In the past eight years the Patreon platform has racked up more than 200,000 creators supported by more than six million patrons with creators earning more than $2billion.
The membership service was set up in 2013 by YouTube musician Jack Conte, who wanted to find a way to maximise the income from his following. Patreon provides a way for the creative economy to be paid for their content directly – without relying on ad revenue or agents.
Now, top accounts can earn over $100,000 per month and Patreon attracts creatives such as artists, and musicians as well as charities, educators and communities who use its simple format to generate recurring income.
So how does Patreon work? And how can museums make the most of this powerful platform?
What is Patreon?
Simply put, Patreon is a web-based service that enables you to take recurring payments easily from your fans. This could be a monthly payment or a ‘pay-per-post’ membership. The platform handles transactions, can chase any missed payments and provides plenty of support for using their elegant format to showcase your organisation.
While many of their ‘creators’ use the platform to offer membership style offers, with tiers of rewards depending on the amount pledged each month, others use Patreon as a neat option for taking donations. Creators such as Dan Carlin use the platform to take pay-what-you-think contributions.
Creators can then develop content for their pages which is available only to their patrons. This might include text or video posts, tutorials, downloads, discussion boards, one-to-one chats or physical merchandise.
Once a patron signs up, they can view a timeline of posts from those creators that they support which helps to increase engagement (they can also upgrade their membership easily, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to enhance these relationships).
Patreon connects their patron’s accounts to their other social media – and so makes it easy for them to find those creators that they already know from other platforms.
And you do need to put in the work off-site to drive traffic to your Patreon – the site itself focuses on relationship building (not particularly reaching new audiences).
How does it work?
It’s free to set up an account and have a play – creators only start paying for the service once they start earning. And then, the costs are between 3% and 12% – depending on the complexity of your offer and the amount of support you would like. You also pay a payment processing fee.
By selecting a Starter Kit you can jump-start your page – these offer a really quick set-up with templates for a range of different creator and content types.
And there’s a variety of apps and integrations to streamline your workflow and build Patreon into your communications – you can add Vimeo, WordPress or Mailchimp integrations for example.
Once you’re set-up, the platform offers a flexible approach to managing your patron memberships.
Typically, pages run a multi-tier membership with greater rewards as your contribution increases (some non-profits also use the tiers to detail three suggested donation levels and what each will support).
How can museums use Patreon for fundraising?
There’s plenty of culture and heritage focussed creators on Patreon and a clear appetite for this content.
Time Team’s Patreon is a great example of how to use the platform to empower your fan base. The Channel 4 series ran for 20 seasons before coming to a close in 2014 – but Patreon has provided a way to raise funds to make new, independent episodes that will be available free to view on YouTube.
Similarly, the art project PostSecret have used Patreon to continue their extraordinary project. Post Secret invites contributors to anonymously send and share their secrets, which they are encouraged to express creatively. The project has amassed over a million secrets, with the community raising over a million dollars for suicide prevention.
Patreon is being used by numerous museums to build additional revenue streams – and some of these are hitting substantial figures.
One of the most successful museums on Patreon is the Traveling Museum of the Paranormal & Occult, who have built a vast fan base through their touring exhibitions and frequent TV appearances. They have over 1,300 patrons contributing between £4 per month and £191.50 – and their offer is extensive. With six membership levels, the rewards are varied and appear generous – even the lowest level of support has a reasonably lengthy list of rewards that include physical goodies, online content and exclusive invites. Mid-range members can expect ‘Magic of the Month’ mailings – and the highest tier patrons join the museum’s advisory board.
The Tank Museum’s contributions are exceeding £7,000 per month, and this success is built on the back of their excellent YouTube channel which received 16million views in 2020.
Writing for The Association for Cultural Enterprises, Head of Marketing and Engagement Nik Wyness explained “Having set ourselves up, we needed to tell our would-be patrons where to find us. This meant regularly signposting it in our YouTube videos and on our other social platforms. Every YouTube video began to include (and still does) a plea to support us on Patreon, with the message that income would enable the channel to keep going. We thanked our new supporters publicly on Facebook and Twitter to help raise awareness of the platform.”
Likewise, the London Transport Museum’s ‘Hidden London’ Patreon focuses on video content and builds on their YouTube series. Patrons can choose from five levels from Technician to Railway Executive, from a pledge of £5 to £83 per month, which gives them access to benefits including exclusive content, shop discounts or museum tickets.
For museums with strong social media and a commitment to developing video content, Patreon could be a lucrative addition to your digital comms toolkit.
To make the most of this powerful platform, you need to be developing your relationships on other channels and be ready to put in the work to create new content and make these super-fan relationships authentic and meaningful.
About the author – Rebecca Hardy Wombell
Rebecca Hardy Wombell is a freelance writer who works with a broad range of creative organisations, including artists, galleries, museums and design-led retailers.
Her writing aims to develop and delight audiences by putting her clients’ beautiful works to well-crafted words.