Working For Free Only Works for a While

I just logged into my Google AdSense account to see I’ll be earning a whopping 3 cents today. This is usually the norm for the income I generate.

In fact, features and traffic surges included, since starting this project I’ve earned well under $2 a day. To put it simply: Technically, I am just as poor (if not poorer) than the people I help.

OMG I'm rich!.... okay maybe not.

With that in mind, I thought now would be a good time to talk about what role I feel ads through my YouTube partnership play in this project and how I hope it will fit into the big picture.

More after the jump…

In it’s present form, this project is unsustainable. Part of the reason for that is because of the standard I’ve set for how I accept donations to help those in need.

The Project Fund is a fund where no cut is taken for overhead. None. I even have a friend who donates to cover your PayPal fees for sending the money so 100% of what I receive is what I give away.

This, of course, does not cover the cost of equipment to film and photograph all that I do. It doesn’t even cover airfare or the travel costs of reaching these remote villages once in-country.

Save the Children staff purchase construction materials for the pond sand filter you funded. Not a single penny from your donations were taken for overhead - not even for the cost of reaching this remote village.

That’s where the Operating & Equipment Fund comes in. This is the fund which has helped pay for my new camera and microphone. There’s also enough money to cover some (but not all) of my in-country travel expenses while in the field.

Staff from Charity: Water film in the Central African Republic for an upcoming campaign to raise funds. Their travel and expensive film gear was covered by private benefactors and NOT through public donations for clean water. The Uncultured Project presently works on a similar principle.

But, when I need a haircut, who pays for it? When my toothbrush needs replacing, who covers that? And when I need down time so I don’t go insane and burn out, where does the money come from?

Right now, that money comes from my parents.

The fact of the matter is, if I am to be able to do this project with any semblance of dignity, I need to be able to do this project in a way that doesn’t require my parents to give their adult son an allowance.

I believe that being a YouTube partner is not only the solution to this problem – but the most ethical path to sustainability.

YouTube partners (like iJustine seen above) earn revenue from their videos because they are allowed to display advertisements at the bottom and to the right of their videos.

As much as I’ve been giving charities flak for making it hard to team up with me, I must confess that almost all of the charities I’ve talked to have offered to hire me.

Some of the offers included ways which would allow me to continue to produce videos on the Uncultured Project YouTube channel, tweet from my Twitter account, and continue to write on this blog.

But because I want to be an independent voice, and because I want you to be sure that the charities I endorse are ones I truly believe in, I have rejected all the offers to blog and vlog for pay.

I also believe this speaks to how I’d like to sustain this project.

I would like to be less like a charity – where the CEO gets a salary based on a cut from public donations, and more like CNN – which pays it’s reporters based on private revenue through advertising.

Anderson Cooper (CNN) was able to fly to Haiti to both report (and even assist) thanks to advertising revenue earned by CNN and it's parent company.

This also helps structure my work in a way that helps me make the distinction of how I’m different from a charity. I feel this project is more about citizen journalism combined with a citizen philanthropy component.

I also think this is more fair. A charity CEO’s salary is fixed regardless of how many donations come in per year. The income I generate is entirely dependent on how well received my work is.

And, while I do often reinvest ad revenue back into the project (by contributing to the funds used to help those in need and/or to buy equipment), I have always treated ad revenue as part of my personal income.

It’s also important to keep things in perspective.

Even Scott Harrison, the CEO of Charity: Water (a charity that takes no cut from your donations) still is able to earn (through private funding) a six-figure income greater than the income of most Top 100 YouTubers.

Anderson Cooper, who often travels to developing countries to highlight natural disasters and poverty, is able to earn a multi-million dollar salary greater than the income of the Top 100 YouTubers combined.

My hope is that, if my income ever improves through ads and my YouTube partnership, you guys will give me the same level of understanding as you have other with YouTubers earning money through YouTube.

After all, if getting rich was my goal, there are better opportunities outside of this project.

[Update: In case you were wondering, through donations, the CEO of the American Red Cross earns over $440,000 per year, Save the Children USA earns over $350,000 pear year, World Vision USA earns over $370,000 per year. I think these CEOs do a hell of a lot of work – and put up with a lot of life & death pressures – for what they get paid. So, this isn’t a critique against their salaries. I’m just posting this for some additional perspective.]

