Spread-the-Burden variations

A while back, @msiep had an idea which we have named spread-the-burden. Recently, @Adroit thought of a way to address an issue with spread-the-burden, the two goal variant. This prompted others to think of other variants.I’m capturing them here so they aren’t lost to our memory & matrix history.


after a project hits its goal a new person pledging reduces the amount each individual gives, while keeping the same total amount that the project receives. This has 3 primary benefits:

  1. Reduces the burden on patrons (as the name suggests).
  2. Makes project funding more stable/reliable.
  3. Matches some people’s intuition of “when there’s more people. they should all need to give less”.

However, it also puts a lot of pressure on a project to pick the right goal, since their income will never exceed that goal. But if they shoot too high, they can leave a lot of money on the table that has been pledged but not matched.

Two Goal

  • Projects set a second goal, higher than the first
  • Between the two goals, patrons give 100% of their pledge
  • After the 2nd goal, matching switches to spread-the-burden.
    • So, the second goal is the maximum the project could receive.

Half Spread

Past the goal, 50% of pledges go towards project funding growth and the other half towards spread-the-burden.

Gradual Spread

Like half-spread, but instead of a fixed 50-50, it’s based on how much the project is funded past its goal.

  • Between 100 and 200% of the goal, each extra % is how much goes towards spread-the-burden.
    • Example: at 125% of goal, 25% of each pledge goes towards spread-the-burden and the other 75% goes towards project growth
  • About 200% of the goal, the full pledge goes towards spread-the-burden.
    • So, the project’s income is capped at 2x their goal.
1 Appreciation

I’m not sure what the right formula for Gradual Spread should be. I think ideally it should allow for unlimited growth in project funding, but with square root (or logarithmic?) fall-off. I need to brush up on my algebra!

This is only true to the extent that the project is unable to change their goal. If they can change it at some reasonable interval, e.g. after 12 months since they last changed it, then they have flexibility for all of these to evolve over time:

  1. What funding they actually need to thrive
  2. Their estimate of what funding they actually need to thrive
  3. How they communicate with their patrons

I think this is important to consider before making the system more complex.

1 Appreciation

Agreed that we need to consider goal changes.

When projects are exactly at their goal, they are incentivized against raising their goal.

Say Snowdrift has reached its goal of $36k/month @ 6k patrons, and we want to bump up to $49k/mo. I can think of two options:

  1. Prompt all patrons to increase their pledge to $7/mo. Assuming they all say yes, our current monthly income would stay at $36k, and when another 1k patrons pledge, we’d reach the new goal.

    But this has a big risk of patrons not staying in the crowd. It’s easy to adjust our goals now but once some of us are actually relying on the funding to pay our bills, I’m not sure if we would want to take that sort of a risk.

  2. Keep all pledges the same and just increase the goal. This brings our progress down to 36k/45k=80% of the goal, which lowers our current total donation down from $36k to $28.8k (80% of the current pledge).

    This seems possible if we had some headroom in our operating budget, like we’re only actually using $28k/mo when we decide to make this change. Raising goals gradually with this approach kind of works, but frequent goal-changes seem like a bad thing for patron trust.

Spread-the-burden helps with that. As long as their new goal is lower than the current pledge total, they don’t have to worry about losing funding.

Still, if a project I support is in spread-the-burden and they raise their goal, my stability promise just got converted into a donation. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’d prefer if it required my consent.

Fundamentally, allowing changing-goals changes the funding-setting relationship between patrons and projects. With a fixed goal, a project says “Here’s what we can use” and patrons decide how much the project should get. With changing goals, patrons decide how much they’re willing to give, and projects decide how much of it they’ll actually get.

I’m not sure it’s bad. Spread-the-burden evokes consumer coops where excess profits for the year get returned to members, and that’s a different amount every year.

Perhaps we can design around it, like having patrons vote on whether to approve a goal change, before it happens.

It may be better to frame it as a “stability/growth promise”, to make it clear that it not only provides stability but also may prompt the project to think about what they could do with a higher goal. I’ve updated the bullets on crowdmatch.org to at least partially address this:

  1. Above 100% of the goal, everyone donates less—just enough to meet the goal. This adds funding stability and builds potential for future funding increases.

