With more and more publishers switching to nonprofit status, we decided to take a close look at which fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms are most effective.
Around the country, hundreds of thousands of people are donating to their favorite news organizations. Creative publishers are pulling out all the stops to get their readers involved. Although some of the top fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms are straight out of the traditional charitable organization playbook, others are purely news-driven.
But first, a brief history to better understand how we got here.
Between the years 2010 and 2015, more than $1.8 billion in grants were given out in support of journalism. However, just 4.5% of those funds went toward nonprofit local reporting. Then, NewsMatch came into play. NewsMatch shook up the fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms, and gave publishers a new avenue to explore when it came to soliciting funds.
NewsMatch was born in 2017, when the Democracy Fund, the Knight Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation came together. NewsMatch was designed to be a national matching-gift campaign, helping to grow fundraising capacity in nonprofit news organizations and promote giving to journalism among everyday donors.
Since its launch, NewsMatch has supported digital newsrooms in nearly every state. In its first year, NewsMatch worked with 109 newsrooms to raise nearly $5 million for local and investigative journalism. The organization inspired 43,000 new donors to give to nonprofit news.
But NewsMatch alone cannot sustain an industry. In order for nonprofit news organizations to thrive, they’ve got think about how they will continue raising money from donors and outside sources of support.
A number of nonprofit newsrooms have already started down this path. In 2018, individuals donated more than $116 million to journalism organizations. (That’s a 50% increase from 2017.)
We’ve compiled a list of the fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms that were used most successfully by nonprofit publishers last year, along with insights into how your publication can implement the same methods. Here’s what we learned.
Top Fundraising Strategies for Digital Newsrooms
1. Matched Donations
Is there a local group that frequently sponsors your publication? What about a particularly loyal business advertiser? Try asking that group or business to match the funds collected from donors during a specific day or month.
These sorts of fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms can be incredibly successful, since donors are more eager to show their support when they know their donations are being matched. Large businesses benefit from supporting these types of projects, as well, in the form of goodwill and positive consumer sentiment.
2. Employee Giving Programs
More and more companies are running employee giving programs as a way to encourage their employees to give back to charitable organizations. You might be wondering how these programs work and how they can benefit nonprofit local news groups.
In most cases, employees simply select a charity from a list provided by their employers. They make donations directly from their paychecks, and the companies they work for match those donations.
Participating in these types of programs as a nonprofit news organization is as simple as registering with a few third-party platforms. Start by registering with YourCause, Benevity, and Causecast. These are three of the most popular platforms being used right now. If your city has a large company that offers an employee giving program, you should call that company’s HR office to see which platform they use. Once you’ve gotten registered, you can promote the fundraising strategy through email marketing or with in-house display ads on your own website.
3. The Institute for Nonprofit News
NewsMatch raised $7.6 million in 2018. The bulk of that money went to the publishers in 154 newsrooms. How did those publishers get those funds? They simply signed up. The newsrooms benefiting most from NewsMatch’s fundraising efforts are all members of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a network of nonprofit newsrooms around the country. Membership dues are based on what news organizations can afford to pay, with most publishers paying between $50 and $350 per year. In exchange for those dues, members get specialized training in revenue generation, along with fiscal sponsors, business training, and content syndication through NewsTex and NewsBank.
When it comes to the top fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms, no strategy is more popular—or effective—than soliciting sponsors. Sponsorships help to create more stable economics for local publishers, and unlike traditional advertising, they are typically relationship driven. What does that mean? With advertising, you’re selling a product. With sponsorships, you’re selling a relationship.
For example, American City Business Journals has offered page sponsorships on its topic pages. Those page sponsors feel invested in the topics they’re sponsoring. In some cases, sponsors may actually be experts on their topics, with the ability to suggest new story ideas to the publication’s reporters.
The key to successfully selling sponsorships is to first understand what your publication is offering to businesses that decide to become sponsors. How will becoming a sponsor help the business? What can your publication do for that company?
Do you have other fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms that have been successful? We’ve love to hear more about what’s worked for your publications.