Pledging to Projects at Snowdrift.coop

The Snowdrift.coop pledge system differs from well-known donation systems. Instead of a set monthly dollar amount, a pledge at Snowdrift.coop means donating a tiny base amount multiplied by the number of patrons for a project. Thus, a pledge is a commitment to do your part as others give with you. Don’t think of this as a purchase, a tip, or a gift; your pledge is part of a social contract where we work together to build the free/libre/open world we all want to see.

Over time, participants will build good intuitions about the system as we continue testing, then running with live operations, and as we provide better and clearer statistics and graphs.

The basic social contract

In order to get the results of FLO projects that many people enjoy, we need as many of those people as possible to directly support the work. Of course, people have different means, different levels of skills, different amounts of free time, wealth, etc. We cannot demand everyone participate equally. Some people may even lack the smallest capacity for real participation. The best we can do while respecting everyone is to build a network where we agree together to each volunteer our part at the level we can each manage.

We want to build a social norm where everyone feels a sense of responsibility to pledge at least the minimum level to at least those projects they use and appreciate most. When people also use other projects that they do not directly support, that’s just fine — we cannot expect people to pledge to everything. Of course, if someone can afford to pledge to a higher quantity of projects and/or pledge at higher levels, we certainly encourage that. Others may primarily volunteer their time by contributing creatively, and we will have mechanisms to honor those contributors as well.

The freerider problem

If someone makes use of the results from various FLO projects and can afford to pledge to at least some but does not do so, then that person is a freerider. They don’t cost anyone else anything directly, so talk of “piracy” or “theft” is nonsense. Still, freeriders undermine the social norms (see the snowdrift dilemma), so we must discourage freeriding and acknowledge it as a problem.

Of course, with attention as the most scarce resource today, we want to encourage people to use, share, and promote FLO works. We certainly don’t want anyone to stop using FLO works. We just want more freeriders to convert into patrons by pledging their support. So, each pledge at Snowdrift.coop functions as an invitation to others to come help.

The base level pledge

As a guideline, consider the basic 0.1¢-per-patron pledge as the normal level for one person. Like paying the normal price for a scarce good in the market, nobody should feel obliged to do more. By making a base-level pledge, you have agreed to the social contract and will be recognized as a patron.

Higher pledge levels

Pledging more than the base level makes sense if you want to be extra generous. Perhaps you are enthusiastic about a project or have the means to comfortably donate more. When you make a larger pledge, it sends an even stronger message to others that they should come join as patrons: their participation will make that much more difference because you will match them at this higher rate.

Making sense actual pledge value

When you pledge as an early patrons to a newly-listed project, recognize that your initially small donation will grow as the community grows. The goal is to invite others rather than give all you can unilaterally. To increase your donation, promote the project to others. As the number of patrons increases, your donation will go up.

A higher pledge level is a long-term promise to match others at a higher than normal rate. Don’t use it as a temporary way to bypass the system just to donate more right now. That said, you may change your pledge at any time, so don’t hesitate to try what seems right. Experience with the system over time will help you get comfortable with how it works.

Higher pledge levels may make sense for specialty projects

For niche projects with a smaller audience, we can reasonably expect fewer total patrons. In those cases, higher pledge levels may make sense. As we test and finalize the system, we may implement the option for projects to specify different “suggested” share levels or even to set a different minimum pledge base-level.

Manage your pledges and budget over time

As donations go out monthly, each patron can monitor progress and get a sense for the impact of their pledge. Because funds come from patrons’ accounts in the system, patrons face no risk of high costs. The only risk is that your pledge will be reduced or dropped due to insufficient funds.

When a funds run out, we hope patrons will deposit more as they recognize the importance of continuing to match others and of supporting their favorite projects. As projects reach higher levels of funding and achieve various goals for their work, we will consider different ways to continue growing the community without pledge values reaching prohibitive levels. See further discussion at our page on limits to pledge value.

Problems with choosing donation amounts generally

The difficulty in choosing donation levels has only a little to do with our new mechanism. Even when donating to a traditional fundraiser, it is never obvious what donation level to choose. In the overall economy, lots of guesswork and arbitrariness occur in simply setting prices for regular goods and services. See our page about markets and prices for more discussion.