If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably seen dozens of pinned Tweets with a link to a Patreon or Ko-Fi page – and these two sites offer a great way to make a bit (or a lot) of money by doing what you love.
Covid-19 has kept us housebound for the most part, and folks wanting to supplement their earnings, explore a creative outlet, or find a like-minded community have flocked to Patreon and Ko-Fi. Once you have a profile, you can accept donations and recurring payments from fans or support other artists, and create a centralized hub of activity where you can showcase your work.
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And that work is massively varied. So whether you’re an artist or a writer, a scientist or gamer, a fashionmonger, a community leader, or a fitness coach, you’re in the right place.
In this post, I’ll take a look at both Patreon and Ko-Fi to see just how private your data is, whether you can pay securely, and hand out some tips to make the most of your platform… and your earnings!
💭What is Patreon?
Patreon is a big ol’ site with over 6 million active patrons, and you’ll see a lot of social media influencers and Youtubers advertising their pages. Anyone can make a Patreon page, however, and start collecting regular payments from fans.
And Patreon is often seen as a more attractive alternative to YouTube because of these regular and recurring payments. We all saw how Adpocalypse hit content creators, and in 2018 Fortune revealed that the top 3% of Youtubers made roughly $16,800 per year from advertising – and folks outside of this top percentage made considerably less.
Patreon is offering a more stable platform to content creators. After all, the hard work you put into your gaming streams, art, writing or videos shouldn’t be invalidated because of some sudden demonetization!
If this sounds pretty good to you, you’ll be glad to learn that you can sign up for Patreon for free, and finding people to follow or support is as easy as searching them up or following the links elsewhere on social media. You only start spending money on Patreon when you commit to supporting a creator with a recurring monthly payment – you become a “patron”.
So, what do patrons get in return for their money? It depends! As the creator, you can use your Patreon profile to offer sneak peaks at new projects that won’t be available elsewhere – say on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. You could offer exclusive streaming sessions, deals on merchandise or products – or, you could simply have your page act as a support hub and thank patrons for their generosity.
Chances are, you’ll know Patreon because of its tiered subscription model. A patron can select from a variety of different subscriptions (all set by the creator themselves) with a variety of different perks – and prices. A simple $1 a month could give a patron access to exclusive posts and updates, for example, whilst the $40 tier could unlock commission slots or writing requests.
Of course, a monthly contribution sounds awesome at first – but it won’t work for every content creator out there. There’s a certain pressure that comes with receiving this income. Some creators feel as though they have to produce more work than is comfortable in order to meet the expectation of their patrons, and that can get exhausting quickly!
💭What is Ko-fi?
Ko-Fi isn’t quite as well-known as Patreon, though it’s certainly gaining momentum with 500,000 users and an attractive spread of features. Essentially, it’s a tip jar. Fans visit, check out your work, and can leave a one-time donation that costs roughly the same amount as a cup of coffee – hence the name. It’s a sleek and low-pressure approach to crowdfunding.
Ko-Fi can also act as a portfolio. You can showcase art, writing, and videos, and keep fans updated as to what you’ve been up to and what’s in the works, as well as share upcoming goals. Fans can follow you and leave you a lovely comment if they feel so inclined and, if they’re especially generous, leave you that all-important tip.
Just like Patreon, Ko-Fi is free to use and won’t cost you a dime unless you decide to make a donation to a creator. There’s always the option to go Gold, though. Creators can upgrade to a Ko-Fi Gold account at any time, and enjoy a bunch of exclusive paid benefits – like commission slots, extra customization options, and the ability to offer a Patreon-esque subscription model.
💸How to pay creators on Patreon
Currently, Patreon accepts payments from the following sources:
- Master Card
- Diners Club
That’s an impressive selection, and should allow most folks to set up a Patreon page and accept monthly payments regardless of where they are in the world.
The big question is typically “how much can I earn on Patreon?”. That’s massively subjective, and very few content creators reach a point where they can earn a living solely from Patreon. How much money you rake in will depend on the size of your fanbase, the content you’re offering, and the level of engagement between you and your fans.
Your total earning is also affected by how you structure your subscription options. Having a subscription tier of $100 might seem lucrative, but you’ll need to ask yourself if anyone is going to commit to that sort of monthly expense. Patreon claims that the average patron is comfortable pledging about $7-12 a month – good numbers to keep in mind when plotting out your tiers.
If you’re lucky enough to have around 30,000 followers, Patreon estimates that you could earn up to $1,575 per month!
Patreon handles all chargebacks and declined payments, which is handy, but the site also takes a slice of your earnings for itself – and so does your payment provider.
