Crosscut Media

Seattle’s Best: Mary Bruno

Mary Bruno, editor-in-chief, Crosscut Public Media

Seattle's Best: Media leaders share insights

Nonprofit digital news operations tend to be more mission driven than profit/commerce driven. But lacking traditional advertising/revenue streams, sustainability and growth is no less challenging than for legacy media. Having successfully bootstrapped the operation with donations, grants and the usual nonprofit funding sources, Crosscut has recently focused on two areas: membership and events, and hired a development director, Tamara Power-Drutis. Three takeaways:

  • When producing events or activities yourself, don’t overlook the hidden and indirect costs. If you’re using staff, count their time and pay as part of the expense. You may often find that when you factor in your staff time, the event or project is unprofitable or unsustainable. Directs costs are not a complete measurement tool.
  • Try anything; move on if it fails. One caution, especially concerning events: Fail fast, a common refrain among entrepreneurs, isn’t always the best option. The first time you do an event, people don’t know what to expect. You may not know all the ins and outs of producing the event, and it may not break even. Mary tries to look at a three-and-out strategy because you will have adjusted for the mistakes made at the first event, and there will be more awareness of the second event that builds from that first event. If it fails the third time, move on.
  • Not all events have to count revenue as the success/fail fulcrum. Crosscut’s annual awards banquet maybe breaks even, but the amount of good will earns among “members,” the community and the political entities can be just as — or more — valuable than cash. And the awareness the event creates throughout the area for Crosscut’s work would cost tens of thousands of dollars in marketing. So even a cash-flow loss event could be a cash-positive investment in brand. That brand awareness can turn into more and larger donations after the event.

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