Yes, Fundraising Is Part of Our Business Model: Here’s Why

NOTE: This post originally published August 6, 2020 and was most recently updated on March 15, 2023.


Our March 2023 Fundraiser

I am once again here to update this post, and I am reminiscing on when we first created this post to explain why the heck we fundraise. That was the summer of 2020. It’s really been a HARD fucking few years, hasn’t it? When we worked on this post for the first time, I took all the questions people kept asking us and said, hey, what if we answered them in one mega post that anyone could reference at any time? In large part, this post can be summarized as the fact that most media that serves smaller communities needs support from that community to sustain itself and that is the way it has always worked and likely will continue to work! Think of your public radio stations, your local news outlets. In a way, working here can feel like working at a local publication because relative to the general population, our community is smaller and tight-knit. Serving an audience of queer and lesbian women, nonbinary people and trans people of all genders has also meant that too often, we’re passed over for advertising opportunities that we could have really slayed at, that I am sure you would have loved to see come to fruition. We cannot live on advertising alone — and we remain majority reader supported, in the largest part, by our A+ members, the nearly 7,500 people who support us and collectively cover half of our spending. If you’ve been on the fence, will you consider joining them?

We want to always keep Autostraddle majority free for everyone; we know that not everyone can afford to support and we need our content to be accessible to the next person who needs us, but our most affordable A+ level is at $4 a month or $30 a year and A+ membership is the most sustainable way to make sure we stay free for others. Our A+ members are really special and truly important — even though they’re in the minority when it comes to our readers overall, you can see how many people they’re benefiting. If you aren’t a member, yet, will you join A+? No matter your reason for being here, or how much or how little you use Autostraddle, your support keeps us here as a community resource. It’s like you’re passing Autostraddle onto the next person.

Check out our updated section on A+ Membership.

Holding 1-2 fundraisers a year has been our plan since the major budget changes we made after our 2019 campaign. It’s actually a plan many of you have endorsed over the years, usually with specific suggestions like “you should do what NPR does!”

Like so many ideas we had in 2019, 2020 challenged our ability to follow through on those goals and our comfort with the ethics of doing so. 2021 was a chaotic year for so many of us, we all know how 2022 went, and in 2023 is hurtling quickly into a recession. We know that a lot of our readers aren’t in a position to support us right now, and that is completely okay.

But we’re also hoping that some of you can, and will do so knowing you’re subsidizing the site for others. We are also hanging on by our bleeding queer fingertips here. This recession is hitting a small site like ours hard already and we’re not even three full months into the year. And yet we are going to try, even if the publishing landscape is dire. 2020 was the worst year on record for newsroom layoffs. Hundreds of print and digital news publications folded, downsized and slashed thousands of jobs, including many independent media outlets we all relied upon for smart, honest writing. We’ve lost Bitch Magazine, Wear Your Voice, Catapult Magazine — spaces that paid queer and trans writers for fresh, thoughtful work.

Despite this, Autostraddle remains — so far — on the very short list of publications who’ve survived and who have managed to raise our rates in the meantime. We raised rates for our freelancers in October 2022, and though we cannot give our senior team cost of living increases to keep up with inflation, we are still here, working anyway. We’ve continued publishing relevant, vital work for you. We’ve continued to create the necessary uncompromising and feminist space for queerness where lesbian, bisexual and queer women and trans people of all genders, including nonbinary people and trans men, are centered. We have continued to work every day to bring in more perspectives and the writing that you have asked for. We just launched a new queer parenting column after you all asked us for more parenting content! Here, it’s all about our community, and we’re not just relegated to a vertical or treated as a side topic on a site that centers straight people. I want this site to be permeable, to be a place where we can have back and forth feedback and discussion, where, even if it sometimes takes our indie selves more time than anyone would like to get the resources together to get something done — we are taking your input seriously and crafting a space that reflects the queer perspectives our community asks to see.

But why does our “business model” require that we interrupt our normally scheduled programming to ask for money every six to twelve months or so? Maybe you’re already an A+ member, or you buy our merch — so why are we still also having fundraising drives on top of having a membership program and a bustling store!? Didn’t we just have a fundraiser? (October 2022 seems a lifetime away, but still.) That’s what we’re here to talk about! First, some commonly asked questions we can help answer:

Beyond that, what does it actually look like to build our business model around a reader-funded vision? We can explain!

Can’t you try making more money from advertising?

First of all, we are, and we have!

Secondly — Riese really spoke to this in This Business of Art — it’s a common misconception that any publication, let alone our special weirdo niche magazine for lesbians and bisexuals and queers, can survive on advertising dollars alone. Publishing has always relied on revenue from advertising as well as events and subscription/membership income. (Here’s a useful look at Buzzfeed’s revenue streams.)

Prior to 2019, ad revenue was generally abysmal due to the market we serve and our distance from the mainstream media world, which meant we’ve adapted over the years to never fully rely on advertising to pay our bills. Instead, we’ve had the privilege to focus on building our relationships with YOU first and foremost.

Because of that, other publications have had to make tough choices we didn’t. For example: The Atlantic gained 90,000 new subscribers between March and May 2020, but because of their primary reliance on events and ad revenue, they still had to cut 17% of their employees in May 2020.

While most publications plan for year-to-year growth in ad revenue, we are stalwart pessimists with a passion for caution. So we’d already presumed ad sales in 2020 would be down 50% from 2019. It turned out that our ad sales for 2020 would actually fall 90% compared to 2019, which severely hurt us.

Our 2021 ad sales, though slightly improved, were still down 85% compared to 2019. On top of that, we’ve doubled our budget since 2018 due to pay increases, new hires, and necessities we finally stopped putting off, like tech support. Like it did for many other magazines and media companies, two PPP loans helped compensate for some of that loss. Our first loan was for around $90k, which makes it too small to show up in public databases, and in 2021 we received $118,000, and both of those loans have been completely forgiven. So that helped, too, but didn’t eliminate our need to fundraise.

