With traffic to digital-native news sites showing little growth for the second consecutive year, nonprofit newsrooms are looking at how they can do a better job soliciting major donations from both individuals and charitable foundations.
A number of nonprofit newsrooms have started membership programs in the past few years, with mixed results. The financial resources that are required to market and manage local news membership programs are significant, and the revenue that these programs generate may not be worth the cost for nonprofit publishers. Rather than focusing on membership programs that generate $5 to $10 per member, per month, nonprofit newsrooms are testing strategies and tools for soliciting much larger donations, in the $2,000 and above category.
Wealthy families and charitable foundations are taewsking up news publishing as a worthwhile cause. That means major gifts are out there for the taking, publishers just need to know how to get them.
Securing funding is always a challenge that nonprofit newsrooms face, but a study published by The Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) found that even small investments in major donor programs can lead to big results. Gifts from individuals added up to almost 70% of all charity donations to nonprofits in the United States last year, but among nonprofit newsrooms specifically, gifts from individuals added up to just 40% of donations. The rest of those donations came from charitable foundations. Those are the groups that nonprofit newsrooms are now targeting in their fundraising efforts.
As part of the organization’s efforts, INN recently conducted a pilot program that tested how the rate of major donor giving could be improved. The results of that program will eventually be used to develop tools and programs to support nonprofit publishers and their efforts to build sustainable revenue models. More immediately, though, nonprofit newsrooms can use the results of INN’s pilot program to improve their annual fundraising strategies and more effectively pinpoint fundraising targets.
Based on INN’s research, we’ve put together a guide to how nonprofit newsrooms should solicit major donations.
How to Solicit Major Donations – A Guide for Nonprofit Newsrooms
- Focus on donations over $1,000. In INN’s surveys of nonprofit publishers, “major” gifts are usually defined as being over $1,000. Other nonprofit journalism groups consider “major” gifts to be those that fall between $2,000 and $100,000.
- Set up major gift development efforts as soon as possible. INN’s research found that nonprofit newsrooms have the most success soliciting donations from foundations when they launch their gift development programs at the same time as they launch their news publications. Donor planning should be a part of the start up strategy for any nonprofit newsroom launching in today’s competitive media environment. Dedicating an employee to the task of donor outreach from the very beginning is a smart way to handle this.
- Identify projects that match donor interests. Don’t be vague. The more clearly you can identify specific projects that match the interests of specific donors or charitable foundations, the better your chances of securing major gifts.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Outside coaching can help create systems that will improve your donor outreach strategies, as well as membership retention. Smaller nonprofit newsrooms should consider bringing in outside help when setting up their fundraising programs, even if they don’t yet have the resources to hire full-time fundraising development teams.
- Reframe the donor search. Reframing the way you search for donors can open up the door to new—possible larger—opportunities. If possible, bring an investigative journalist from your editorial team on board to work with fundraisers at your organization. Many of the same skills that these journalists have, like digging into research and the ability to put together a cohesive narrative, will lend themselves well to nonprofit fundraising.
Best Fundraising Tools for Nonprofit Newsrooms
These are some of the most effective fundraising tools for nonprofit newsrooms.
- DonorSearch – Analyzing donor bases to create strategies for soliciting larger gifts.
- Donorbox – Processing donations to nonprofit organizations, including news publishers.
- Classy – Fundraising software for “modern” nonprofits.
- GiveBox – All-in-one fundraising platform for nonprofit groups.
- Zoho – Helping nonprofit newsrooms create their own fundraising apps.
Developing a strategy that targets charitable foundations for major gifts doesn’t necessarily mean your publication should eliminate its membership program. If you choose to keep your existing membership program intact, it’s important to have the same kind of positive relationship with members as you’re having with larger gift-givers. Cultivating a good relationship with smaller donors can lead to new opportunities, and bigger gifts, down the road.