*Brainstorm!* How do we get more regular donors?

In 9 months we’ve gone from ~0 to ~400 active monthly donors:

In the next 12 months, we need to get to 2,500 active monthly donors to survive.

Please give me ideas how we can increase the number of people supporting us. All ideas are appreciated, however basic/wild they sound!

I’d rather people post with their ideas, rather than debating each others’ (we can always fork into seperate threads later for discussion of each idea), so I’ve set it so everyone can post once (feel free to edit it and keep adding more ideas! :D)


I mean my suggestion would just be to make Insider more feature-rich. I mean if I take a user perspective what I see is that insiders get one or two, not that game-breaking features, and that it costs 10$ a month. Comparable to a subscription to a streaming service. Personally, I think it could sell better if it had more features and features that did a bit more.

Sure there is the line here of pay walling features, but for the sake of survival here are some suggestions of features that could be insider exclusive:

  • Extended test runner execution time, get 10 seconds extra of test runner execution before time out, I would expect this would cost more per test run, so the cost could be eaten by the insider donation. But for slower compiling languages like Swift and Kotlin would this make the test runner far less time out = nicer experience. And would allow us to add the dart test runner which could be insider exclusive.
  • Early access, Get access up to two weeks to content as new exercises, new concepts, tracks and quick introduction videos (fixes and essential changes should not be affected.)
  • Offline tooling, like being able to see representation/analyzer feedback right in the editor.

Features like this would at least according to me make insiders more “valuable”.
Then more subscription models could also be an option, like having a subscription called Exercism Styles that only gives dark mode and costs like 2-3$ a month. Or offering that you can get 12 months of insider for 100$ (8,3 $ a month).


I’m not known for being good at this type of brainstorming, but let’s throw things out and see if some stick:

  • Access to tracks about specific frameworks or libraries (ex: React, Vue.js, Spring Boot, etc.) or concepts (DDD, DevOps, etc.)
  • Priority when asking for mentoring
  • Access to live mentoring
  • Access to debugger in web editor
  • LinkedIn integration: add your Exercism progress to your LinkedIn profile

Now that I read them again they seem pretty silly. I’ll try to come up with other ideas later :wink:


It might be slightly off-topic for the purpose of attracting more subscribers, but have you considered implementing more B2B features or products?

One idea that comes to mind is the creation of a job board where companies can pay for their job postings.

This page says exercisms teams is coming in late 2022

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Thanks everyone for the ideas so far! :blue_heart:

I’ve renamed the topic as I released what I really want is to come up with more ideas about how to encourage people to donate to us (and get Insiders as a side effect) rather than we features we could add to Insiders as a product. We started that route with Premium and I decided it wasn’t the route I wanted to take Exercism down (ie, having lots of paid features). Instead I feel that out of the 1.5 million users registered on Exercism, we should be able to communicate to 2,500 of them (0.16%) that we’re worth financially supporting. And this is where I want to focus our energy.

So rather than product ideas, I’m really after ways to help encourage people to choose to support us. Sorry for the confusion!


Suppose instead of free-but-please-pay you could use a pay-what-you-want approach? Letting people choose to not pay instead of persuading them to choose to pay might be easier on everyone.

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Like @clechasseur, throwing things out to see what sticks. Clearly, we don’t want to irritate or plead folx to distraction. We might also be able to implement these in different places, like certain pitches on certain social media sites or in emal vs “pleas” here on the exercism platform.

This first category is what I call the “we interrupt this program” plea. Specific messaging that pops up after someone has engaged at a certain level with content on a track. Thinking things like earning certain badges (Lackadaisical, Conceptual, All your base, supermentor), earning certain track trophies, reading approaches, completing a certain number of mentoring sessions, completing certain # of exercises, completing an existing syllabus, and completing a track. Zeroed out if the user has a recurring donation in place or a donation of any amount in the last 6-12 months:

  1. Enjoying this track?
    Maintaining a track on exercism costs &____ a month/year in infrastructure and staff costs. If you can, please consider donating to support this tracks expenses.