However, the publishing and news field as a whole is starting to catch onto the reader-supported business model that Autostraddle has prioritized since day one. In September of 2020, the Membership Puzzle Project (which sought to help news outlets build reader-supported membership programs) found a permanent repository for their research (though they have sunset the research project) with the Media Development Investment Fund so that their findings could continue to be used. They’ve represented a determined shift toward recognizing that membership programs are the future of independent media. Yes, Autostraddle knew this and we knew it early (as early as 2014!), and so did places like Mother Jones, who wrote about it in 2016. And, yes, they’re still here and reporting in 2022. They, too, are fundraising right now (and for $325k) because they understood the same things — advertising, while it can supplement our revenue, won’t save us or any other independent media. We have to directly support the media that’s important to us and our communities, media that’s critical of existing power structures and norms, media that centers the experiences of the most marginalized members of our queer community — or we’ll lose it.

That said — yes! We’d rather not do fundraisers as often as we do, but for now, that seems to be what’s in store for us. Thanks to the people who gave to our last fundraiser, we were able to hire Anya, our Director of Brand Partnerships, who has been hard at work as the first-ever dedicated individual on brand partnerships at Autostraddle. She hasn’t even been here a year, but she’s already been helping us to turn this ship around, and we’re optimistic about 2023.

Like anything that queer people have to build ourselves, though, getting our ad revenue up to a robust level is going to take some time and probably more effort than would be required at, for example, a straight publication. PR agents are always in our inboxes, jostling for coverage of their LGBTQ-inclusive TV shows, but the teams that place advertising for those same shows rarely show up in those same inboxes. You, as members of our community, are still undervalued, and that means we have to work harder, multiple times as hard, to get brands to take us seriously, to understand that it’s rewarding to spend their money here, that your opinions make a difference, that what you watch or what you buy impacts them. By supporting this fundraiser, you’re giving us more time to do just that, with, at last, the help of the person you helped us hire.

Have you looked into becoming a nonprofit?

We have, yes! Extensively! A nonprofit designation is essentially a tax status; there are a lot of 501(c) designations, but the (3) is the one that allows contributions to your organization to be tax-deductible to donors. Nonprofits (including churches) also get tax breaks. For many organizations, I’d say it’s absolutely appropriate, especially if you have a lot of overhead. Why not for us?

  1. We’re a virtual office with remote workers. We don’t own or rent physical property. This means on our end, the tax benefits are minimal — we might get some sales-tax free pens, a deal on software or cheaper postage. But 85% of our expenses (which is the percentage of our budget that goes towards paying queer human beings to work here) would remain unaltered.
  2. The primary tax benefit, then, is for our donors. However, 40% of our readers don’t live in the U.S. and, for U.S. residents, the standard deduction is $12,400 a calendar year, which means you’d have to donate over that amount to get a larger deduction, and according to results from our Money Survey, 83.6% of our readers donate less than $500 a year to non-profits. (If you are a U.S-based person who donates more than that to non-profits, we’re sorry that your gifts to Autostraddle aren’t tax-deductible and we thank you for your support!) So, it doesn’t make a difference to our taxes and it won’t matter much to most of yours.
  3. We’d be required to assemble a board of directors, and to hold (ideally in-person) meetings of that board. Volunteering on a nonprofit board of directors is a part-time job in and of itself (as is creating and having a board of directors); we’re always going to choose creating paid opportunities over volunteer.
  4. But what about grants? Honestly, grants are no easier to rely upon than ad sales. There’s no guarantee a group like ours would receive foundation or government funding. Private foundations are towers of wealth only required by law to disburse 5% of their assets each year, and their funding priorities can change at any time, just ask Bette Porter (and one reason why re-watching her plot line in the first season gives me nauseating flashbacks to my museum days). A foundation can give someone $50,000 one year and decide they don’t get that the next, or pull funding if they don’t agree with a nonprofit’s stance on an issue or approach. In fact, private foundations in the U.S. were pioneered by wealthy right-wing extremists (in many ways starting in my very own current city of residence, Pittsburgh, PA – check out Dark Money by Jane Mayer) because they provide both a tax shelter and a means to exert political influence. Finally, on top of that, wealthy funders can also re-brand as philanthropists, especially by funding arts causes. I mean, just take a look at who’s both infamous AND a funder of the arts from The Sacklers (of Purdue, makers of OxyContin) to the Waltons, of whom Alice Walton decided to just up and make her own art museum while Walmart has also been hit with a Federal Department of Justice lawsuit regarding their alleged complicity in the opioid crisis. It’s much more sustainable and ethical to focus on you, our community, and to rely on your support, especially because we know that we believe in so many of the same things.

There is one area where being a non-profit would help us: we often have “profits” at the end of the year that we keep in the bank for the next year, but the for-profit structure means our owners have to pay income tax on that profit, regardless of how much of their share they actually took. (Most years, this means we do pay out enough to cover those tax burdens.) At this point we don’t think that benefit outweighs the drawbacks, and we’re doing our best to mitigate the impact of taxes on profits by timing our fundraisers so that they are far enough away from the end of the year that we don’t wind up with surprise profits in December. (That’s why we’re fundraising early in the year in February!)This is all why, after nearly 12 long years, we’ve never switched to a nonprofit model, and why you can expect us to continue to not make that move. We’ve weighed our options and the pros and cons, our mission and our values, and are being strategic with our choice of United States tax status.

How are you broke again already??

The most concise explanation I can give for why we need money now and more urgently than we hoped is that advertising is not going as we had hoped. As to where the money goes, we use it to pay our queer and trans team. Those are most of our expenses! We also have to pay for the merch we then sell, the fundraiser perks we give to donors and shipping costs, too, for our web services such as server fees and the various tech situations we need run a website and publication from photoshop to google workspace and more, and finally we pay people like our tech team who we contract to improve the site and keep it from breaking! We don’t hand off money to anyone else or anything. We’re not making a profit for anybody.

