Sustaining Denizen With a Gift Model

Published in
3 min readDec 7, 2022


“Generosity means giving what you have without strings or expectations attached. Vulnerability means showing your needs.”

— adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

Denizen has always been offered as a gift. Founded as a passion project at the onset of the pandemic, our founder Jenny has stewarded the Denizen inquiry and community with an ethos of generosity. That generosity has been acknowledged and reciprocated with a steady stream of gratitude, establishing a culture that is foundational to Denizen.

In order for us to continue creating content and curating experiences, we need to establish revenue to pay our operating expenses. We’ve thought deeply about the best way to do this while aligning with our values and not corrupting what we’ve collectively created over the past two and a half years.

The default way to establish revenue is through subscription fees for content and membership fees for participation in our community. Both of these approaches feel at odds with what Denizen is about. We feel the content is too important to place behind a paywall and want to ensure its accessibility. Tiers of memberships or subscriptions would foster hierarchy based on means, at odds with our commitment to foster an egalitarian society.

Critically, subscription or membership fees would compromise something essential. As we learned in Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, when we price something, we crowd out intrinsic and altruistic motivations. We activate a different thought process; rather than feeling gratitude and a desire to give back, we start to assess whether the value we receive is commensurate with the cost we pay. Simply put; a price replaces generosity and reciprocity with transactionality. Instead of an exchange that is relational and circular, fees induce an exchange that is commercial and linear.

We’ve chosen instead to continue offering Denizen as a gift, but we are now establishing a channel for those we serve to reciprocate with financial support.

Discretion around monetary contribution has always felt important. Rather than defining a dollar amount, we prefer that our community and audience reflect on the value that our work contributes to their lives and consider reciprocating as it feels appropriate for their unique situation. At one extreme, some of you have told us that Denizen has changed your life. Some of you have had your worldview expanded through our conversations. Others have established deep friendships and met colleagues within our community. On the other end of the spectrum, many read our emails or listen to a conversation only infrequently. Also, financial means within our community and audience vary dramatically. Some have significant philanthropic budgets while others struggle to make ends meet. For these reasons, the amount that feels right will vary considerably by the individual. If possible, we ask that contributions are recurring in order to establish reliable revenue for us.

It’s important to note here that there are many ways our community and audience can and already do reciprocate. Participation in our community is an enormous gift. Words of appreciation have often made us feel overcompensated for our work. Sharing our podcasts with one’s network extends our impact. Direct financial support is just one way that is vital to enable our work.

We’ve explored gift economies several times. Early on, we organized a book club on Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which weaves indigenous traditions of gift economies with our modern contexts. We’ve just released our gift economics discussion with Charles Eisenstein as part of the launch of the Becoming Denizen podcast. In that episode, Charles mentions that digital content is particularly amenable to gift models, due to the inherent abundance of a good with zero marginal cost of production. More importantly, we have learned that gift dynamics mimic nature, deepen our relationships, and ground us in the spirit of generosity and interconnectedness.

The Denizen community believes systemic change starts with each of us. Embracing a gift model not only preserves what we’ve established and upholds our values, it also embodies the very economy that we wish to transition towards. It is one that is relational and circular rather than transactional and linear. In this way, the revenue model we’ve chosen becomes as much a part of our work as the offerings we make.

For those inclined to support us this way, you can do so here.