Asking for help with Gwulo's running costs

Submitted by David on Sun, 04/17/2016 - 10:00

If you enjoy the Gwulo website and newsletters, please consider making a small contribution towards the monthly running costs.

The short version:

  • Running Gwulo takes 20-30 hours of my time each week, plus a couple of hundred US$ expenses each month.
  • It's been ten years since my first post about Hong Kong's history. Gwulo continues to grow but the bills of family life in Hong Kong still need to be paid, so it's time to ask for help.
  • A site called Patreon exists to help fund people working on projects like Gwulo, with monthly contributions from US$1 a month.

So, if you're able to help please visit Gwulo's page on Patreon:

I've written up a longer explanation of the hows & whys below, but if you've got any questions please let me know in the comments and I'll be happy to answer.

Thanks & regards,


The long version:

What does a patron of Gwulo do?

A patron is someone who finds value in what Gwulo does, and promises to make a small contribution each month.

How much will a patron pay each month?

It'll depend on how much value you get from Gwulo. Here are some suggestions after asking people what they think Gwulo's value is to them. (All the numbers below are amount-per-month, and in US$, the currency that Patreon uses. I've added HK$ and £ equivalents in brackets.)

  • $1 (HK$8 / £0.70) – Reading Gwulo's newsletters is like reading a magazine I buy occasionally.
  • $3 (HK$24 / £2.10) – I read Gwulo's newsletters and visit the website. It's like a magazine, but one that I buy each month.
  • $5 (HK$39 / £3.50) – Gwulo is more like a society that I'm a member of, where there is a newsletter and also a chance to share questions and information with other members.
  • $10 (HK$78 / £7) – I use Gwulo as an online research service. (One example quoted to me was "I think for me a better comparison would be my subscription to … I have the middle one of this, (not worldwide, my local library provides that) … which costs me about £100 a year. That’s US$ 140 - or, say, $10 a month.")

These are just ideas, you can type in whatever monthly amount you'd like to contribute when you set your monthly contribution (they call it a "pledge") on Patreon.

How to become a patron?

Visit and click the big red "Become a patron" button at the top of the page, or choose one of the pre-set Pledge amounts from the list on the right. In either case you'll go to the "Become a patron" screen where you're asked to "Select your reward".

An aside: Patreon insists on using the word "reward". Just think of it as a level of contribution. More about rewards below.

You can change the amount to whatever you like: lucky $2.88? No problem. Type in the amount you want to contribute each month (don't forget it is in US$), and click the Continue button.

You'll be asked to login. You can use your Facebook account, or click the 'sign up' to make an account on Patreon.

Confirm your pledge, and choose to pay either by Paypal or by credit card.

Each month Patreon collects the contributions, from your Paypal or credit card, and sends them to David. Well... after they've taken their fee. So don't be surprised if the total amount pledged doesn't go up by exactly the amount you just pledged.

Can I stay anonymous?

Sure. When you register at Patreon you can choose whatever account name you like. You can also make your profile private, see:…-

What if I change my mind and don't want to be a patron any more?

Just login to the Patreon website and delete your pledge. (See the instructions and screenshots at:…-)

What do patrons get in return?

You'll have my gratitude for your support!

But the Patreon website mentions rewards...

Yes, Patreon suggests I give out different rewards at each level of contribution. If you look at other pages you'll see things like "Pledge $ABC and I'll send you a new XYZ each month". But then I'd be spending time doing stuff that doesn't help Gwulo get better. I'd rather put my energy into Gwulo, so I'm not using the rewards part of Patreon.

What if I don't become a patron? Does anything change?

Nothing changes. All the content on Gwulo needs to stay freely available to all.

Many people only visit Gwulo a few times for help with a specific question. Others may not be able to afford to make a regular contribution. Others may feel they contribute material to Gwulo, and that's enough for now. That's all fine - whether you're a patron or not, Gwulo works just the same.

Do you plan to use the monthly contributions to fund new projects?

No. You may be thinking of Kickstarter, which is about raising funds for a new project. "Help me raise $100,000, then I'll ... publish a book / make a film / etc."

But Patreon is about providing recurring funding to let people keep doing what they're doing.

So you won't make any changes because of this?

No. I've already written about the plans for the year - see "Gwulo in 2016" – and will continue working on them.

Why are you asking for patrons to contribute?

There are monthly expenses to pay (hosting mainly), and occasional expenses for computer hardware and software. In addition I spend at least 20-30 hours each week working on Gwulo. All the other bills of family life in Hong Kong still have to be paid, so I'm asking for help.