  2. Was working through this syllabus helpful for you?
    Even though exercism is largely built by awesome volunteers, it still costs $____ in infrastructure and staff to develop and maintain a syllabus like this. If you can, please consider donating to support this syllabus, or the addition of a syllabus on another track.

  3. Missing xxxx language?
    We’d love to hear about it! Tracks take aprox ____ hours of volunteer work and $___ in infrastructure and staff time to get them to launch. If you can, please consider donating in support of adding your favorite programming language as an exercism track.

  4. Did this content section help you deepen you understanding of ____ ?
    This content takes aprox xxx hours of volunteer time and $xxxx in infrastructure and staff costs. If you can, please consider donating so that we can add more content sections like this one. (this can go for approaches, concepts, track videos, performance articles, hints, etc.)

  5. Enjoying this exercise? (this would need to be very sparingly used)
    Even though exercism is largely built by awesome volunteers, it still costs approx. $xxxxx in infrastructure and staff costs to develop and add a new exercise like this one. If you can, please consider donating to fund the development of more exercises.

These could maybe also be periodically put in email messages, or in update emails. These ideas could possibly also be incorporated into a shared post for LinkedIn or another site where you surface the ongoing and development costs and talk about why it’s worth the time and money because providing this for free helps so many people.

This next set is what I call the Jimmy Wales pitch. Annual/6 month/quarterly drive for funding sort of thing:

  1. “Last month (or other interval), xxxx number of students signed up for exercism and completed Hello World. If half of them donated 3 dollars or more, we could fund our project for xxxxx months. If 25% of them donated 3 a month, we could keep the lights on for xxxxx months. If you can, would you consider a one time or recurring donation?”
  2. “xxxx number of students use our site to complete one or more programming problems a month. If each of them donated $3 or more, we could fund exercism for xxxx months. If you can, please consider donating.”

Pitching in terms of what access or benefit you can buy for others:

  1. If you can, please consider donating. As little as xxxx dollars a month can fund the infrastructure costs for xxxx students. Help keep exercism free to all who want to participate.
  2. If you can, please consider donating. A monthly recurring donation of xxx can support mentoring infrastructure for xxx students. Help keep mentoring free and accessible.
  3. if you can, please consider donating. A monthly recurring donation of as little as xxx can support adding x number of new exercise approaches documents to help xx of students.

Videos that talk about current “keep the lights on” expenses vs what it takes to add the next killer feature. Publish these the way you do 12in23 videos – every x months or so, make a video about what things you want to add, and how much money is needed to do that. Ask if anyone can give what they can in support of adding the new features. Each video could re-iterate what exercism has done so far, what exciting things happened in the last two months, and what you could do “if only we could increase our donations by xxx in the next interval.”

“Why I give to exercism” videos that features short comments from people on why they gave money, and how good it feels to support other students in their learning. These could periodically feature on the home page, and be shared around social media.

“Price-pointing” - putting a price on what it takes to do x, in terms of infra cost, staff cost, and volunteer time. Use these to periodically pitch donations that don’t fall into the “I can give 9.99 a month category”. These are pulled out of my arse, so we’d have to do more serious number crunching, but these might be worth it across various places on the site and elsewhere.

  • $5 dollars as the cost of adding a new practice exercise to a single track.
  • $3 to support mentoring infrastructure for xxx students on a track
  • $50 dollars in staff and infrastructure to create a track introduction video.
  • $5 dollars to create an exercise approach or performance article for a single track.
  • $xx dollars a month to support a given track’s test runner/representer/analyzer … and so on.
  • $100 dollars in staff time and infrastructure to add a new language track & get it to launch, not including volunteer time.
  • $5 dollars as the cost of adding a new approach (“dig deeper”) document or performance article for a single track.
  • $5 dollars to add a concept write-up or concept exercise.
  • xxxx dollars to develop and launch a new syllabus.

