A while ago, I was on the hunt for a good tool to handle donations and monthly subscriptions for the design work I do. I created a few icon packs for iOS to replace the default home screen icons on your iPhone or iPad. I made these icons available for free. I wanted to still have the opportunity to receive a dollar here and there from people who really like the icons and give back for the work that went into them.
The most popular service I knew to get financial support as a creator was undoubtedly Patreon. Many of my favorite YouTubers, bloggers, influencers on social media, and many more use the platform. So naturally, I wanted to give it a try.
I quickly realized that Patreon wasn't the tool I was looking for.
What Is Patreon?
If you're not familiar with Patreon, here is a short overview.
Patreon is a support platform for creators with a subscription-style payment model to let fans pay their favorite creators a monthly amount of their choice. In exchange, these fans or Patreons get access to exclusive materials, content, personal insights, or whatever the creator wants to give.
So far, so good. I very much support and like this way of making money and giving back to creators. In my opinion, it is better than ads, although I still use ads on my blog and other ventures as well. I'd love to only get by with donations, but it's a far cry from happening.
Back to the topic at hand: Patreon seemed to be the tool I was looking for back then. I created a Patreon page and added the link to my design portfolio, social media, and everywhere else. I soon realized the downsides of Patreon.
What's Wrong With Patreon?
Well, there is nothing inherently wrong with Patreon at all. I would say Patreon is certainly tailored to a specific kind of creator, the kind who already has quite a large following on a platform or within a niche that is built on delivering new content regularly.
Examples of this are easy to find: YouTube channels that upload on a schedule, writers who post articles every day, etc. It is however rather unsuitable for work that is done once and updated a few times a year on an irregular basis… exactly what I had been doing.
Maybe I was just using the wrong tool. The problem could be me, not Patreon. Over the next few days, I was on the lookout for a similar platform that offered what I needed: one-time payments, donations, and monthly subscriptions, with a reasonable fee and some cool extra features.
I discovered two fine alternatives (and I'll give you a bonus one at the end). The more I looked into them, I realized that these two alternatives were not only more suited to my needs but also great alternatives to Patreon overall - for all creators.
Both of these platforms offer a wide range of features, packed into easy-to-use, simple, and beautiful web interfaces. They both offer one-time donations with varying amounts, the smallest being $1. They offer various currencies. Monthly subscriptions however are only free with one of the tools, unfortunately. You need a premium plan on the other tool to enable monthly payments.
Both platforms have integrations with PayPal and Stripe to handle payments. These services operate with their usual fees, handle the currency conversion if you get support from around the world, and predetermine the payment options, e.g. credit card, Apple Pay, and all that good stuff. Patreon at the moment only offers PayPal and credit cards with varying fees of 5%, 8%, or 12% depending on the plan you sign up for: Lite, Pro, or Premium.
Buy Me a Coffee
Buy Me a Coffee is a young startup based in San Francisco, founded in 2018. In their own words, more than 200,000 creators already use the platform.
Buy Me a Coffee lets you create a page to receive donations for your work. You can decide whether you want to receive one-time payments, or subscriptions, or more accurately both. As far as I understand there is no way to only accept recurring membership payments. That might be perceived as a downside for some - I however think of it as a huge upside.
Consider this, a monthly or yearly payment (no matter how small) is an investment for the supporter. Not everybody is willing to do that in the beginning. To have the option of just buying a coffee (as they say) for a dollar or your selected amount is more user-friendly. In the case of Buy Me a Coffee, it's also effortless because you, the supporter, can pay once without having to create an account on Buy Me a Coffee. If the supporter likes your content they might consider a monthly membership afterward. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Another nice feature of Buy Me a Coffee is extras. These effectively work as a shop. You can create extras like digital downloads, artwork, even Zoom calls or invites to your close-friends-list on Instagram. There are a lot of possibilities. You can sell these extras for an amount of your choice or give them away for free.
You can also create posts or albums for your supporters. Within a post, you can attach a link, images, etc., and select whether you want to make this post available to everybody or only supporters. This can be a great rewards system. You could send every paying supporter a post with a gift, for example.
Other features include integrations to Discord or customizable widgets and buttons for your website.
This platform has its base in St. Ives, England. What makes Ko-Fi undoubtedly a very lucrative alternative to Patreon is its most important feature which actually isn't a feature at all: it's free.
Ko-Fi does not take any fees from your donations. As far as I know, it's the only tool similar to Patreon or Buy Me a Coffee that doesn't take a fee on a free plan.
Before you declare Ko-Fi the sure winner here, there are a few things to keep in mind as I already hinted at earlier.
First, on the free plan, Ko-Fi only offers one-off payments. No subscriptions. This already is a major downside for me and for many of you, I would assume. Ko-Fi does offer a subscription-based model, but only with their gold plan that costs $6 per month. To be fair that plan includes many other great features.
My favorite feature of Buy Me a Coffee - the option to write posts with rewards to your supporters only - is another one that Ko-Fi does offer, but exclusively on their premium plan.
Ko-Fi comes with a shop feature. You can easily create your own shop page in minutes and sell digital goods as well as physical products. The platform doesn't take listings fees as many other shop systems do. They do take a 5%-fee on sales, however. With their gold plan, there is no fee. This feature is compelling to creators who sell products as a major part of their business model.
As with Buy Me a Coffee, I can't walk through every feature here, but other noteworthy ones include a commission system, a wide range of integration to websites and services like WordPress, Github, and widgets, and buttons.
Pros & Cons
I strongly believe that both Buy Me a Coffee and Ko-Fi are viable alternatives to Patreon that every creator should know about. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Patreon. It's a great tool. I just think that the other two offer a package that is more compelling to me and many creators like me.
Let's quickly recap:
Buy Me a Coffee
Easy to use, beautiful interface
One-off and recurring payments
Support without account
Extras work like a little shop
Posts to supporters only
5% fee (though still reasonable)
Fully functioning shop
Great integration tools plus an API
Many features only on the premium plan
Both compared to Patreon
Get paid instantly and directly
Very simple & easy to use
Final Thoughts and Tipeee
I made up my mind after comparing these three tools for a while. But before I tell you my decision, let me just briefly run over another alternative, a bonus one if you will, that I would consider as interesting to creators mainly operating in another language than English. This alternative is Tipeee.
Tipeee generally works like Buy Me a Coffee, Ko-Fi, or Patreon. It is available in five European languages: English, German, Spanish, Italian, and French. Tipeee is based in Paris, France. For European creators, Tipeee is a great solution and alternative to Patreon. Tipeee offers many of the same features as one-off or recurring payments, rewards, and posts for supporters. It takes an 8% fee on donations with a minimum amount of €1. If you're an EU-based creator speaking one of those five languages, Tipeee might be the alternative for you.
Now back to my decision; I went with Buy Me a Coffee in the beginning. This young platform offers good features for a reasonable fee at 5%. Later, I changed to Ko-Fi, because they added missing features and still have no fee.
What's your favorite of the three (or four with Tipeee)?