The money we are raising is not extra money. It is going to fill a hole in our budget going forward so that we can keep operating. Our budget is $110k / month, and in October, we stipulated we were raising funds to see us through January — but we made it to March! As for the money from last October — if we have money, and then we pay people, we no longer have that money. At $110k a month (and we paid over 145 people last year), $150k does not last a very long time, though we do make it stretch. We’re fundraising now and hopefully, that will give us plenty of time to work out how to exist within the broader financial landscape this year so that we will ideally not have to fundraise again in 2023.

Last fundraiser, Riese said that she’d never felt more dire about our situation.This time unfortunately, we’re actually feeling a little bleaker than we were last year, in part because of our very imited cash flow and also because we’ve come to the end of our safety nets.

We have a lot to figure out about what’s next for us, how to better organize our workplace and our expenses and our revenue streams, and we’re hoping this fundraiser will buy us some time to do so. Our advertising revenue was up significantly from 2021 to 2022, and if it wasn’t for the recession, we’d anticipate similar upward growth this year, but we simply can’t count on it — we have to be conservative with those estimates.

We’ve been at this for the entire pandemic, and we’ve never felt more urgent. We’ve used the time you have given us with donations each year to improve our sustainability and our structures — and we have. But the truth is that trying to exist as an indie queer media site that pays people fairly to work here is excruciatingly difficult. Even a single advertiser tightening their budget due to the recession is a setback for us. We’re just that small, and this year is more of a struggle than we had hoped it would be.

Nevertheless, we know that with your help, we can do this.

Fundraising also remains the most viable, reasonable way for us to both fund our work and remain editorially independent! We aren’t beholden to a larger company or a foundation laying out expectations. Instead, we can be in conversation with our readers and community-centered, thinking about how we can best serve the people who need us most. We can make all kinds of decisions more freely because we are reader supported and because we are responsible not to anyone who is detached from our mission, but because we are directly responsible to the people we serve.

We don’t fundraise unless we need to and we always try to hold off for as long as possible. Sometimes, also, we get surprised when ad deals don’t go as we hoped. Now, we need to fundraise, so that is what we’re doing.

Again, 99% of our readers are not yet members, and we would love to have you!

Why don’t you just get investors?

Perhaps our most common question from straight people is, “can’t you just ask some celesbians for a million dollars?” So, let’s talk about investors and venture capital.

In the mid-’10s, venture capitalists were stuffing publications like Mic, Fusion, Buzzfeed and Vice with funding, enabling them to offer unsustainable rates and prop up unsustainable business models and staffing structures. They were able to invest in ultimately doomed initiatives, like pivoting to video. None of that VC money ever came our way, because who gets venture capital has more to do with who you know than what you do. In 2019, VC investment in female founders hit an “all time high” — of 2.8%. Less than 10% of all venture capital goes to women, poc and LGBTQ founders. But our lack of access to VC capital actually isn’t a bad thing. VC often demands liquidation, first driving up value in order to sell the company for a profit, either through an IPO or on the secondary market. VCs expect most of their ventures to fail. A key component to venture capital is also close management of the company by the investors. When they’re looking to grow in order to sell, it’s a very different relationship than Autostraddle’s values-rooted approach.

Even outside of the VC space, a lot of the capital opportunities you hear about or have recommended to us are essentially long-term loans at low interest rates. If you’re a business owner who needs to stock a kitchen for a restaurant or manufacture jeans for a clothing store, loans make sense. The money you borrow becomes a product you can sell, thus enabling you to repay the loan. In fact, on two occasions, we’ve taken small Paypal loans to print merchandise for the holiday season, both of which we were able to repay within a month of receiving it.

But we haven’t and never will take on debt we’re not immediately able to repay. The realities of our industry and the low overhead of our business specifically, coupled with our own precarious personal financial situations, make loans just not worth it.

We are open to outside investment, we just haven’t had the right deal come our way. A business like ours requires a specific type of investor or buyer — one who believes in the cause even more than they anticipate profiting wildly from it and who knows how to sell our market to advertisers. Otherwise, putting more money into writers and staff doesn’t automatically create more web traffic or more revenue. Our traffic was actually at its highest in 2014, when full-timers were still very underpaid “independent contractors,” our rates for team writers were one-third of what they are now, and we couldn’t pay outside freelancers at all.

So what does it really look like to design our business model with fundraising in mind? How does it work, why is it sustainable, and what can you expect as far as what it means for you to support us? We’ll explain!

Our business model reflects our values!

Speaking of 2014 — in terms of savvy, to me, the Autostraddle team coming up with the A+ program in 2014 is proof positive that this site is around because of downright pre-cognitive levels of “business” acumen. The only thing they could’ve used at the time was more resources to put behind their idea.

That’s because YOU give us the freedom and flexibility that can only be achieved by an independent publication. The future is more uncertain than ever, but doing these fundraising campaigns and refusing to acquire debt enables us to never be forced out of desperation to accept a buyout, partnership or investment offer that doesn’t align with our values and policies — which are often at odds with capitalism. Like these:

  1. As a company, we’re not making efforts to maximize efficiency at the cost of our people. We provide flexible hours and unlimited paid leave for employees and freelancers who need it. We can do this because we are not focused on profits, we’re focused on sustainability and growth.
  2. We have never, in 14 years, lowered anybody’s salary or lowered rates for freelancers. Even when the amount of money our people expected to make here was very small, we knew our freelancers and staff depended on it for something, and we didn’t want to take that away. We just raised our rates in October 2022 to keep up with inflation, even though we were not able to raise salaries for our senior team to keep up with same.
  3. We’re doing our best to be a resource for our writers, to offer coaching and career growth and a chance for people to explore and develop their talents. If we raise more money than we need, it just means more support for writers and thinkers and initiatives that we value.
  4. Our goal is to earn enough revenue to be sustainable, not wildly wealthy, and for our community to have the resources it needs, not just a few individuals. When we have more money, we’ve historically raised our costs because we’ve used our additional resources to invest more in our people or infrastructure.
  5. Because of your support, we can publish pieces that we KNOW have a lot of inherent value, whether or not they’re “marketable” or drive traffic from outside sources. We learned so much from our recent reader survey and we’re excited and energized to serve our community!
  6. We’re doubling down on our commitment to fight inequity, to dismantle white supremacy within and without the workplace, and to do everything we can as a publication to build a better world.
  7. We don’t have a set price for access. While we provide a few pieces of bonus content a month to our A+ members, we’re not erecting a paywall. Fundraisers as a part of our business model go hand in hand with refusing to operate from a place of exclusion. Autostraddle wasn’t started purely as a money-making venture (and it was touch and go for some time!), it was founded to have a community around LGBTQ writers and writing — and that remains true.