Roughly 5% of your monthly earnings go to Patreon, and another 5% will be snapped up by processing fees. It’s unpleasant, and plenty of would-be creators are put off by these third-party fees. There are also third-party guidelines to consider, and these can change quickly, bringing about huge ramifications for creators and patrons alike.
And Patreon has made some missteps of its own in recent years. In 2017, the site switched up its fee structure and annoyed the hell out of a large portion of its user base. Why? Well, Patreon went from charging its patrons 2-10% at the start of each month to charging them 2.9% – and an additional $0.35 per transaction – every month and on the monthly anniversary of the pledge, in addition to the standard 5% fee.
These changes didn’t last, thanks to sudden and fierce pushback, but the fact that Patreon went ahead with these price hikes at all left a bad taste in the mouth of some creators.
As always, there are also outside threats to worry about. Fraudsters will target any site where money changes hands, and some of these criminals have come up with unique ways to try and defraud Patreon’s hardworking content creators.
Patreon tells its users to be cautious of suspiciously big pledges. I’m talking thousands of dollars from a name you don’t recognize – the sort of thing you’d suspect to be too good to be true. Sure, it could be the work of a really enthusiastic fan, but more often than not it’s simply a fraudster trying their luck.
When these sorts of outrageous pledges occur, the Patreon Trust and Safety team get to work to review the funds before they can be withdrawn. Ultimately, they’re refunded if they turn out to be bogus.
On the other hand, it is possible that these sorts of big pledges could be mistakes. I know I’ve done it a few times – typed $500 when I meant to type $50 – and Patreon has a procedure in place to help people like me. An innocent patron who’s made a mistake will also probably let you or the Patreon team know about it, whereas a fraudster won’t.
Patreon is like any other site in that it’s massively important to flag suspicious activity when you see it – even if it’s just a hunch. By doing so, you’ll be helping to keep yourself and other creators and patrons safe, and ensuring that Patreon’s Fraud Prevention team can do their job more efficiently.
💸How to pay creators on Ko-Fi!
Ko-Fi is accepting payments via:
You can go with PayPal, Stripe, or both… which isn’t wholly inclusive, but PayPal is certainly ubiquitous enough to be of use to a majority of internet users.
Ko-Fi is a virtual tip jar, and your fans can leave one-off donations without the monthly commitment more typical of Patreon. It’s all entirely optional. As a result, it’s a great alternative for fans who might not have the cash to spend every month on a pricey subscription fee.
On Ko-Fi, you’ll still be able to set a goal and set up a shop, which is a great little bonus for creators with merchandise or services to sell. It could be art, writing, gaming mods, specialized requests – anything that fits in with your hobby.
I frequently see Ko-Fi praised for its commission slots, which can be set up easily enough – just set your prices, lay out some instructions, and give examples if you have them. Ko-Fi Gold members benefit from a 0% fee on their commissions, but anyone else can still offer commissions with a 5% platform fee if you connect to PayPal.
Ko-Fi keeps things simple, but it’s not a payment provider. PayPal and Stripe handle the financial side of things, and whilst they take a cut of your earnings (around 2-3.4% + $0.30), Ko-Fi itself does not.
What’s more, Ko-Fi doesn’t make you wait to withdraw your money like Patreon does. There’s no hanging around until the end of the month or minimum balance necessary!
⚔️Is Patreon Private?
Patreon allows its creators to take charge of the data they collect. You can process the information provided by your patrons however you like, and this is great news for creators with a penchant for marketing, seeing as it makes newsletter blasts and social media updates that much more effective. Check out my article on why you should protect your personal data for information about why it’s important and what you can do.
It’s a big responsibility for creators. If you are going to collect patron data, you’ll need to ensure that it’s kept safe. After all, your patrons are sharing intimate details with you – display and real names, email addresses, and even physical addresses!
A little common sense will go a long way when considering how to handle patron data. Ask yourself how you would like your details to be handled… and then check out the list below for good measure.
- Communicate smartly – don’t spam fans with emails that’ll make them regret ever following you. Send out worthwhile updates and sneak peaks – you don’t want to be that person who clogs up an inbox.
- Respect the word “no” – if a fan decides to cancel their donation, don’t go rushing to get in touch with them. Accept their decision and definitely don’t keep their details if they’ve asked to be removed from your data list.
- Ask for permission – this one’s a given, but avoid plastering your fans’ information in places they haven’t agreed to display it. It’s always worth asking if you plan to disclose any information in your credits, emails, or writing.
In terms of cybersecurity, Patreon employs TLS encryption to secure any information disclosed by creators and patrons alike. The site also suggests that users make use of its two-factor authentication feature to prevent any unauthorized access to accounts.
