Charitable is a popular WordPress plugin developed for creating fundraising campaigns. It has a robust feature set that lets you get started quickly and then expand its capabilities through extensions to further meet your fundraising needs.
Eric Daams, the co-creator of Charitable, answered my questions about his background in WordPress, the beginnings of the plugin, sponsored development (a new topic here at The Plugin Economy) and his various attempts at finding the right pricing structure to fit Charitable’s customers.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got started in WordPress development?
My first experience with WordPress was as a user, with a couple of blogs I started sometime in 2007 or 2008. I had studied Spanish & History at university, so I didn’t really have any programming experience at all, but as I started blogging I discovered that I really enjoyed playing around with the code.
Eventually I started doing freelance web development, first as a part time gig and then full time. I did client work for the most part, but also created a few products on the Envato marketplaces with my friend Wes Franklin, a talented designer. A few years later, Wes and I teamed up and created Studio 164a. We continued to release products while working with clients.
Nearly a decade since starting with WordPress development, I’m now focused almost exclusively on product work with Charitable.
How did the idea for Charitable come about?
One of our earlier products was a theme called Franklin. It was a crowdfunding theme, powered by a crowdfunding plugin developed by the guys at Astoundify.
Franklin was reasonably successful, and a lot of our customers were non-profits. We heard from customers about the problems they were having with fundraising through WordPress and how other solutions weren’t right for them — Charitable was borne out of that.
When the crowdfunding plugin that Franklin was powered by was retired, we took the lessons we’d learned from Franklin and created Charitable, with a focus on developing a fundraising plugin that could offer non-profits a feature-rich, easy to use alternative to hosted fundraising solutions.
What were some tough problems you experienced building Charitable that other WordPress plugin developers might find interesting?
Time and money! We’re a bootstrapped, two-man company, so building a huge product like Charitable is a major challenge. It took us fourteen months to get Charitable from first commit to first release, and a lot of that comes down to the fact that we had to balance product development with client work just to make sure we could pay ourselves a salary.
One breakthrough for us was a sponsored development project for a client who wanted to use Charitable for their fundraising platform — this was while Charitable was about halfway through development. They sponsored development of a large part of Charitable and some of the extensions we created, and we also built out some additional customizations for them. That meant that we could focus heavily on getting Charitable production-ready, without worrying about paying the bills.
Of course, sponsored development has its own challenges, as you’re balancing the specific business needs of one client with the overall vision you have for your product. But that’s a skill you need to develop as a product creator anyway: you will often deal with customers who have specific needs that may fall outside of what your product can do, and you need to learn how to draw a line around your product.
Is there any marketing technique you’ve found that has really done a good job of getting you more users?
The number one factor in the growth of Charitable so far has been the freemium approach.
If we had not gone the freemium way, we would have put much more serious effort into developing inbound marketing strategies. Since neither of us have a marketing background, the freemium approach has allowed us to build a sustainable business on the back of a fairly reliable inbound channel: the free plugin on WordPress.org.
My advice to plugin developers: Play to your strengths. If you are a great marketer, consider starting with a premium-only product; it will reduce your support load and allow you to spend more time on development and marketing. If you’re not so strong with marketing, consider the freemium approach and take advantage of your free plugin’s presence to drive growth for your product.
Have there been any marketing efforts that were total flops? If so, why do you think they failed?
We’ve had a few experiments with PPC and social advertising that haven’t really gone anywhere.
Why did they fail? Hard to say, but if I have to guess I’d say the problem is us. We don’t have a lot of marketing expertise, and we need to work much harder to improve that skillset. That’s going to be a major part of our focus in 2018.
How did you settle on your current pricing structure with tiers and how do your extensions come into play?
We have tried a few different pricing structures over the past few years.
For quite a while, we offered our two top-tier bundles (Charitable Plus and Charitable Pro) as Pay What You Want products, with a minimum price. Our objective was to provide a way to offer Charitable at a price that makes it accessible to non-profits with limited budgets, or ones in less wealthy countries — while allowing organizations to pitch in a little extra to support Charitable development.
Most customers paid the minimum price, which was fine, but the bigger problem was that the PWYW model confused customers. Last October we switched our Plus and Pro packages to fixed price products at what was previously the minimum rate. At the same time, we added another lower-tier product (the Starter package) and we sell that with the PWYW model, with extra plugins included when you pay more.
I wouldn’t say that we have settled with the pricing structure we have. We will probably keep tweaking and experimenting with how we offer Charitable to customers, especially as the product and market both evolve.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started building Charitable?
That’s a tough one. I read a lot, and listen to a lot of podcasts, and I picked up a lot of great business advice before we ever started working on Charitable.
But with so much great advice coming my way, I wish that someone had told me to stay focused and be decisive. Not every piece of advice has to be followed, not every strategy has to be adopted, and you’ll need to say no far more often than you say yes. Gather your energy, make a decision about what matters, and focus on that.
What does the future hold for yourself and Charitable?
Refinement is a major focus for Charitable in 2018. We have a few new features and extensions planned, but much of what we are working on this year is focused on taking what we have and improving it.
There are also a couple looming events that we are preparing ourselves for: the new block editor in WordPress 5.0, and GDPR legislation in the EU. These are two major changes that will have an impact on us and our customers this year, and we’re working hard to be ready for them both.