On Monday we announced that Soberistas would, from the 27th April 2014, be introducing a small membership fee of approximately £3.00 per month. Whilst the overriding response to this news has been positive, there have been some suggestions that the website should remain free to those who use it, or that we should seek finance from elsewhere. I’m writing this post in the hope of reassuring anyone with doubts that a membership fee is the best financing solution for Soberistas.
Hello Sunday Morning is a great Australian website which aims to offer individuals a chance to explore their relationship with alcohol, with a broader aim of addressing binge-drinking cultural norms. It is not wholly dissimilar to Soberistas in that it enables those who sign up to blog about their new-found sobriety, and to gain insight into living without alcohol. Since 2010, HSM has attracted over 20,000 people who’ve signed up to three months off the booze.
The following extract is taken from the HSM website;
“Hello Sunday Morning has now raised $200,000, including from Queensland Health, to support operations in Queensland. We are now looking to raise a further $300,000 to help the program expand operations across the rest of Australia. The funding will enable Hello Sunday Morning to:
1) Rebuild the innovative online and offline program to support a growing community of people who would like to change the way they drink;
2) Undertake a nation-wide media campaign to share local stories of change, challenging the negative aspects of a drinking culture that costs Australia $36 billion and 3,000 lives every year;
3) Complete invaluable research into the culture of unsafe alcohol consumption designed to improve online programs (applicable to other health issues), government campaigns and programs.”
The above extract demonstrates that websites such as Hello Sunday Morning and Soberistas can be about so much more than merely a blogging site.
With sufficient funding we will be able to greatly improve Soberistas (specifically, the website is currently hosted by third party software which restricts what we can offer our members in terms of functionality. These restrictions can be addressed with additional funding). It will enable us to conduct research in order to improve the services we offer, and which would crucially be of great value in terms of reducing alcohol-related harms on a wider scale.
We would also love to facilitate the organisation of the real-life Soberistas meet-ups which have been taking place during the last few months around the country. Your feedback tells us that these are invaluable for aiding your sobriety and cementing online friendships.
Put bluntly, funding will arm us with the potential to greatly improve thousands and thousands of lives.
Soberistas has been in existence for less than half the time of Hello Sunday Morning (we launched on 26th November 2012) and currently has 25,194 members (albeit many of these are not always active). My partner Sean and I have financed Soberistas entirely on personal funding, a small amount derived from member donations and, more recently, advertising revenue. In order to sustain and grow the site to where it is today, it’s been imperative that we work on it for free and in our spare time (Sean works full time for the fire service and I am a full time mum of two). We have done this because we believe wholeheartedly that Soberistas helps people escape the hell of alcohol dependency and offers a lifeline that otherwise would not be so readily available.
In addition, my sister Claire has worked for free for us since September 2013 and has helped fund Soberistas from her own pocket. This is because she believes in Sean and I, and she believes in Soberistas.
Funding obtained through grants has been explored as a potential revenue source but we have not been successful in securing this (other than a one-off lump sum that we won last year in a social enterprise competition, and which was quickly swallowed up on much-needed technical improvements to the website, legal requirements and re-branding). In addition, funding which is derived solely from grants and loans is not a sustainable way to operate any business, and social enterprises in particular commonly fold after their initial financing from such sources runs dry.
Advertising and sponsorships are not secure methods of funding in the long term for relatively small sites (in terms of traffic) like Soberistas, and particularly in times of recession these financing sources cannot be relied on.
We are proud of the fact that we have managed to maintain and grow Soberistas from absolutely nothing, on a shoe-string, and with little more than the odd hand-out from people who really believe in it (i.e. my family). We are proud that we have worked every spare hour to help build a community that really helps people, a community which makes them feel less ashamed and desperate, and which offers a sense of optimism for the future.
I created Soberistas in the aftermath of one of the darkest periods of my entire life, and its core aim was (and still is) to offer a lifeline of support and friendship to those who feel utterly lost and hopeless because of everything alcohol has robbed them of. It has proved invaluable as a resource and I believe passionately that it has to continue, it has to grow, and it has to have proper investment and time devoted to it.
In addition to the obvious benefits to our members that a fee will bring, we’ll also be able to donate to a charity of Dr Julia’s choice (who so generously gives up her time for free every month to answer your questions in the Ask the Doctor feature) by way of thanking her for her monthly contributions to the site.
We believe in the future of Soberistas as a sustainable, modern and carefully-thought out social enterprise which, with the support of its members, can thrive and offer a lifeline to thousands more people in the years to come.
We sincerely hope that our members will see the vast potential in Soberistas to help not only them but many more people besides.