One thing we can always say with confidence is that Autostraddle values and supports our writers and artists, and works to be a community and resource for YOU.

This fact informs our business model — a lot. We care about the reader experience. We work with advertising partners we like, avoid invasive ads and don’t clutter our footers with degrading clickbait. Life-changing stories and information are what Autostraddle’s known for. We’re aware of our responsibility in our LGBTQ community, and it’s a role we take seriously. When we mess up, we look to be accountable and to take steps toward progress. As a supporter, you might never know when your dollars made it possible for someone to access Autostraddle at one of the most vulnerable points in their life — but they have.

Our size and independence has many drawbacks, but it also enables us to act nimbly without needing approval from a board. In June 2020, we had no ad sales that required specific traffic goals, so we were able to make the group decision to pause all content unrelated to the uprising for Black lives, despite the traffic hit we knew we’d take. We were able to take the time to participate in activism and mutual aid outside of the office and to create resources that earned unprecedented reach, like “How to Never Call the Cops Again: A Guide with a Few Alternatives to Calling Police.” These as well as bail fund lists, abolitionist and other syllabi, and personal essays were actionable and powerful resources.

You can see some of the “greatest hits” of everything we’ve done since July 2019 in terms of our editorial and internal goals on our The Receipts page.

Because of reader support even during a global pandemic (thank you!!!), our team of talented writers and creators were able to do our darndest to get you necessary coverage and content as the pandemic spread. This continues every day.

The Immediate Need

How did we make it through those first nine years without needing annual fundraisers? Well, one reason is that we were all working for salaries and rates FAR below industry standard, sometimes for no salaries or rates at all, and relying on our full-time staff to work excessive, exhausting schedules. The toll of that work on the health of our long-time senior staff is beyond words, to be honest.

This is a pretty normal phase for a young organization to go through — especially one that began as a group of friends wanting to make a thing — but it was never sustainable, and it certainly wasn’t something anybody should be doing for nearly a decade.

In July 2019, we asked you: do you believe we can do more? Do you believe we can raise our pay and increase our editorial budget, hire more people and bring you better work? And you said yes by funding Autostraddle! And as a result:

  • Our budget has about doubled since July of 2019, both because of wage and rate increases and new hires. The far-above-normal ad revenue from 2019 enabled us to eventually hire two new full-time employees and four new part-time contractors. Every human we pay is LGBTQ — even our accountant, lawyers and web developers.
  • Our full-time employees still work below industry standard, though we can now pay our bills; we still work remotely and we keep our costs down where we can. Even with these provisions, being ethical has a cost that you allowed us to take on. We grew our budget so that our team could be treated better, so tasks could be shared among more employees, and so we could hire a more diverse team of writers — and we hope that it shows in our work.

Our budget for humans greatly increased from before July 2019. Hiring more people has impacted the size of our budget, but our investments in our team over time have proven that we’re right to be hopeful your investment will pay out huge dividends in terms of what we can do for you!

Here’s how our sustainable sources of income break down

Autostraddle is sustained by YOU.

2022 Autostraddle revenue breakdown. A colorful pie chart shows that we got 49% of our revenue from A+, 20% from ads, 14% from the loan, 5% from merch and 15% from fundraiser and general donations.

We’ve already talked about advertising, but let’s break down how all our revenue streams add up to sustainability:

A+ Membership

My job title is A+ & Fundraising Director, and a goal for my role is to take A+ from about 50% of my time to about 90% of my time. I really want to move us to being mostly sustained by our membership program, and to fundraise only for special projects. This might be a multi-year plan, this might never be fully achieved, but it remains, nevertheless, a goal. The facts:

  • About 30% of our revenue in 2019 came from A+ membership, and that’s not fucking bad. 2019 was unique in many other ways — 2019 also included our biggest fundraiser ever, our highest ad sales ever, and our biggest camp ever. So, I’m also gonna look at 2018, where A+ members made up about 38% of annual revenue. That’s a lot! (Keep in mind that revenue is different than profits — camp revenue was a huge chunk of our revenue, but it was also an enormous chunk of our expenses.) In 2021 and 2022, HALF our budget was supported by A+ members. That — and support of past fundraisers — that’s basically the only reason we’re still here.

Our analytics suggest less than 1% of our monthly readership has given or joined, so I believe in my heart of hearts that you’re out there! That means that 99% of our readers are not yet A+ members! 99%! And listen — we know that not everyone can support. But if you enjoy Autostraddle and you can spare $4 a month, we will literally evaporate without the support of readers, and we’d greatly appreciate your help.

Our current business model doesn’t anticipate ever surviving solely on A+ membership, but we’re aiming to get as close to that possibility as we can — and I believe we’re closer than ever.

So, it’s not that A+ Membership isn’t working. It is! Just not…as quickly we need it to, and not for a company that refuses to react to that damage with layoffs and rate cuts. In fact, A+ members are one of the main reasons we survived these past three pandemic years. Currently, we typically say we’re hovering around 7,500 members (up from 3,700 at the end of 2019 — THANK YOU THAT IS DOUBL), and safely passing 7,500 members and approaching 8,000 would be a dream come true for this little indie pub.