But Gwulo is built on the work of many volunteers, why should you be paid for your time?

Good question!

Gwulo would only be a fraction of the site it is without the contributions of many volunteers. For some of our regular contributors, they've put in hundreds of hours of time over the years. If asking for patrons turns away these contributors, I'll have to think of some other solution instead.

But I think most people realise that there's a lot of time spent behind the scenes keeping Gwulo working and growing - dealing with spam, handling upgrades, adding / coding new features, answering questions by email, keeping the website tidy, etc, etc. I hope that this, plus the fact that becoming a patron is completely optional, will make it acceptable to Gwulo's readers and contributors.

Why are you doing this now?

Gwulo continues to grow and take more time. Family expenses (school fees!) don't get any less. Having turned down offers of support with costs in the early years, recently I've been thinking to ask for help.

Then I heard about Patreon. Though it's still quite new (started in 2013), it shows that people are willing to support creators whose work they value. It appears to work best when those creators already have an established audience, so they're receiving support from people who know their work, not trying to build something new from scratch.

Gwulo has been running for long enough I hope it's clear what it's all about, and whether it has value. So I'm hoping the Patreon model can work.

There's also another reason. It's been ten years since I wrote that first post about the air raid shelters under Kowloon Park. That starts me thinking about the next ten years. Then coincidentally I've been asked about 'sustainability' by several people recently. (Not the recycle and climate change type of sustainability, but how to give Gwulo a long life.) I haven't given it a lot of thought yet, but support from patrons could be part of the answer.

So do you think it'll work?

I'm not sure! Looking through Patreon there are some remarkable successes (A knitting magazine receiving US$18,000 / HK$ 140,000 per issue! But there are also plenty that have run for several months and just have one or two patrons (hi mum!).

I'm hopeful, but let's see what happens.


Gwulo has been home to my hobby research for years.  There is no dollar value I can put on the joy it gives me to share excruciatingly detailed and esoteric facts about the Peak in the 1880s with the world.  David is the elf who has made this possible.  I am delighted to help keep his kids in school shoes, snacks near his computer and the server whirring.

Several people have asked if they can pay in a different way:

Patreon looks very complicated. Can I use another way to pay?

It's probably my wordy explanation above that makes it look so complicated. See if Patreon's explanation is clearer to understand - it has screenshots to show what to do:…-

Here's the link to Gwulo's page on Patreon again:


I don't want to make monthly payments. Can I pay once a year instead?

The Patreon website only allows monthly payments, but you're welcome to use one of these methods instead:

Payments in HK$

You can mail a cheque to me, or make a transfer to my HSBC account. Please email me for details: (You also have the option to use Paypal as described below.)

Payments in other currencies

Please click the "Pay Now" button below. You'll be taken to the Paypal website, where you can enter the amount you'd like to pay (NB the amount will be in US$), and then choose whether to pay by credit card or Paypal account.


Can't I just write a personal cheque and mail it to you?

If it's a HK$ cheque, certainly. Unfortunately personal cheques in other currencies (eg USD, GBP) are not so easy to process. If HSBC accepts them for processing, it charges a HK$200 handling fee (apx USD25 / GBP17), and takes 2 - 4 weeks to process them.

Hi David

I think this is a great idea - you certainly need some contribution for all the hours of work you put into this website, which has grown so much and become so useful and popular.

I am more than happy to contribute but I would prefer to do an annual 'sub' - trying to think what would be the best way to do this.  If I could just do payment to a Visa account?  But I'm not keen on Paypal.  Maybe Western Union?

Kind regards




Hi Suziepie,

Just to clarify, you don't need to set up any Paypal account to use the Pay Now button above. After clicking the button you can just click the "Pay with my credit card" option, and use your Visa card like with any other online transaction.

I haven't used Western Union before but they have lots of branches in Hong Kong so no problem if you'd rather use them.

Thank you for your support,

Regards, David

One reader has asked if they can make an automatic monthly contribution, but via Paypal instead of through the Patreon website. I've checked, and Paypal do offer this option, which I've added below. To use it you choose the monthly USD payment you want to make from the drop-down list, then click on the "Buy now" button. You'll have the opton to pay from your Paypal account if you have one, or from one of the credit cards shown below.

Payment options
$1 : $1.00 USD - monthly$3 : $3.00 USD - monthly$5 : $5.00 USD - monthly$10 : $10.00 USD - monthly

In future, the same payment will be made automatically each month.

If you change your mind and would like to cancel your subscription, please follow these steps, or contact me.