For the last 15 years, my vocation has been doing what my brother once called “do-gooder work”. While officially a pastor, my real work has been around food insecurity, homelessness, drug addiction, voter and healthcare advocacy along with organizing faith communities for the common good. A friend once described me as an “activist preacher, instead of a preacher preacher.” None of that work ever paid very much.
I have always supported my “do-gooder habit” by doing other work: Before the pandemic, I made a large portion of my income from on-site consulting and speaking. In 2020, I had three events cancel outright and nine events that had been rescheduled for 2021, and in 2021, they all cancelled or recalibrated in ways that didn’t involve paying me. In 2021, I turned down work offsite because I didn’t see any way to do it safely for me, as someone who lives with an immunocompromised person.
I’ve filled in around the edges with contract work here and there that didn’t violate my conscience, but as we enter into this third year of the pandemic, I am coming to terms with this being the new normal. I am having to figure out how to make a stable income in a way that doesn’t involve crowds or travel.
And the truth is, as hard as the last 2 years has been, they would have been impossible without my patrons. I don’t talk about it much but I have a team of, right now, 91 folks who support my writing by contributing as little as $3 each month.
What do they get out of it? Well, nothing. That is, nothing that everyone else doesn’t get.
But here are some benefits you all get, because I have patrons:
- I have time to do this work. I spend more than 100 hours a month writing and administering the two weekly newsletters and this blog, which is published six days a week. I don’t have 100 hours I can afford to contribute each month for free. Because my patrons support my writing, I have the time to do it.
- Related to time, I get the freedom to write the longer posts I want, instead of trying to do a bunch of short posts to game my numbers.
- It buys the hosting, computer, domains, and subscription services I need to do this work. I spend more than $200 a month just on email services, whether I send anything or not.
- Having established it costs money to publish things like newsletters and blogs, having patrons means I don’t have to chase advertisers as a source of that money.
- And that, friends, is a huge win for you. I never have to seek out sponsorships and spam you with pictures of me drinking from a #Yeti cooler or something. I never have to have popup ads, or annoying videos that play in the background.
- It also means I never have to consider “maximizing website traffic” in order to appease advertisers, freeing me up to do things like publishing the entire content of my blog posts to Facebook, instead of teaser copy designed to get you to click through.
- You know that annoying thing some sites do, where they call an article “10 Crazy Things About X You Won’t Believe!”, and when you do click through, each thing is on its own page, and so you are endlessly clicking and dodging ads for things you have no interest in? Having patrons means I never have to do that.
In short, because I have patrons, every person who engages anything I write gets a better experience. I never have to consider if I am writing because I want to, or if I have to, and you never have to wonder if I really like those solid-color t-shirts I am wearing or if I got paid to say that I do.
There are two bookstores I frequent regularly in my town. One is a huge, suburban chain bookshop, with a café and a music department, an apathetic staff and regular sales and a discount club. The other is a smaller, independent bookshop. The staff is deeply knowledgeable and attentive. They carry niche books that the other shop doesn’t. They have a point of view I agree with, and it shows in how they curate their books. They never have sales, and every single book you buy there, you will pay list price for.
Last year, I purchased 11 books at the smaller shop, at least 9 of which I could have bought at the bigger shop, and all of which I could have bought on Amazon, for less money. So why did I buy from the smaller shop?
Because I want to live in a world where there are independent bookshops. So I pay extra money I don’t have to pay, in order for that independent bookstore to be able to stay open. And because I do that, their employees get to keep their jobs, my neighborhood wins by having a cool bookshop, and authors of small weird books benefit from having their books in a bookshop. All because I, and people like me, spend the extra money.
That extra money I spend when I buy things there is my “vote” for a world with independent bookshops.
That is sort of what my patrons are doing: They are spending extra money they don’t have to spend, in order to make sure I can keep doing this. They are voting for a world with my writing in it. And because they do, you get to read it, and I get to write it.
So, I hate self-promotion, but if my writing is meaningful to you, if you are glad I post the full content to places like Facebook instead of trying to get you to click through to game my metrics, if I have made you smile, if you appreciate the stories I tell or the perspective I bring, I would invite you to consider being a patron, for as little as $3 a month.
Regardless of whether you do or not, know that I am grateful for you, as well as the freedom to write my patrons give me. The only wealth in this world is friends, and in that way, I am rich beyond measure.