It was an interesting process, deciding (as an experiment) to make our courses available on a donation basis rather than having fixed charges.
Why did we decide to do this? Well, we liked the idea of being generous by allowing people to participate in our courses in return for whatever they feel moved to give, and we also liked the idea of giving people the opportunity to practice generosity themselves. What a great start to a relationship it would be to say to people, “Come on board. Join us. Take what you need and give what you can.”
Although we’ve always been flexible with our class fees, allowing people to take our courses for little or nothing if they request it, a fee is still a fee; it’s still us saying to a potential student, “Give us the money and we’ll teach you.” We felt very happy to experiment in this way.
But it was challenging as well. Quite a few people gave very small amounts – some have given as little as a dollar, which was the minimum that the donation system would allow — and we tried to come to terms with that. Our initial response was, to be honest, “They’ve got to be kidding! Here we are offering them in-depth personal feedback and guidance from an experienced meditation teacher for a month, and these people think that’s worth less than a cup of coffee!”
We wondered what to do when people offered such small amounts. After all, teachers need housing, food, transport, clothes, medical insurance. What were these people thinking? Could they really only afford a dollar? Had they misunderstood that this course involved personal feedback? Were they trying to rip us off? Could we have communicated ourselves better? Might this whole experiment be a big mistake?
In the end though, we realized that it was liberating to let go of attachment to the idea that people “should” give us a certain amount. Sure, we have needs, but let’s take people on board first, establish a relationship, and then see where that goes. If people have misunderstood and thought that perhaps they were just paying for a PDF download or something of that nature, then at least we’ll be able to explain what our costs are and they’ll have an opportunity to consider giving more. And if they could only afford a dollar, then fine, we’re happy to accept that if it’s all they can afford to give. That’s what we’ve always done.
So we’re gave that experiment a shot. And you know what? So far Maya Angelou is right, and giving was liberating, even though ultimately it turned out not to be a viable method for supporting our operations.
[Update] Our experiment with running our courses purely by donation turned out, by a large margin, not to be sustainable. In fact it was financially catastrophic. I don’t think people understood it at all. They may have thought Wildmind had some rich backer who was supporting everything. There was no rich backer. We returned to charging fees for our courses, but offering higher and lower charges people could choose between, in to accommodate their different financial situations. We also had some free places, although usually people who signed up for these never actually participated in the courses.
In April 2019 Wildmind pivoted to being what we call a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. People contribute various amounts each month to support Wildmind, and in return they get various benefits, including access to dozens of courses I’ve developed over the years. That’s just about working, but we don’t have quite enough supporters for us to break even, so please do check out the Meditation Initiative and see if it’s something you feel moved to support.