Funders Pitch In to Help Nonprofit News Sites Grow Donor Base

Funders Pitch In to Help Nonprofit News Sites Grow Donor Base

A new idea is helping nonprofit news sites grow their base of donors, the Poynter Institute reports.

NewsMatch, an initiative launched in 2016 by the Johns S. and James L. Knight Foundation to provide challenge grants to the more than a hundred sites that are members of the Institute for Nonprofit News, announced last week that it had raised $4.8 million for nonprofit news sites from participating donors and foundations. Managed by the Miami Foundation, the latest NewsMatch campaign was launched in October with pledges of $1 million each from the Democracy Fund and the John D. and Catherine T .MacArthur Foundation, and was joined during the fall by the News Integrity Initiative and the Wyncote, Gates Family, Rita Allen, and Ethics and Excellence in Journalism foundations, creating double and triple matches for some organizations. By the conclusion of the campaign in December, NewsMatch 2017 had secured the participation of  more than twenty-five funders from around  the country.

For the campaign, nonprofit newsrooms received professional fundraising tools, technology, and training designed to help them cultivate new donors through the Institute for Nonprofit News and the News Revenue Hub, while a national year-end marketing campaign raised awareness of the importance of nonprofit journalism. Beyond the campaign itself, nonprofit news sites raised a total of $33 million during the three-month period from more than two hundred thousand individual donors — more than a fifth of whom were giving to a nonprofit news site for the first time.

According to Josh Stearns, program director of the Public Square program at the Democracy Fund, which coordinated the effort, the primary goal was not just to raise money for the news operation but to build their fundraising capacity. Phayvanh Luekhamhan, who oversees fundraising at VT Digger, an investigative site in Vermont with an annual budget of $1.3 million, said matching funds from large foundations like Knight “carries weight with readers” and helped him and his colleagues raise $350,000, much of it from new contributors, during the final quarter of 2017. Elsewhere, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism chose to focus on expanding a major donors' "Watchdog Club" for those giving $1,000 or more — and saw the number of its individual donors jump to fifty from twenty-eight.

While this year's campaign was capped at $28,000 per organization so larger sites such as ProPublica did not receive a disproportionate share of the funds, Poynter's Rick Edmonds said he saw the campaign “as another indicator of a growing willingness of readers to pay for news coverage they think is aggressive and valuable — voluntarily in the case of sites without paywalls.” The Guardian, for example, had eight hundred thousand contributors in 2017,  providing more revenue to that operation than its ad sales. And MacArthur Foundation communications officer Sean Harder noted the that when former editors of the DNAInfo site in Chicago launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 in seed money for a new site, they received pledges of $120,000 within two days.

"I hope that this is part of a trend," said Stearns. "But I think there is still a question of how to cultivate that in smaller organizations."

Rick Edmonds. "With a Nudge From Big Foundations, Donations to Non-Profit News Sites Soar." Poynter Institute 02/16/2018. "NewsMatch Raises $4.8 Million for Nonprofit News." NewsMatch Press Release 02/14/2018.