Can’t think of more right now … but the point would be to encourage one-of donators to think in terms of “covering” some of their (or someone else’s) use of the site without committing to recurring donations, or large recurring donations.

Badges for donating that could be added to social media profiles. “Proud donator to exercism.” “I support free education for programmers.” with a link back to a site page that has videos/quotes/impact statements, etc.

Ok. Will add/adjust later as I think about this more. :sweat_smile:


Consider reaching out to the different foundations for the programming languages for funding.
Look at other foundations related to equal learning opportunities and/or companies that benefit from people learning programming languages.
Consider government funding and eu funding as you are promoting learning opportunities, upskilling.


Consider allowing donors to put up bounties on specific features or tracks. Certain parts of the product are falling into disrepair and it’s discouraging to donate without being able to direct/focus attention on some of those things.

To give a personal example, I’d be willing to put up a full lifetime Insider donation if we could get the Scala track updated to Scala 3.0, which is now 2 years old. There’s been an in-progress PR open for over a year now that has had a revolving door of interest but nobody who’s been able to push it over the finish line. The ability for someone like me (and perhaps others) to commit a donation to it would both provide motivation, presumably, and also act as a barometer of what sorts of issues the community finds the most pressing.

Just my thoughts :slight_smile:


It might be an idea to try to get firms to jump on board. New employees (devs) have to go through a specific set of exercises. The set could be customized for each company, and maybe even individual instructions. With this approach, firms would be incentivized to stay on board and have an actual benefit for onboarding new developers. Also, the auditing that they actually completed the course would be included.


:wave: The team might be interested in asking those who subscribe what ‘Job to be Done’ (if you are interested in that product framework) they ‘hire’ an Exercism subscription for… :thinking:

For me… an Exercism subscription is a bit like a replacement for a podcast patreon or a substack subscription. I really like the newsletters and updates writing. To be honest, I don’t really have a strong interest in new features or perks, just the content is worth it for me…

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I’m going to echo the reaching out for corporate / government / education sponsorship ideas. Your product is primarily targeting in-school or early-in-career type people, usually with less disposable income. No matter how much they like your product (this site is great), it simply has to compete with too many other things.

People who spend a lot of time on this site, though, are more likely to be self-motivated. They’d make potentially better intern applicants, or be more likely to utilize scholarships. Is it possible to put these people in touch with each other?

As for making insiders more compelling, I’d look at emulating what other sites compete for disposable income. Follow the Reddit/Twitch model and allow users to gift each other subscriptions for a month. Purchasing insiders gives you some currency to give to mentors or helpers (like karma, or reddit gold).

I like the idea of putting up bounties for new content, or bug fixes, which give temporary insider status, so there is incentive to keep it going (either by improving the site or buying the subscription).

I also think more insider-exclusive content would be good, such as access to things like interviews, blogs, tie-ins with other sites/products, etc.


This is tangential, but maybe we could sign up as a creator with Brave.

I donate a set amount each month based on my browsing history, but I think you probably have to sign up to get any money.

There is also the possibility of showing a “Tip” button on GitHub (and also Reddit and Twitter, although this is probably less relevant.

I’ve been showing Exercism off to anyone who will listen to me, and one of the first pieces of feedback that I get is that folks find it off-putting that dark mode is behind the Insiders paywall. I have no real data about the number of people who become Insiders based on the dark mode, but my anecdotal experience is that it seems to have the opposite effect. Just thought I would mention that experience.

As far as a cool feature that would be a fun selling point for becoming an Insider, what about getting performance metrics for solutions? Memory usage, CPU usage, etc. Just something to allow a more in-depth comparison of the community solutions, or even my own iterations?

I agree. I’ve never loved this. I find that I dread people finding that out.

Framing of donations

@iHiD already wrote above about “Insiders as a side effect”. But I think we might be able to communicate that better.