Bottom line: Every new A+ membership, upgrade or donation to our (very cool) member pool counts toward our fundraiser. AND, A+ members get discounts on this fundraiser’s limited edition perks</a> and SO MANY MORE THINGS like access to pop-up discords, discounts JUST for A+ members from cool brands, bonus content, and the deep satisfaction of knowing you’re doing your part to support indie queer media in a hostile world.

Affiliate Income

Affiliate income is great and we do rely on it! The rates on our sex toys are especially good, and we’re excited to have been working more and more with Bookshop over the past year — and additionally we even have some partnerships with brands just for A+ members, a few of which are affiliates — and we’re working on adding more. But, to give you an idea of where it fits in, our A+ income for 2021 was 25x what our affiliate income was, so… we’d need to get a LOT more action through affiliate links to have them be a primary source of revenue. They really only give us a few cents or a few bucks of kick-back per sale, so while it adds up if you intentionally make sure you’re shopping through an Autostraddle affiliate link when you are buying stuff online (please…do!) sites like Vox and New York Magazine have entire teams dedicated to pumping out daily shopping-related content and accumulate millions of dollars of affiliate income every year, which we don’t have the manpower to replicate. (Plus you’d probably hate the clutter and product-placement feeling.) They also have the leverage, based on size, to negotiate better deals with affiliate partners than we can.

We used to make a lot through Amazon affiliate links —usually not even from the book or boyshorts you linked to from Autostraddle, but the mattress or the chainsaw or the stroller or paper towels you bought later that browsing session. BUT IN JUNE 2021, Amazon kicked us out of their affiliate program, and KEPT all of the revenue they owed us with it, along with all the 10+ years of data that tell us what our readers like to buy! Riese speaks more to that in this post. So, now, we can’t make any affiliate income from Amazon. That’s it. Fin. (And we don’t even have the money to remove all the Amazon links that still riddle our website so they keep making money off us.)

And, not only is it more sustainable to base our business model on reader support, it’s also more ethical. Though this was frustrating, we also breathed a sigh of relief that we could further disentangle ourselves from Amazon. Reader support allows us to weather blows like this, to make it through even when mega corporations decide to pull the rug out from under us. Thank you.

We’re always working with new partners, and look, we only recommend things we seriously like— but this is just not what is going to pull us up and out. We need you.

Merch Sales

Similarly, merch sales are awesome! However, they make up a smaller percentage of our revenue. That being said, have you seen the new designs? Get your peaches tee!

Our whole community is sustained by people who give with the next person in mind.

Our supporters are the people making sure this site is here for everyone, and underwriting our costs for those who cannot afford to support right now. Thank you for looking out for the next person.

We’ve always been a little bit different at Autostraddle, and I don’t think that continuing to be free is naive — I think it’s an act of radical trust that is necessary if we really believe in equitable access.

If you look at the chart below, you will see that over MOST of gifts to the October 2022 fundraiser were $50 or less! We got to $145,000 in just 5 days with people giving $10, $25, $50. THAT IS INCREDIBLE.

You Are Powerful!

OCTOBER 2022 AUTOSTRADDLE FUNDRAISER GIFT BREAKDOWN

A pie chart showing the 2022 fundraiser gift breakdown. $1-4 is 4%, $5-9 is 6%, $10-$24 is 19%, $25-$49 is 34%, $50-$99 is 19%, $100-$249 is 12%, $250-$499 is 5%, $500+ is less than 1%
Gift breakdown for the 2022 Fall Fundraiser. THIS IS AMAZING YOU ALL.

We’re supported by everyone pitching in! The majority of gifts to Autostraddle aren’t huge. We rely on everyone who can contribute, in a range of amounts, to help us!

In fact, in 2020, the average total amount a person contributed to Autostraddle (outside of A+) for the year was about $68. This isn’t the average gift, just to clarify. This is the average total contribution per person. So, on average, if you were someone who supported Autostraddle fundraisers in 2020, you gave $68 for the year. If you gave more, you know who you are. Thank you. However, this remains both significant (thank you!!!) and also relatively accessible. That’s how we made it through. Just thousands of people giving what they could — some more, some less —and each and every one of them making a difference.

Look, we know times are tough. But if you can spare $30 USD and let us send you some stickers, that’s a big help. We’re just some gays trying to make sure queer media survives.

But, that’s the power of our community, of passing the hat, of chipping in. I hope that if you believe in us and share our values and want to see queerness and independent queer media in our future, and if you want to fully embrace our vision for Autostraddle, that you will throw in a few bucks or sign up for A+ if you can. And, again, if you can, maybe throw a few bucks in to support the next person, too.

What can you expect during this fundraiser?

  • Perks!!! Do you love them? We hope so!
  • During the fundraiser, we’ll send emails and have some pop-ups and posts about it. We know pop-ups are annoying, and we’re very conservative about when we use them. But they do work. Thank you for your patience with them!
  • We’re going to have some special content and events for A+ members, including an A+ Pop-Up Server! Yellowjackets watch-alongs! More soon!
  • The beloved tracker is back and can be found on our campaign page.
  • You can expect endless gratitude from us!!! And after that? More of the work you’ve told us you want to see! We are going to keep going as long as you let us!

At the end of the day, we’ve made this site reader-supported because it’s the most reliable, most sustainable, most ethical way for us to survive and thrive and do this work. We’ve always been honored and surprised and delighted to be able to count on you and this community. We need you, though. We need you today.

With love and hope,

Nico

Editors: Kamala Puligandla, Rachel Kincaid, Riese Bernard

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Nico

Nico Hall is Autostraddle's and For Them's Membership Editorial and Ops Dude, and has been working in membership and the arts for over a decade. They write nonfiction both creative and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 226 articles for us.

71 Comments

  1. Thank you for this! I’m an A+ member but plan to give what I can after payday. I don’t make a lot but Autostraddle is precious to me so I happily give precious funds in support.

