Comparison of Membership Platforms

Since I have this eventual goal to try and go fully independent in both my programming career and also content creation, be that videos, podcasts or writing, I think it makes sense to start thinking about how I earn a living... especially as I intend to make huge amounts of my software open source and available for free. And membership platforms... membership platforms make a ton of sense to me in pursuit of those goals. I mean if you like what I do, if you use what I make, and if you can afford it and feel so inclined, your contributions would help a great deal and enable me to keep developing software that's open source and free as well as dedicate a little time to content creation on the side. But man, the choices... There are a lot of membership platforms out there and I'm sure my list isn't comprehensive. That said, here we'll be looking at Buy Me a Coffee, Ko-fi, Patreon, and GitHub Sponsors.

Let's start with a feature overview, so you don't have to scroll to the bottom of the article to get to the bit that's actually interesting:

Buy Me a CoffeeKo-fiPatreonGitHub Sponsors
Yearly Plan
Member Posts
Discord Integration

Being as these are all membership platforms, it makes sense that they all tick that top memberships box. I could have also considered payment and retail platforms like PayPal, Stripe and Snipcart but I want to keep the list lean and simple for the time being. For sure, I might accept payments via PayPal too, and I might integrate Stripe, Snipcart or both into my own apps, but in the service of making what I make and asking for contributions to those projects... these three are a little less ready to serve that purpose out of the box.

Besides memberships, the features that most interest me are a yearly plan, one-off payments, Discord integration and goals... maybe the wishlist feature on Buy Me a Coffee too as yeah, it definitely is interesting to offer a sense of what I'd intend to spend funds on once my essentials are covered. In that vein, I could also consider apps like... one of them is called Throne, right? I'm sure there are others like it. I just don't know how I feel about those. The wishlists feature on Buy Me a Coffee is a little more rudimentary than those, I believe, not actually enabling supporters to purchase the items directly but just serving as a list of items I'd be interested in buying myself. Wishlists, though, is definitely not a key feature that interests me.

That aside then, Ko-fi is ticking the most boxes for me. It's also the only one with a yearly plan; how do we feel about that? Fundamentally a core part of the reasoning businesses have when adopting annual plans or even lifetime plans into their offerings is... cashflow. Since businesses depend on other services they might pay annually for, a larger annual charge for memberships helps them meet their own costs sooner, even if it is a lesser amount overall. And since I have similar costs to meet (we're talking domain and email services I already pay annually for), this offers a pretty beneficial model to me as well. My fear would be... what if I am unable to provide value to my supporters for the full twelve months? I need to be able to guarantee (short of force majeure) that annual supporters aren't losing value six months down the line. Actually I'd make the case that I am in no way well-established enough to support on an annual subscription. Even if I told you my plan, promised I'd provide said value, what good is my word to you? But I like the option, and certainly annual memberships would better enable me to deliver on what I plan to. So it's a show of faith from the supporter, and personally I would only recommend subscribing annually if you're more in it to provide support than to get value in return because of that - because it's a show of faith.

All right, what else have we got? One-off payments are supported on every platform listed BUT Patreon, which is wild. I personally think there's a lot of value in one-off payments; oftentimes I want to contribute to creators or causes but I am way too broke to commit to a regular subscription - I love being able to manage exactly when and how and how much I'm willing to contribute, even thogh in such a model I'm not getting anything in return. It puzzles me that Patreon don't have support for this when all other platforms do. But what Patreon do have is big numbers - they're the leader in this field, and so a lot of the potential audience, potential contributors are already there. And that's Patreon's model, that's how they operate; they want to keep people around, so they emphasise the membership model and on-site perks like exclusive posts. However, exclusive posts are supported by every other platform too except GitHub Sponsors which has newsletter support instead. I'm not really sure how much I'll use that feature - certainly I have thought about doing early access content, but I don't know if I want to do anything that's 100% exclusive. I guess we'll see.

Discord! That's where I've been creating exclusive content. I have several behind the scenes channels that are currently Patreon-only... even though I presently have no Patreon supporters. But as established, these supporter-exclusive channels do not need to be limited to Patreon supporters. Buy Me a Coffee and Ko-fi both also have Discord integrations. GitHub Sponsors doesn't, but it is something I can offer manually (i.e. drop me a private message with your GitHub username to be granted access). Still, preferably the integrations I would use would have a bot or some form of API integration that handled this part automatically. Preferably.

Finally, goals. As I understand it, Patreon did have goals but removed them recently. I don't know why, but posts on the platform certainly serve as an alternative. Still I like the idea of being able to publicly set a goal, even if only for the sake of my own personal motivation. Ko-fi and GitHub Sponsors both support this, but are obviously very different platforms with wildly different audiences.

What I will probably do is use all four of these, ordered by preference. I think that means Ko-fi takes top billing, just because of the goals feature. Buy Me a Coffee comes in a close second and might steal the top spot, but a wishlist feature isn't as interesting to me as the yearly plan option (only on Ko-fi) and one-off payments. After this, GitHub Sponsors and Patreon are essentially tertiary considerations. As I say, I'll probably use all four but I'll probably start at the top and let whatever I put on the platforms cascade down from there. This means... I've gotta get Ko-fi setup first, and I've got to hook up the Discord integration with Buy Me a Coffee too. After that, we'll see. I'll look more into what I can potentially do on Ko-fi and how that would translate to other platforms going down the list. GitHub Sponsors? I feel like I ought to do something completely different there, but I'd prefer not to. Again, we'll see.

Hey, do you want a definitive ranking? Based on my assessment of the four platforms above, here's my ranking in order of preference based on the features considered:

  1. Ko-fi
  2. Buy Me a Coffee
  3. Patreon
  4. GitHub Sponsors

We didn't discuss pricing, third-party integrations or audience, but for features alone Ko-fi certainly looks like the winner.

Finally, if you do feel like contributing to help me do what I do, well you know where to find me:

Ultimately, what's most important to me is that you (dear reader, dear supporter) can contribute however you would like. So join my Discord and let me know if you think I ought to be doing something else entirely.