I just got done pledging for the first time right before I read this. The check's in the mail, Tuesday(Mondays a federal holiday).
A few comments though.
1) It took me so long to donate because donating isn't explained until you actually click the pledge button. Anyone who's used Limewire knows how to look out for the shell game so I never clicked it by accident. Also, there was a fear of clicking the pledge button. What if I get sucked into pledging by accident and become a defaulted member? Plus, it might help to let everyone know just how little a donation can be(1 Large pizza or a movie w/popcorn). I was always concerned that I couldn't afford it. It really is easier than I made it out to be. A little more info up front before you click a button called "PLEDGE" may help increase the likelihood of first time donators.
2)Perks for donating should be greater and explained better. As others have said, other than the warm fuzzies and an avoidance of 10 seconds plus pledge screen flashes, I don't have a clue why a person would donate. Me, I do get the warm fuzzies for supporting the .org but that just isn't everyone(been feeling guilty since my first upload). Sure the pledge flashes every other screen are annoying, but when you want ice cream, you don't really complain when you have to use a bowl instead of eating straight from the carton. And 10 seconds is a joke. I've been known to pick my nose for longer.
My vote is for 20 to 30. No different than many direct download sites. Some of the perks should be...
3) I like the shwag idea for certain higher donation levels(not that I'll reach them any time soon). If we could come up with a way to make it a no overhead prize that would rock, but I can't think of anything worth a big whoop. I'm sorry, "woot" for you youngsters. Also, I think streaming should be for donators only. You can search all you want but you have to be a member to download locally. You can download all you want but you have to donate to stream. Not really that much of a leap. Whiners will always be whiners, you can't really stop that Jaddzia. You could also post a list of "This weeks donators" or a newest donator. Just a little extra advertisement for your vids like the new vid on the block. With an option to decline for those shy or paranoid.
4) At first I wasn't too keen on this streaming idea. I come to the .org to watch high quality product. I've never seen a stream as crisp as a download. Plus, there is the paranoia of changing the game for rights holders who are currently turning a blind eye to downloads but may not condone streaming. After reading J-isis's post though, I'm starting to look forward to it. There are a lot of vids I would spend 30sec to preview but can't risk spending 10+ min downloading and I have dsl. Heck, my vids are definitely on that line(but I'm getting better
5) I don't think selling merchandise is a wise move right now. You would have to buy a product in order to sell it. Making any kind of profit requires you buy in bulk. That equals expensive up front costs plus storage issues. Then you have to think variety and diversification. Hats, mugs, shot glasses, pencils, pens, stickers, and multiple shirt designs, colors, sizes, and styles. I just don't think the market for merch is big enough, maybe 500 people. Once they buy something that's it. The amount of repeat business is sure to drop. I love my favorite band, but I only have one T-shirt and a couple stickers with their logo(besides CD's, but that equivalent would be the free downloads). In comparison the .org is my friendly lab partner.
6) I definitely think there should be an auction, on the .org or at a couple cons, to recycle the old server HDD's. In fact, to gain revenue I suggest we have an auction/raffle monthly or quarterly for an SD card(or DVD) full of vids. Something that can easily be mailed in a self addressed stamped envelope. I just discovered by going to AWA just how convenient it was to sit down and enjoy dozens of quality AMV's without spending hours looking them up and downloading. Heck, for that matter you could do the same at all the cons. Just offer a media device full of the winning videos with all of the proceeds going to the .org. I can't imagine a con that isn't indebted to the .org. A little more involved, but a suggestion none the less.
I think there was something else, but I can't remember right now. Anyhoo, my .02