think I had the unhappy accident of stumbling across blogs that were asking for donations totally without merit. Like : I write once every two months and I’d like your free money, honey. I can see how the donate thing is a lot less creepy when there is an explanation behind it or if readers request it. I hope you would never, EVER donate to my site. Haha! I’d spend your hard-earned dollars on cheesecake and gossip mags!

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