  • http://www.zyozy.org Steve Jennings

    Shawn, this is a superb post. I truly admire your personal ethics. However, maybe, just maybe for a period of time you could work within a large NGO, share knowledge, earn some money and build out your network. There is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself. Look at how Amy Carol Wolff is now ‘doing good’, whilst at the same time taking care of herself, she’s taken a role at TOMS Shoes managing ‘social media outreach’. Your friend, Steve

  • http://www.zyozy.org Steve Jennings

    Shawn, this is a superb post. I truly admire your personal ethics. However, maybe, just maybe for a period of time you could work within a large NGO, share knowledge, earn some money and build out your network. There is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself. Look at how Amy Carol Wolff is now ‘doing good’, whilst at the same time taking care of herself, she’s taken a role at TOMS Shoes managing ‘social media outreach’. Your friend, Steve

  • Nathan

    I think this is very fair. You have to make a living somehow.

  • Nathan

    I think this is very fair. You have to make a living somehow.

  • KO

    I agree with Steve. For a certain period, say for one year, you could accept an offer to work as a part of one of the larger organizations. I’m sure you could find a way to do that, earn a living, AND keep your current planning separated from your new job. Especially if you’re up-front and honest with them from the very beginning. It would be more than just a way to earn and save money, it would also be a good chance to learn how other organizations are currently operating and make connections with a great number of people – something that could surely help you in future years.

  • KO

    I agree with Steve. For a certain period, say for one year, you could accept an offer to work as a part of one of the larger organizations. I’m sure you could find a way to do that, earn a living, AND keep your current planning separated from your new job. Especially if you’re up-front and honest with them from the very beginning. It would be more than just a way to earn and save money, it would also be a good chance to learn how other organizations are currently operating and make connections with a great number of people – something that could surely help you in future years.

  • KO

    I read a lot more of what you’ve written here and have to retract what I said above. As I replied on “Three Strikes”, you’re better off being outside of the control of a fortress. I hope you find a good sponge soon, because it would increase world suck to see you get discouraged by something as petty as bureaucracy.

  • KO

    I read a lot more of what you’ve written here and have to retract what I said above. As I replied on “Three Strikes”, you’re better off being outside of the control of a fortress. I hope you find a good sponge soon, because it would increase world suck to see you get discouraged by something as petty as bureaucracy.

  • http://www.azmijahan.com Azmi Jahan

    I made over $20,000 from Google Adsense. And it’s all about where you place ur ads. Blogs can generate a big amount of money from Adsense if they are updated often.

  • http://www.azmijahan.com Azmi Jahan

    I made over $20,000 from Google Adsense. And it’s all about where you place ur ads. Blogs can generate a big amount of money from Adsense if they are updated often.

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn

    @Azmi – I don’t think this blog gets the kind of traffic that would allow me to earn $20,000. Maybe $2,000 if the readership increases by several multiples.

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn

    @Azmi – I don’t think this blog gets the kind of traffic that would allow me to earn $20,000. Maybe $2,000 if the readership increases by several multiples.

  • http://SmashingDish.com Mike

    Just skimming through the article and you should be making quite a bit more. Your not showing enough adsense adds and they just blend in and get lost in the shuffle. Change the colors, insert them in the posts, and put the maximum amount you can on each page. It’s not selling out, you gotta eat to.
    Also, every time I find your links they take me to the youtube page which is fine and dandy if you want to see the videos right away, but youtube is a loser as far as add revenue goes, people are afraid to click on adds in the video cause they think they will will taken away to another site.
    I think I said this once before, but your blog should be your main site and you should direct all traffic to here.
    If you have 1000 unique visitors in a day you should make at least ten bucks…and that is a serious low ball figure.

    I would start by driving people to your blog first, changing the adsense adds on the right to blue links. Make them stand out, and for some reason people think links should be blue, dunno why. I would also throw a big ass banner under your header and another smaller add mixed in the content.

  • http://SmashingDish.com Mike

    Just skimming through the article and you should be making quite a bit more. Your not showing enough adsense adds and they just blend in and get lost in the shuffle. Change the colors, insert them in the posts, and put the maximum amount you can on each page. It’s not selling out, you gotta eat to.
    Also, every time I find your links they take me to the youtube page which is fine and dandy if you want to see the videos right away, but youtube is a loser as far as add revenue goes, people are afraid to click on adds in the video cause they think they will will taken away to another site.
    I think I said this once before, but your blog should be your main site and you should direct all traffic to here.
    If you have 1000 unique visitors in a day you should make at least ten bucks…and that is a serious low ball figure.

    I would start by driving people to your blog first, changing the adsense adds on the right to blue links. Make them stand out, and for some reason people think links should be blue, dunno why. I would also throw a big ass banner under your header and another smaller add mixed in the content.