Why we are on Patreon

Ri’s Digital Platforms Manager Liina explains why the Ri has joined Patreon.

  • purple explosion surrounded by man in lab coat on right, and drawing of moon over trees on the left
    Credit: Royal Institution

We like trying new things at the Ri.

One of the first things we tried over 200 years ago was to start our public lecture programme, because we thought science should be shared with society, and not just kept within academia. The Christmas Lectures in 1936 were the first science programme ever to be broadcast in the UK. We wanted to find out what online video was all about, and so our YouTube channel was born in 2009.

We’re now experimenting with another first for us - Patreon.

Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that enables content creators to seek funding for their work while rewarding supporters with perks and features. Unlike project based sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, Patreon focuses on ongoing support that takes the form of regular monthly pledges, like a digital membership.

We have spoken a lot about a digital membership here at the Ri, about how we would like to establish an online community of supporters who share in our vision and support us financially if they are able.

In the past ten years, we have built incredible, engaged online communities across our platforms. Our YouTube channel has surpassed 400,000 subscribers and every week hundreds of new conversations are sparked across our talks, short films and animations. Similarly, on Soundcloud, our podcasts are streamed in comparable numbers to the Guardian Science Weekly, and over 40,000 blog lovers keep an eye on us on Tumblr.

We have passionate supporters across these platforms. They tell us when they love our content and hold us accountable when they don’t. They debate with us and each other about some of the biggest topics around science and society. Would it make sense to offer a digital membership that would empower and reward these fans and deepen their engagement with the Ri? Is there even an appetite for something like this?

  • screenshot of the Ri's Patreon page

    Our Patreon page

    Credit: Royal Institution

Equally important to the online community aspect is the vital importance of fundraising. We are a small independent charity in London who doesn’t receive any government backing. So while we have a glamorous name, we rely on donations and the money we can raise ourselves to do what we do. We want to make more films, more podcasts, more animations and share more science with the world. Will fans of our content support us in doing so?

When we came across Patreon, we realised that it could provide an out-of-the-box solution to try to get answers to exactly those kinds of questions. We didn’t want to go into things blind and so did a lot of research into the platform and the creators who use it.

The headline figures are impressive - over 2 million active monthly patrons and 100,000 creators. Excellent science YouTube channels like SciShow, MinutePhysics and Kurzgesagt have pages on the platform. However, there are very few cultural institutions that have taken the plunge so far. It is a step into the uncharted but we do like to try new things here at the Ri so we dusted off our adventuring boots and decided to give it a go.

We launched our page in May and so far it is going well. We’ve signed up our first patrons and are experimenting with content on a daily basis in order build up and engage with our community. We have a content plan but are flexible in how we deploy it so we can react to what our supporters engage with the most. The research doesn’t stop either, as we continuously monitor what others are doing in order to see what works and what doesn’t, and are also fully committed to sharing our own learnings with the wider community.

Is Patreon the future and will we be on this platform forever? We don’t know. But what we do know is that it is what we should be experimenting with right now.


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