  2. This is so so so helpful! I would love to see this linked to the fundraiser announcements and earlier posts. Honestly, from my perspective, I would have loved to see this post go up on day 1 of the fundraiser! I think autostraddle has generally been so clear and transparent and it’s so appreciated, but even though I knew this fundraiser was coming I was a little surprised by the size of the goal.

    • Thanks so much for this note! To be honest, we tried to get this up as soon as possible but for a couple of reasons, including scheduling and that this was a beast to write and edit, it published today. I can definitely understand feeling that way about the goal. Like if I think about this goal in terms of personal money — it’s a lot, but in terms of what we’re running this publication on…we’re still really lean. Thanks so much for reading and for being a member, too!

  3. I enthusiastically support this whole post!! “Angel” investors are extractive: they want MORE money back than what they put in. I interned at a mission-driven but angel funded company, run by a well-connected, and well intentioned business school white guy, and it was impossible for them to do the ‘mission’ piece because they were always having to prioritize money. A lot of worthwhile things – including Autostraddle – do not further concentrate wealth, and are completely counter to angel investors goals. And hear hear about non-profits. For more check out INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence’s The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. Since we live in a time and a world where wealth is so concentrated (1% of the US holds at least 40% of the wealth), of COURSE we have to subsidize each other! Any of us who can save money also need to be subsidizing if we wanna be in community in any way with anyone who is not wealthy and not continue stealing people’s labor.

    • In short co-signing that the only way to sustainably fund queer women and nb people of color – or even queer white women and nb people – doing creative work is to pay for it ourselves!!! And bc wealth is so unevenly distributed, people who can pay at all need to pay a few times ‘our fair share.’

      • Hear hear right back to you! Thank you for these illuminating and just really on point notes (and the reminder to get to reading a book I’ve meant to read!). And my deepest thanks to the folks who are subsidizing each other and keeping this community going for all of us.

    • more than 2 yrs later, I can only say all of this WITH MORE FEELING, only edit is to say money, not wealth, cuz money isn’t wealth. Sliding scales & donation contributions should be exponential, just like how money is distributed. The smallest dollar number on the scale keeps things accessible so we can do this together, the exponentially higher numbers on the scale are how ppl with exponentially more wealth honor the work and allow people doing the work to continue. . . . Racial capitalism & colonialism will NOT end on its own, it will devour us all unless: WEEEEE weaken that monster & put more space between us and we do that every time we GIVE EACH OTHER SOMETHING WE THAT HELPS US STAY ALIVE AND THRIVE. And often that thing is rent & grocery & medical bill money. We’re in a deadly ransom game none of us agreed to play. Those of us with a little or a lot more money are just that much farther away from the monster (rich white men and a few others who work for them) saying “if you keep paying us and working for us, we’ll just hurt theeese ones instead and leave you alone a little longer . . .” So let’s spread that ransom money around so we can all have more space and time together, build our strength in numbers, and ENJOY and THRIVE with each other. Enjoying & thriving with each other & the water & plants & animals & stars & soil is wealth. Money is ransom tokens.

      this keeps me going – Robin Wall Kimmerer on breathing life into a gift economy – https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/the-serviceberry/, and she reads it aloud here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-serviceberry-an-economy-of-abundance/id1368790239?i=1000503196561

  4. Thank you for the explanations and charts! Also, I appreciated the links at the top to the questions/topics you’d be discussing–in an article with this much information, I loved having a built-in outline.

  5. I would love it if you introduced a higher A+ tier! I don’t want more perks, I just want to give you more of my money 😄 I’ve set up a recurring PayPal donation in it’s stead but my guess is that’s not counted towards your A+ goals.

    • Oh my wow this is so kind! All I can say right now is…keep an eye out! 😉 And also thank you so much for being a member and giving more on top of that. We appreciate you!!!

  6. Oh hey I love this!!! LOVE transparency, LOVE nerdy details, LOVEEEE learning about how queer media can survive under disaster capitalism!! Thank you so much for publishing this – I’m sure it took heaps of effort to compile.

  7. Nicole, this is fantastic. I was (very briefly) in the NGO world and have seen some of the ‘strings attached’ to major donor funding – community funding definitely seems more sustainable here.

    I’m fascinated by the stat that 40% of AS readers are outside the US! This may be better as a town hall question, but have there been any discussions about bringing some sort of Global Editor on board within the next few years?

        • Hi! Thanks for asking! We’re doing our best to experiment and figure out what works for virtual events because not only is our office split across time zones, but so is our readership! So I imagine our approach in general will evolve over time. Short answer: yes, there will be a recording available at the same URL immediately afterwards. We’re going to have a transcript available later, too. So no matter your time zone, you should be able to submit a question for the team to answer. I can make this more obvious in the event description, too!

  8. Thank you so much for this very thorough, brilliant, and nerdy post. I speak as someone who knows nothing about business and just generally bad at math! It is great to see how it all works, and why our community is so important. Also, I wanted to thank you for adding alt text to the charts and graphs. 😄🦋🌟🤗🌈

  9. Hey :) Thanks for this informative post! I was wondering if you could go into more (any?) detail about how separating A-Camp — which was founded in part as a revenue stream for AS — from AS has changed the financial plan and the available finances. That is, from what I can tell, a huge alteration in course from the plan pre-2018, and I was hoping to learn more about the impact on AS and such.

    • Also I agree the informative captions are great! But I hope we still also get the funny/sardonic ones that are legit one of my favourite things on AS. Maybe there could be a “Description” and “Caption” for each image? idk

  10. Have you considered/do you already have a way of gifting A+ memberships? I’m already a gold member and I already have a lot of merch, so I’m not as interested in the perks of the donation drive. But I’d love to be able to gift a membership to a friend so they also get access to A+ content.

    • Hi! Thanks so much for being a gold member and wanting to give A+ memberships to others!! You’re the best <3 We in fact ARE working on this. With $$ from previous fundraisers, we were able to finally hire more tech support, so automating gift A+ memberships is a thing they're working on! It's a dream that is on its way to coming true and I promise you that I will email A+ members to let you all know as soon we have this capability. Thanks so much for asking!