I agree that the framing for donations should be donation, rather than payment in exchange for goods/services. That is, in no way should it be like paying a subscription for a streaming service. The value to the donor should be feeling good about supporting something they want in the world, not from receiving a sufficiently valuable concrete thing in return.

Giving, not buying.

Intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic.

This doesn’t mean that I think that Exercism should only have purely donation-based sources of revenue: I think there are a bunch of ways (some previously mentioned in this thread) for Exercism to receive money from business-like entities and high-net-worth individuals. It just means that I think the concrete rewards for regular donors should be framed as perks (and possibly a bit more so than they are now), even if some of them might have some extrinsic value.

For example, the insiders page talks about “private Insiders livestreams, vlogs, and technical deep dives”. I think the framing here could be less about the extrinsic value of the video content, but more like “we really appreciate the support. We can’t give you much in return, but here’s some videos if you’re interested in what’s going on”.

Sponsoring instrastructure

Get businesses to sponsor infrastructure, and/or provide cloud credits. Exercism is aware of this as a possibility, and this thread is asking more about regular donors, but achieving this would be worth a large number of donors. I think we should mention this explicitly on the donate page, and maybe in e.g. emails.

Meta: can we consider either:

  • editing the title of this thread to be a more general “how can Exercism become more sustainable?”
  • or starting a separate topic for something like “How do we get more resources outside of regular donors?”, and moving content from this thread to there.

Thanks everyone for your suggestions. I will reply to them all at some stage, but for now I’m enjoying just hearing thoughts and opinions. It’s been pointed out that “slow-mode” stops people from editing their posts. I’ve just disabled that so you can all edit your posts to add more ideas, etc.

Please respect the rule of only posting once in this thread though - I’m finding it’s really helping keep us with the aim of generating multiple ideas :blue_heart:

What about enrolling to Liberapay?
It’s a nice way to consolidate one’s donations on a single platform, which can also help to reduce the transaction fees.

Some ways I have seen that are used by platforms/companies in teaching industry to gain paying user:

  • Ads - Facebook and other media ads are often used by online course publishers to promote their product, some publishers share experience that Facebox ads have good conversion and often are used to gain user base for products fast (they use also Instagram, and Google Ads). Often online courses creators organise webinars during which they do some short but information dense presentation/workshop and also sell full product - the ad in such case sends to some kind of landing page where user can register. They often use so called “funnel marketing” techniques and tools.

  • Marketing/PR - other kinds of promotion of Exercism using different channels fe. influencers, guest articles on popular blogs etc., interviews, partnerships, events, contests to gain publicity and users.

  • Newsletter - creating newsletter with topics linked with Exercism to gain user base and promote product, its rather longer term in months than using ads.

  • Regarding current users I dont know how many of 1,5 million registered are active. I assumed that new and active user would be more likely to pay for product and read e-mails than unactive user or user that was active earlier but not now. Also if we assume 3% is good conversion rate for sending call to action message to user base that would be 45000 people, but thats assuming all registered people are active.

  • Usually big companies/corporations have budgets for social responsibility, supporting of projects and trainings. I assume they contact projects that gain visibility but also projects gain contacts to decision makers somehow

  • Selling access B2B - companies are more likely to buy more than single users

I haven’t read all the other replies, but advertising is effective.

I know there can be distaste for advertisement, since it can be sleasy and corporate and etc. But if you’re a non-profit who just wants to help people out, telling people about Exercism can also be tasteful and informative. They don’t necessarily have to be advertisements for the paid Insider mode, they can just be for Exercism as a platform. To have more paid users, there are two options: change the ratio of free:paid users, or with the same ratio just have more total users.

Create or commission some “Trying to learn $language? Try Exercism” images. Pay for them to be placed in the places that students will be. Google searches, reddit, tiktok, ad platforms that can target blogging platforms like medium, etc.

P.S. Advertise not just for learners, but also for mentors. Mentor engagement is a better long term investment for Exercism as a platform.