YouTube creators can now raise funds, but can they raise awareness?

youtube play shape cut out of fan funding logo pattern

With fan funding, fans can support their favorite YouTube channels with the click of a button.

YouTube announced its fan funding feature this summer at VidCon, promising creators a way to open a tip jar on their channels so fans could directly support content without leaving the YouTube environment. As the new capability rolled out last week, several channels have instituted the feature, although its sustainability as a revenue stream and adoption by the general users of YouTube may be a long way off even if the initial response is promising.

“The first week response has been tremendously positive,” family-friendly gamer Paul Soares Jr., told the Daily Dot after implementing fan funding. “Many people feel good about supporting something that makes them happy. Fans have been asking me over the years, ‘Hey Paul, where’s your PayPal button?! I want to send you a couple dollars for all of the entertainment you’ve provided for me and my family!’ Fan funding makes it a snap now and takes the hassle out of using third-party sites and payment methods.”

Not all content creators are able to institute the feature, and YouTube’s is not the only game in town that allows creators to take donations or subscription-type fees for their content. Platforms like Patreon and Subbable have operated for a while and function more like an extended Kickstarter campaign for creators, with monthly donations and perks for participating fans. For creators like Soares, however, the easy plug-and-play nature of YouTube’s new offering led him to choose it over third-party systems.

“I chose fan funding over independent systems likes Patreon primarily due to simplicity,” he said. “Everything to get fan funding operational on my channel was already in place. The infrastructure was there, the underlying payment system, the interactive promotion on my videos and channel. All I had to do was ‘flip the switch’ to turn it on so fans could see it. It’s the perfect turnkey solution if you already have a YouTube channel.”

So far, however, most fan funding channels have yet to see massive adoption from the users, in part because they’re still getting the word out that the option is available. The tip jar appears as a non-intrusive widget on a channel’s main page or an optional pop-up during the video, similar to an annotation. Georgia Koch, channel manager at SoulPancake, which also implemented fan funding last week, said her channel sees the tip jar as a great way to generate support without interrupting the viewing experience.

“Being able to be directly supported by our community on YouTube and the folks that watch our content on a regular basis would be amazing,” she told the Daily Dot. “As creators on the platform, we all have to figure out ways to be sustainable—and the cool thing about fan fund[ing] is it doesn’t affect the content viewing experience on the platform. Since a lot of our content is shown in schools and other educational settings, we want to make the viewing experience as streamlined as possible.”

The funding feature is currently available in the U.S., Japan, Australia, and Mexico, and uses Google Wallet to collect donations. Google takes 5 percent of the donation, plus a nominal fee for processing. For now, the biggest hurdle for participants is awareness, which channels like SoulPancake plan to tackle the best way they know how: through video.

“One thing we are working towards is creating a video that explains the feature and how any funds we raise will help us continue to make videos that matter on the platform,” Koch said. “The more information you can give the audience, the better. I think a lot of the work right now for content creators is about educating the YouTube audience and letting them know the feature exists.”

Illustration by Jason Reed

Rae Votta

Rae Votta

A former YouTube reporter for the Daily Dot, Rae Votta has more than a decade of experience in the digital and entertainment industries. Her work has appeared on AOL, Huffington Post, Out Magazine, Logo, VH1, Current TV, Billboard, and NYMag. She joined Netflix in 2016.