  11. This was such a good article that really helped illuminate the importance of community fundraising for groups who want to stay rooted in the values and ethics of their communities. Thank you. This is giving me the encouragement i need to fundraise for my queer projects!

  12. This is a very worthwhile way to spend my money as an A+ member. I think of it as a subscription. Just like I would pay to have quality magazines in my hand, I support Autostraddle. It’s my favorite place to find all things queer and lesbionic. I love the inclusivity here. This is even better than a magazine as I can’t lose it, and I have access to all the amazing archives, how tos, media review and celebrity gossip. Thank you for all you do!

  13. Thank you for writing this! I just wanted to add that I’ve been reading these posts (and the Art of Business posts) ever since they started, and they’ve helped me envision how I would run my own queer business (which I’m hoping to finally do by the end of this year!) You’ve helped demystify the process of making money, and it feels like I’ve been able to take a mini business course. Anyway, thank you! I’ve been reading Autostraddle since the very beginning, back when the header was coffee rings, and I’m grateful my A+ membership can help keep this place going.

  14. In 2022 creating your business via fundraising is like a normal thing, there are a lot of services for you to do that like Kickstarter or others and people earning a lot of money to build their first ideas. But you need to understand that people won’t give you money if you don’t have a good idea and a well done presentation of it so you need money for that. When I wanted to build my video game I used services that posted Opploans reviews to develop my presentation and only then I published it on kickstarter.

    • If you’re looking for funding to start your business, it’s important to have a good idea and a well-prepared presentation. In 2022, there are various services like Kickstarter that can help you raise money. However, before seeking funding, you might consider consulting experts or seeking guidance on business cash advance loans http://www.gofundshop.com/business-advance/. They can provide valuable advice and assistance in navigating the process of securing financial support for your business.

  15. Well, thank you for this. I will admit to being annoyed by the (it feels like) constant calls for money and I appreciate the transparency. I do feel like it would have been helpful if AS had been more upfront about this being part of your business model from the beginning, because I definitely got the sense that the first fundraiser was a one-off, and I doubt I’m the only one.

    Autostraddle means a lot to me. I supported it via A+ when I made $12,000 a year, but I have to be honest that some of the fundraising emails felt incredibly emotionally manipulative to me. I get that that’s kind of the nature of the beast, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. I hope this is a safe place to express that.

    • Hi Ivy! First, thank you so much for being an A+ member when it was such a freaking stretch for you!!!❤️ I remember before I worked at Autostraddle, I also stretched my budget to become an A+ member and just, thank you. Your contribution is definitely part of the reason we’re still here, even able to ask for money to keep eeking forward.

      So, regarding the “first” fundraiser in July 2019. That was the one I got hired because of! Later on in November 2019. However, I wasn’t actually there for that fundraiser and everyone was just doing what they could, but weren’t actually experienced fundraising professionals, if that makes sense. So, definitely, some of the messaging was a little wonky, and it’s one of the reasons I worked on and published the first version of this post in the summer of 2020 (we update and repub with every fundraiser so the transparency is front and center on day 1) because I very much saw a need to get the information out there in a clear way, all in one place, for our readers. I’m glad this post was helpful!

      When we talk about how we’re doing financially, we’re just, like we are with all our writing, real. We neither exaggerate nor underplay our circumstances. However, we never want anyone who can’t afford to to donate, and we say so repeatedly, even when it could mean we don’t raise as much money. I mean, we make a lot of choices that result in us making less money, like not paywalling the site. We publish content that gets very few eyeballs but means a lot to the people it’s intended for and we pay writers to do it, and when we do things like that (like publishing an article centered on a particular identity or experience that we know is lifesaving but not getting us traffic), we say we CAN do that because we’re reader-supported. But, the thing is, it’s been a bumpy year for advertising, we have taken on some debt, and our model has always been to be a reader-supported venture because much like your favorite podcast or NPR or PBS or what-have-you, it’s the ONLY way we can stay independent and try to run things as ethically as possible.

      • I know this reply is very late, but I just wanted to say thank you for responding to this with such transparency and kindness. I think I’m also just a person who’s very susceptible to requests for help? Which is not a bad thing, but it is something I’m working on so that I can receive such requests with less judgement and reflexive annoyance, if that makes any sense. I think right now I jump right to the guilt over being unable to help, and then I get annoyed at the person requesting help for making me feel guilty, which is a) not their fault and b) not useful for anyone. Anyway. Thanks. I appreciated this reply at the time, too, I was just stuck in depression hell and it got lost to the ages.

    • hey ivy,

      just wanted to add that a lot of things changed between 2019 and 2020 — at the end of 2019 our advertising game was peaking — we had 4-5 big RFPs actively out there with clients and it felt like that was on the up-and-up. then the pandemic hit and immediately all of those clients were like “never mind, we’re not spending $$ this year.” we also still had live events on the table. but the pandemic changed that!

      i don’t recall what was said in the messaging put out at that time but i don’t think i ever thought we’d *never* have to fundraise again, because part of what we were fundraising for was to hire an A+/fundraising director.

      • Hey Riese! Thanks so much for replying, and I’m sorry it took me months to acknowledge it. I could go back and look at the emails to see why I thought that but honestly it’s just as likely that it was something I made up in my own head rather than something that was directly or indirectly implied (I’m sure it was never explicitly stated). Basically, I trust y’all, and I appreciate this response more than I can say. You’re someone I look up to a lot, so it also kind of cool to log in after all this time and see, oh, Riese replied to my comment!

        I do remember that your revenue used to depend a lot on A camp, so I probably should have given y’all more grace in analyzing how you were trying to survive/thrive with that no longer being an option. Also, just because I’m nosy – is A camp ever something you’d consider hosting again? Don’t feel obligated to answer that last part – I just thought I might as well ask.

