Should websites have tip jars?

Should websites have tip jars?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a tip jar is a device whereby people can contribute a donation to a website – a bit like the jars in cafes in which customers can drop a few coins by way of a tip to staff. Indeed, the websites I’ve come across that have tip jars tend to ask visitors to help them buy their next coffee in Starbucks.

Before we can go any further, is this an educational issue? I believe it is, or could be, for the following reasons:

How 'OK' are tip jars on websites? What do your students think? Photo by George Kelly

  • If tip jars work, then why shouldn’t schools which have a lot of free content for teachers in other schools to use have a tip jar? It could help to defray the costs of running the website, if nothing else.
  • Is a tip jar a form of begging? This is an issue that might be discussed with kids. I am in two minds about this. Part of me thinks it is, and that I’d rather either sell a product or service than hold my virtual hand out hoping someone will drop some money into it. On the other hand, if people feel moved to express their gratitude for the pleasure of reading my stuff, then why not provide them with the means of doing so?
  • Is there a transparency issue? If you are earning a lot of money from a tip jar, and perhaps from other sources as well, should you disclose that fact? Some people seem to get very exercised by it. Personally, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business – unless you’re doing the equivalent of sitting in the street with a hat in front of you, while your Bentley is parked around the corner. But what might youngsters feel about the ethics of making money in this way, and of the imperative (or lack of imperative) to publicly disclose your income from it? You might like to read Audrey Watters’ On tip jars and transparency in this context.

I have considered, from time to time, installing a tip jar on the ICT in Education website, but have resisted the temptation so far for three reasons:

  • Like I said, I’m not sure about the ‘begging’ issue.
  • I’m not too interested in coffee. What I would really like a tip jar to achieve is the funding of a swimming pool in my garden. I think I’d need an awful lot of tips for that to happen. I'd also need a bigger garden!
  • I suppose I have a deep-seated fear not that I’d make too much money, but that I’d make too little. Imagine how it would feel to have accumulated, after six months, just enough money for the fare to your nearest Starbucks, but not enough to buy anything once you arrived!

I’d be interested to hear of anyone else’s thoughts on these issues.

cross-posted on

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant with over 35 years of experience in education. He publishes the ICT in Education website and the newsletter “Computers in Classrooms."