Also, I think one reasonable way to look at this is that it’s just part of what the project needs to consider in how they relate to patrons. Patrons already “consent” through their decisions to stay or leave, or to change their pledge. Rather than requiring patron consent or patron voting on goal changes, I’d lean more toward making it easy for projects to do simple patron surveys, such as “We’re considering raising our goal to $X because this would enable us to do Y. How do you feel about that? How likely would you be to (a) maintain your current pledge, (b) increase your pledge, (c) unpledge or reduce your pledge?”

I’ve long leaned toward opt-in choices beyond the main goal.

Imagine patrons choosing whether to participate in matching toward a stretch goal. The key here is that it means increasing their budget, as @smichel17 suggested (though in a context of a change in goal).

The question is: do the same crowdmatching incentives apply toward reaching a stretch goal? Do I want to say “come on, the more people opt-in to the stretch goal with me, the more I’m willing to give”?

Keep in mind the key thing: People set their pledges not just on a generic budget but on how much they support reaching the particular goal the project sets. It’s not “I’m willing to put $10 to project”, it’s “I’m willing to do $10 of project’s goal of $X”. So, it follows that they might be willing to do more toward a stretch goal — but still want to do it with the crowd.

Stretch goals are familiar from elsewhere, so we aren’t introducing a new idea to have them. Does it really make sense to say that stretch-goals are not appropriate for matching?

The options after main goal include giving a greater pledge toward extra funding, giving less in spread-the-burden style, giving the same (no more matching but more to project rather than just spread-the-burden).

A common idea in co-ops is a patronage refund: giving back to patrons any extra unspent funds. Maybe that should be incorporated here. Funding beyond the goal could just add up and be available to the project but if the project doesn’t find good use for the extra funding, it would turn on a spread-the-burden mechanism. Imagine the project gets this extra buffer beyond the goal, and each month if they don’t need it, they reduce the donations from everyone for the next month…

Actually, this could be a totally separate method for spreading the burden. Quite simply, we could say that any project at any time can choose “give back” by simply reducing the donations for the following month. I’ve usually emphasized projects taking extra funds and donating them to the other upstream projects that they depend on, but this sort of refund could be a thing too.

I think it is a serious question whether potential patrons are motivated to spread-the-burden. Without actually getting the project to achieve more, wouldn’t most potential patrons seeing a fully-funded project mostly just look for under-funded projects to support instead?

If we allow projects to set stretch goals and allow patrons to opt-in to the stretch goals, would new patrons be able to choose the same opt-in or not idea (so if they don’t opt-in, then they would just be part of stabilizing/spread-the-burden)?

Same issue with goal changes and patron opt-in, that could be an approach…

Let’s take an example. I recently signed up for Patreon to support the Second Wind Group. They’re an independent, employee-owned media outlet[1] that makes primarily videos about video games.[2]

I like some of the series they produce more than others. But it’s hard for me to say if I’d want matching per-series. I recognize that other members of the crowd probably have other preferences, and splitting the matching between goals might just result in fewer people matching me overall. And that lumping it all together gives the team some freedom to experiment with new things, not focusing narrowly on the most popular ones.

For this particular project, I’m giving a relatively small amount and I don’t think I’d increase it for a stretch goal, so maybe it’s a bad example. In general the type of stretch goal I could see myself opting in to would be growing the team by X more people.

For something like Firefox/Mozilla it would feel different. I’d probably prefer having separate projects/goals for those two. But for e.g. DivestOS and related projects I’m back to preferring one.

I’m not sure the difference. Maybe a matter of scale? DivestOS is a single person; Second Wind is a small team; Firefox and Mozilla are their own large projects.

  1. Made up of the whole video team at The Escapist, who quit their jobs to go independent after the editor in chief was fired, for something like failing to deliver infinite growth to the parent company. This was around 2 months ago. ↩︎

  2. Generally with an interest in storytelling/experiences and away from exploitative shittiness e.g. this was the video through which I discovered them (under the old corporate umbrella): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfm0u0jJwxY. Apologies for YouTube but Piped wasn’t loading for me. ↩︎

1 Appreciation

So, the opt-in idea I have could maybe be simpler to be just a new project.

I’m now imagining:

  • regular matching to goal
  • no matching past goal
  • continuous tapering past goal from everyone giving 100% of pledge at exact goal toward all spread-the-burden beyond a max that projects could set
    • so, between goal and max, spread-the-burden effect increases steadily, meaning that the crowd could grow very large indeed and still have each new patron have some mix of spread-the-burden and approaching-max effect, thus you don’t join only to provide stability and reduce others’ burden, you get some extra to the project
  • projects that want to crowdmatch toward new goals just make new projects dedicated to new goals