        All best to you, and again, sorry about how long it took me to honor this generous response with a reply.

  16. Autostraddle was immensely helpful and important to me when I was younger and remains so. And I’m happy to provide support on a month to month basis and for fundraisers, especially now that my financial situation has improved. I’m impressed by the amount of thought and effort that went into this article and appreciate the transparency.

    I guess I’m curious about this:

    “90% of our expenses (which is the percentage of our budget that goes towards paying queer human beings to work here)…”

    90% of AS’s expenses are payroll (and, presumably, payroll taxes)??
    I am totally on-board with paying writers and staff fairly, and the importance of ethical relationships between the publication and those that create its value (writers).

    But 90%? I’m struggling to see how AS can visualize sustainability or growth with labor costs that high, and intentionally that high. I’m not here to tell AS how to run its business, but, this is fundraiser to make sure it can make payroll within a matter of weeks? I’m concerned about fundraising on an emergency basis.

    • 90% going to staff is actually very good I think- where else would you want the money to go? this is a site that produces writing (and other content). We want to pay the writers to write, and minimize other costs (software, etc.). That is exactly what they do

      • Where else would I want the money to go to…? Well, keeping the site alive and at least SOME writers still on the payroll? 90% is just not sustainable – between marketing, servers, tech, fundraising efforts like this one, merch, site security, site features, a buttress for future crises? There’s no “minimizing” anymore once you’re up to 90% of all expenses.

        • right, there’s no more minimizing to do— to keep autostraddle what it is and what we want it to be, we need to support it

          that 90% is the site, it is what keeps the site alive

          • I’m not sure if this is a perfect example, but I’m thinking of how in the nonprofit sector we are always told to keep our costs low, in favor of donations going directly to programs, i.e., the meat of what the nonprofit does. Usually in the case of a nonprofit, that means donors often want to see low overhead costs (i.e., payroll, rent, what keeps the lights on) in favor of most donations going straight to the nonprofit’s core work. In the case of Autostraddle, I see this being flipped and 90% of their costs are to pay people to write (the core of the website!) and they are keeping overhead (other costs) as low as possible.

            Again, not sure if this is a perfect example but just wanted to throw it out there in case it helps contextualize what seems like a high figure but I agree with alchemille is actually probs right on (?!)

          • Here to agree with you and Linnea below! If the core work of Autostraddle is publishing the writing of queer and trans people and also paying the people who edit said writing and make the website go, then I feel like we aren’t spending much, if anything, on things we don’t need. Honestly, from discussions with Laneia our Director of Operations, when we think about where we can trim, we start discussing like, do we need this $50 / month piece of technology? Can we do without? Let’s make sure we’re archiving unsubscribed mailchimp contacts so we’re not being charged, etc. We also don’t fundraise unless or until we have to, and after doing this job for nearly four years across a pandemic and all of the ups and downs and as we hurtle into a recession this year, I have to say that there does not seem to be much more we can to do avoid volatility like that which we’ve experienced! And we don’t, unlike larger organizations, have any kind of endowment or massive savings or anything like that we can pull from in hard times. We don’t have property we can sell or rent. We’re really, really, really lean — and we live leanly, too. Like, we’re not paid as much as people at larger organizations or publications, so when Riese says that she tries to put extra money toward people, I feel like that’s really admirable. We’ve done our best to raise rates for writers whenever we could because we believe that paying queer and trans writers as fairly as possible is what you all, our readers, would want us to do with your funding. I hope that makes sense and I would also be totally open to hearing if the case is otherwise <3

        • honestly truly if you want to email me and explain why it’s bad to have most of our money go towards paying people, feel free, my email is riese at autostraddle dot com!

          also it’s not just payroll and payroll taxes, it’s also freelancer payments, health care, 401ks, etc. and it’s more like 85%.

          to me it seems like it makes sense, and whenever we’ve had more money to spend I’ve always put it towards our people, especially since anybody who’s been here for more than 4 years spent many years making next-to-nothing for our work bc we couldn’t afford more. having low overhead also seems like a good choice to me, as affirmed by other commenters here.

          but if there’s something i’m missing that you know from your own experience, let me know, i’m open to acquiring more knowledge on this topic!

          Also thank you to everyone who responded to explain why this makes sense, it was really affirming and I am so glad you are here ❤️

  17. I mean, I kinda work here and I love these posts! love a transparency and open conversation about our needs and our hopes and our plans. This stuff always helps me visualize what we’re trying to do and how we’re gonna get there. Autostraddle 4 ever.

  18. As a grant writer, I just want to say I co-sign all the reasons you outlined about why becoming a 501c3 nonprofit wouldn’t be a right fit, especially when it comes to grants! Grants are NOT the catch all, easy money that people think they are— it takes significant time to research grant opportunities, prepare a proposal, report to funders, etc. And, like you said, there’s no guarantee the grant will be renewed in future years AND you are somewhat bound to comply with what the funder wants to see in your work, output, and goals. Also I hella agree with this:

    “Private foundations are towers of wealth only required by law to disburse 5% of their assets each year, and their funding priorities can change at any time, just ask Bette Porter” ;)

    • For real. I’ve done my fair share of grant writing and am quite competent at it, which is how I know that considering the editorial freedom that Autostraddle values, our relationship to our readership and community that we value, and our limited time and resources AND the limited resources for non “journaly” and not-affiliated-with-universities-or-legacy-institutions publications, it just makes sense.

  19. I got caught in a loop after entering my cc info and clicking next. It kept going back to that page but there was nothing left to do, no other questions to answer, honest!

  20. By engaging in fundraising efforts, any company is able to keep their independence and continue to produce content on the chosen topic. As a Business Analytics student, I received the task to complete report about the business model of chosen company and find help at https://assignmentbro.com/ca/business-analytics-assignment-help resource. As you got, I have chosen Autostraddle as it encourages readers to consider contributing to their fundraising efforts into the development and representation of LGBTQ+ community.

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