Income models for Open Access: Donations and Fundraising

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Fundraising programs to support open-access journals assume a variety of forms. They include concerted, one-time campaigns, designed to cover initial development costs or to fund an endowment, and ongoing, low-intensity programs, where the income generated supplements more stable income streams. A campaign may solicit small gifts from individual donors or seek larger donations from corporations, foundations, institutions, and high net worth individuals. The gifts may be anonymous donations, processed through online gift processing services, or named gifts.

In the context of peer-reviewed journals, donation-based models typically work better as appeals to individuals than to institutions. Some academic libraries, especially those at public institutions, operate under purchasing policies that preclude their support of eleemosynary models. Their role is as purchasing agents, and many are prohibited from making charitable contributions.

2.6.1 Donations from Individuals

Appeals for donations will likely prove more successful if the journal makes it as easy as possible for readers to contribute. Some journals solicit donations from individuals through links from their main pages or via pop-up screens that appear after a reader selects a link to an article. Soliciting donations need not be disruptive or disproportionately time-consuming. Journals can manage donations using programs offered by online vendors, such as PayPal, Google Checkout, NetworkforGood, and JustGiving.

Such services can lower a journal’s costs and risks for a donation program by providing donors with a secure online transaction. Google’s Checkout service provides free donation transaction processing to U.S. nonprofits participating in its Google Grants program. All other 501(c)(3) organizations are charged 2% + $0.20 (USD) per transaction, with no monthly or setup fees. The PayPal Donations service charges the same rate as standard commercial transactions, that is, 1.9% to 2.9% + $0.30, and JustGiving assesses a 5% transaction fee.

Use of these services is insufficient in itself. A publisher needs to encourage individual donations through a specific campaign or membership program that reaches out to a journal’s audience and cultivates a relationship with the donor. Without such a communication strategy, a click-through donation button provides a passive solicitation approach, capable only of generating incidental income.

2.6.2 Donations from Institutions

Soliciting philanthropic funding for peer-reviewed journals from academic libraries confronts several obstacles, including library purchasing policies and free-rider issues. A subscription journal seeking to convert to Open Access may try to overcome such obstacles by making open-access distribution contingent on the publisher securing a specified level of financial commitment. This approach introduces the social dynamics and incentives needed to surmount free ridership.

One donation model uses a gift-gauge approach to releasing content via Open Access, basing access to content on achievement of specified giving thresholds. In this approach, embargo length or the rights level of the Creative Commons license applied to the content is determined by the giving level reached. As this approach would require a recurring campaign (the frequency of which would depend on the publisher’s income requirements) to fund a serial publication, it would work better for one-time programs (for example, for a campaign to establish an endowment; see below).

As with any income-generating activity, the cost of a fundraising program needs to be carefully weighed against the potential return. Sometimes a publisher may be able to work with a university or society development office in implementing such a program, both to gain from the office’s expertise and to coordinate efforts to avoid competing for the same donors.

2.6.3 Donations & Fundraising Examples

Examples of peer-reviewed journals soliciting individual donations via Google Checkout, Paypal, and credit cards include:

Examples of voluntary subscriptions and donations via credit card:

  • Americana: the Journal of American Popular Culture, from the Institute for the Study of American Popular Culture provides an example of a tiered donation model with a private benefit (a monthly newsletter). (http://www.americanpopularculture.com/endowment.htm)

  • Voices: A World Journal for Music Therapy, published by The Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre, University of Bergen in affiliation with the Nordic Journal of Music Therapy. (http://www.voices.no/info/infosub.html)

For an example of a law journal that systematically cultivates alumni, see:

For an example of a journal that has established a corporate giving program that appeals to a specific market (in this case, a legal practice area), see:

An interesting example of a contingent access model, though not applied to a journal, is “ThenYouWin,” an initiative to release documentary films under Creative Commons licenses. (http://thenyouwin.yooook.org/content/)

When commenting on this page, please detail your experience with the model in question. The comment area is moderated and reserved for evidence- or experience-based discussion and requests for support in experimenting with different approaches.