moderated Re: Changes to new basic groups #updates ; Donation support for free tier #update

Robin Whittle

Further to my message , Stan/jp's suggestion of making the current Basic plan USD$5 a month and introducing a new Free plan along the lines of the more limited functionality the Basic plan will have after 24th August and partly in response to Chris' concerns about the difficulty of raising money within a group, here are some further thoughts.  At the end I discuss the idea of a Free tier and a $5/month or $55/year service similar to or the same as the currently free Basic service,

At least three ways of raising money to pay for the service have now been mentioned.   I suggest two more.

One (A) is by a subset (or in principle perhaps all) of the members sending money to one person, such as the group owner, via PayPal (or in principle other means, but few would be easier than PayPal) until there is enough, such as for a year's service: WRB 

"Of more than a thousand members, I believe 21 or so contributed an average oof $20 for our original “premium year” before I cut off donations.  That’s not to say there would not have been more."

Similarly: RCardona mentioned: Only about 10% of our membership made a donation, but sufficient funds were raised to fund the membership group for 2+ years.

A second (B) approach is for the group owner to pay for the service, as I do for one group, so far only a month old with about 10 members, only a few of whom write messages.   Dano wrote:

"I have a few of my groups that I took Premium and I pay for those myself. Part of the reason is that I have a number of members who are barely on the internet (as I term it, they are in the extreme right hand lane of the information highway), but the experiences and information they bring to the group to share are priceless."

A third (C) approach was suggested by Paul Fox .  He suggested a mechanism for group members to pay directly to, since this would be easier than one group member collecting the monies, paying and accounting for these transactions to the group or at least its owner.   I can see the attraction of this being a part of the service in that the structures would already be in place for all groups.   It might even raise significant revenue in the absence of anyone in the group suggesting that such payments/donations be made.

I can imagine several problems with this as a payment (rather than donation, see below) which I think would make it overall a bad idea.  Firstly, there would need to be some complex arrangement for accounting to group owners regarding all such payments.  A person might be in several groups and would need to nominate which group the payment was for - thus making multiple payments for multiple groups.   Then there would be questions about refunds of payments accidentally made in error, with an extra zero or two.  Such payments would involve full credit card transactions, rather than something like PayPal which many people find easier and more secure.   Also, from the point of view of as a business, there would be a more complex and much more voluminous accounting burden, with many more people making small payments.   There would be the need for invoices, manual work and records keeping for enquiries and and also entering into contractural obligations with many more people, all of whom would need to have agreed to a terms and conditions arrangement they almost certainly would not have read.  For instance, what if payments went a few years ahead of current fees and the group for some reason was closed?  Overall I think it is a much better idea for someone in the group to solicit, accept and account for these payments from members and then to present a single payment to

Here are two other ideas, prompted by Paul Fox's suggestion:

Plan D involves an easy-to-use Donation facility, linked to from the bottom of all emails for groups which are currently free of charge, where people can make a donation (something which doesn't require invoices or entering into a contract) directly to to support this free tier of service, for all such groups.   This would presumably use the same credit-card payment system as is currently used.   A PayPal option would make this more attractive.  There could also be a link from the main page.

Plan E is similar, but the link is to an Externally administered permanent fundraising page, at some well-respected fundraising web site, for the express purpose of funding generous (but also a good introduction to the paid service tiers) free service tier.   There, the numerous community benefits of the free tier can be described in detail, there can be feedback from donors etc.  People would know that their money is going to a well-vetted cause and the website would presumably offer PayPal and any other convenient payment mechanisms.   Group owners who run free tier groups could write comments, or be quoted in the main page, with a brief description of how valuable the free service is to their group members.

Plan E would be some additional advantages.  People unconnected with might see the page when perusing the fundraiser site, or see it mentioned on social media etc. as a worthy cause and make a donation.   This listing, especially to the extent that it was widely supported, would support the notion, which I think is entirely realistic, that, although not a charity, goes to a great deal of effort to support community (and/or advocacy or however defined) groups by offering a free tier of service.  This enables the group members to communicate with each other in convenient, highly accessible and unique (no-one does this like manner - but that as a small business, it is asking for donation support in order to continue this effort on a long-term sustainable basis.

Chris wrote, in part:

"Be careful what you wish for..."

I wish for Mark to find it satisfying and profitable to run for as long as he likes - and for that to be as long a time as possible.  No other person has both such a good vision of social and commercial communication being supported by a combined email and web-forum AND has made it happen for so many groups of people.   He did this in the mid-1990s and is still working on this enormously pro-social project.

(Today I discovered that the archives automatically hide trailing quoted messages.  This greatly improves the signal-to-noise ratio of the of the archives, without me having to trim them myself or keep pestering people to do so when they reply.)

Despite whatever financial difficulties any group faces, no-one owes them a free service.   Mark has made a commitment not to change arrangements for existing groups, which is a fine thing, but in the long term, I think circumstances may change and that no business should be expected to support anyone but their paying customers, unless perhaps with the help of government funding.

I think jacking up the currently free Basic service to USD$5 a month and adding a Free service underneath it would be a good idea.   This would have all the Basic services of email, searchable web archives, moderation, web posting of new message and email attachment facilities, with the 1GB attachment storage limit.  (I guess the archives can be edited to delete those no longer wanted as the limit is being reached, to allow new message attachments to be stored.) 

This is quite different from Mark's updates and which involve what I described as Free being the new Basic, and there being no Basic service (all this is for new groups - existing groups are unaffected), except as a subset of the level of service provided by Premium.  In the changes as planned, I think there would be a very big gap in functionality between the new (minimal and free) Basic and Premium.  I think the zero to USD$20/month (USD$220/year) gap is likely to be a significant hurdle when someone is considering establishing a group.  

It is one thing for a group owner with 1000 members and years of experience to contemplate raising the USD$220 a year.  It is more daunting for someone just starting out, perhaps never having run a group before, and being uncertain of how much money they or their potential members might want to pay per year if the group is relatively small.  They may want the extra features, such as photos, files etc. in part to make the group attractive to members, but not feel confident enough about the success of the group, and so of their own commitment to the project, to pay $30 a month.  


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