CAPTCHA verification is also used to sniff out any pesky bots masquerading as people, and those people are further protected by Patreon’s HTTPS encryption – and though this isn’t a total guarantee of safety, Patreon’s 2048-bit RSA key provides an additional layer of security for all those sensitive details like passwords and social security numbers.
During my research, it was massively reassuring to read up on Patreon’s zero-tolerance approach to doxxing. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, doxxing happens when a person’s private information is shared without their consent – think physical addresses, real names, and phone numbers.
As you can imagine, doxxing can lead to some incredibly unpleasant – and downright dangerous – situations. It’s prohibited in Patreon’s guidelines, and any profiles suspected of doxxing can be removed from the site.
⚔️Is Ko-Fi Private?
Ko-Fi grants creators similar control over the data submitted by fans when they make a donation or commit to a subscription. Again, this means you’ll be responsible for securing the display names and details of your following, and even physical addresses if they choose to buy a product from you. Marketing whizzes will still be able to use this data to stay in touch with fans and send out timely updates – just remember to respect the wishes of any fans who’d rather not be part of your list.
Any names and email addresses are retained by Ko-Fi – either collected when you input them during sign up or when you connect your Google or Facebook account. Any transactions made via the site are also recorded, and Ko-Fi also holds on to additional information like IP addresses, browsers, and operating systems. This is done to assist general troubleshooting and to aggregate information for advertisers, but Ko-Fi does not hand over individual details to these third-parties.
If you’d rather keep your information out of Ko-Fi’s advertizer’s hands entirely, you can email the team at: firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know your preferences. Just state that you’d like for your data to be removed from its systems. Similarly, if you’re interested in making a donation to a creator, but you want that donation to be private, just tick the “Private message” option. It’ll show up on the creator’s page saying “somebody” bought the user a coffee, rather than your username.
💻Tools of the trade
Mistakes happen, it’s a fact of life – there’s just more at risk when they involve your livelihood! I’ll take a look at the tools offered by Patreon and Ko-Fi that can help users deter and combat unsavoury individuals.
When you sign up for Patreon, you agree to abide by its code of conduct as outlined in the community guidelines. Most people won’t read these line-by-line, of course, but they do cover some of the more unique situations that can crop up between creators and their fans.
If an individual begins to cross a line into harassment, you can report the instance in a few clicks. All of these reports are reviewed by Patreon’s Trust and Safety team, and you can make them that much more helpful by including timestamps and screenshots, as well as any supporting links or videos.
There may be times where you don’t feel as though a report is necessary – perhaps a fan is simply overzealous or unaware of the impact of their invasive actions. They could be asking for favors, special deals, or suggesting they want to talk to you more outside of Patreon. In these instances, Patreon suggests giving them a firm, fair warning. Screenshot the interaction for posterity and hope that they take the message to heart.
Unfortunately, some folks just don’t take the hint. If the person in question continues to make you uncomfortable, or even begins to threaten you, then it’s time to limit your interactions. Report this behaviour, and consider using Patreon’s block feature to further distance yourself.
To block someone, all you need to do is head into your “Patron manager” or visit their profile directly and select the option.
A blocked user cannot comment on your posts or reach out to you via messages – and they also cannot become a patron. If they already are, their existing pledge will be removed. It’s also worth noting that a blocked user will still be able to visit your Patreon page and see your public posts.
Blocking a user won’t always be a straightforward decision. They might be an active contributor to your monthly income or someone you previously had a positive relationship with, but you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable when you log into Patreon – it’s supposed to be where you grow your fanbase and celebrate your talents! Block liberally if you have to, and enjoy the platform without shrinking yourself down. That way, you can get back to doing what you do best, whatever that is!
If you feel as though you’re in physical danger, you’ll need to alert your local police force. Then notify the Patreon Trust and Safety team. They’ll be able to investigate the individual in question and determine whether their actions should lead to them getting the boot off of the site.
And on to Ko-Fi!
Again, Ko-Fi is a platform where creators collide with fans and it’s usually a productive and positive experience all around, but, it’s reassuring to learn that the site has tools in place to prevent the odd misery-guts from spoiling your day.
The option to block a threatening or abusive individual is readily available to all Ko-Fi creators. To do so, head into your “Account and Billing” settings and select “Block or limit Someone” from the “Safety” header. From here, you’ll be able to pick and choose which fans to block – just confirm your choice when you’re done.
Just like Patreon, blocking a fan on Ko-Fi can have financial knock-on effects. A blocked fan won’t be able to donate to you again – but this is a potentially small price to pay for some peace of mind.
Unfortunately, Ko-Fi’s blocking system isn’t airtight. You can only block or limit users who have previously donated to you, for one thing, though this is somewhat justified by the fact that the only fans who can contact you are those who have donated. If the fan in question begins to harass you outside of Ko-Fi, you’ll likely need to rely on the report and block functions of that particular site or app.
You’ll also need to remember that your Ko-Fi page is public. This means that blocked fans will still be able to visit it and view your profile, even if they can’t actually interact with you.
It is possible to limit who can comment on your posts and images, however. You’ll need to head into your “Settings” menu, select “Page”, and navigate to the “Comments” section. There you’ll see a few options where you can decide if anyone can comment on your content or if only supporters can.
💡Tips For Staying Secure On Patreon and Ko-Fi
Whether you go for a Patreon page or a Ko-Fi profile, you’ll want to make sure that you’re earning as much as you can – and it’s not a greedy thing, it’s about showcasing your hard work, knowing your worth, and letting fans support and interact with you directly.
So, I’ve put together a few tips on how to get the most from your profile, and how you can give your fans the most for their money.
- Polish your profile – new fans and longtime supports should know exactly who you are based on your profile page. Write up a snappy bio that explains a bit about you, your passion, and why someone ought to support you. Avoid waffling and vouch for yourself, and remember that you don’t have to produce a wall of text! You could make a video or an animation if it suits your style better.
- Answer the mail – nothing makes a fan feel more seen and appreciated than receiving a direct reply from someone they admire, even if it’s a quick thank you! Stay up to dates with any comments and messages, and set aside some time to dish out replies – it’s an easy and meaningful way to show you care.
- Go live – this one won’t be for everyone, but striking up a live feed on Instagram, YouTube or Twitch is a really fun to interact with fans in real time. You could do all sorts of things, too! Q&A sessions are common, and you could try putting together a behind-the-scenes tour or exclusive event for a handful of lucky fans.
- Put yourself on the map – most of your supports won’t just stumble across your Patreon or Ko-Fi page. You’ll need links on your socials to direct them, so link your profile in your social media bios, create a pinned tweet, or even make a video! It might feel pushy, but a few links here and there are an invaluable way of signposting your profile.
- Keep fans updated – an important tip for Patreon users and folks with Ko-Fi gold memberships! Let your fans know that you’re active and benefitting from their contributions – and remember that it doesn’t have to be a massively grand gesture, either! A simple blog post can let fans in on any projects you’ve got coming up, personal updates, or new goals. You could even create an automated newsletter!
Patreon and Ko-Fi allow you to earn money by doing what you love and connecting with fans who love it, too! It’s an especially gratifying way to make some extra cash, whether it’s a nice little bonus or an integral part of your income. The important thing to remember is that as a creator, you have a responsibility to the fans who follow you and entrust their details to you. Make sure that you treat this info with respect, keep your profile secure with a strong password and 2FA, and report any suspicious behavior to the platforms’ staff – and don’t sell yourself short!
Hopefully, you now have a clearer picture of how Patreon and Ko-Fi work, and whether they’d be a good fit for you. For any lingering questions just refer to the FAQ below!
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”Couldn’t I just make my own website?” answer=”Of course! It’s pretty simple, too. You won’t need an extensive knowledge of code seeing as sites like Squarespace take care of that for you – it’s usually as simple as selecting and customizing a template. Obviously, that’s still more involved and time-consuming than setting up a Ko-Fi page, but you’ll have more control over your payments and none of the fees that Patreon imposes. Payment processors like PayPal and Stripe are also super easy to integrate into custom sites!” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”Is sex work allowed on Patreon and Ko-Fi?” answer=”The short answer is no, but the line between what is classes as sex work and what is art can get a little vague. Any nude creations, or posts with ‘mature themes’ will need to be marked as ‘Patron Only’ on Patreon. Similarly, Ko-Fi users will need to mark their pages as ‘NSFW’ if any mature content is displayed.
Sexual services are not allowed on either site. Patreon began flagging and removing profiles as far back as 2017 that previously used the site to facilitate their income via sex work. Plenty of users felt as though they had been ostracized for being sex workers, and sex-positive creators, NSFW artists, and kink-positive creators all found themselves without a moderated place to communicate with fans and earn a safe, digital living.
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”What if I don’t like coffee?” answer=”I bet the Ko-Fi staff hear this one all the time. They have <a href=”https://help.ko-fi.com/hc/en-us/articles/115004001194-What-if-I-Don-t-Like-Coffee-“>an actual answer</a> for it, too. Basically, with a Gold account you can change ‘coffee’ to whatever you want. Instead of ‘Buy me a Coffee’, you could have your page say ‘Buy me a Smile’, or something just as sugary!” /]]