It’s OK to use this ’F‘ word
Taking the guesswork out of getting started in fundraising
As a journalist, asking people tough questions has always come naturally. Asking people for money? Well, that sent chills up my spine.
I never set out to be a fundraiser, but those responsibilities have become a central part of my work. Like many organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the national journalism nonprofit I work for saw its traditional revenue streams evaporate as the people we exist to serve — journalists and the public — faced new economic and time constraints while contending with the virus.
Looking back, the year unfolded kind of like this scene from the holiday classic “A Christmas Story.” Things seemed to be going OK, then suddenly, all of our bolts went flying. Like Ralphie, an F word immediately came to mind.
After, er, mumbling fudge, our out-loud response was: fundraising. Building philanthropic giving had been part of our plans, and now it had become a priority. But where to start? We knew we had to start somewhere if we wanted to get anywhere, and those responsibilities shifted to me.
With the support of the Reynolds Journalism Institute, I’m developing a digital toolkit aimed at taking the guesswork out of fundraising for small, hyperlocal newsrooms interested in exploring philanthropy as a revenue source. It’s more important than ever for local news outlets to tell their stories and fundraise to support their news products.
But finding time — and getting through tricky questions — can be major hurdles to getting started.
This guide will provide strategy worksheets, templates, and ready-made campaign themes to encourage very small newsrooms to dip their toes into philanthropic revenue… or dive right in. I’m developing it for newsrooms that don’t yet have a development lead or are exploring how to show the need for such a position.
Philanthropic support is about building strong relationships and demonstrating meaningful impact, not just the templates, emails, or other things this toolkit will provide. Having a strong start with entry-level materials will let you focus on what matters: Your organization’s story.
And support exists. Philanthropic support for journalism through foundation funding (grants), major gifts, membership models and financial gifts from individuals has soared as an appetite for public-interest journalism has grown. In its Index 2022 report, the Institute for Nonprofit News found its local newsroom membership reported only 29 percent of funding coming from earned revenue, the rest originating from foundation support (40 percent), individual giving (28 percent), or other charitable dollars (3 percent).
That may not seem surprising. After all, many of these newsrooms have started out with a nonprofit structure in mind. But consider the similarities to many smaller, local newsrooms throughout the U.S.:
- More than a third of local nonprofit outlets that responded to the INN survey serve markets with populations under 100,000.
- According to the survey, about half of their local nonprofit newsroom members “operate on budgets of less than $250,000 per year, with about a quarter of local news outlets running on less than $100,000.”
- Nonprofit news outlets have a median of six FTEs on staff, according to the survey.
Sound familiar? Many small, local newsrooms have similar qualities to nonprofit news startups that have emerged over the last several years and are finding sustained success as they demonstrate meaningful impact. As the INN report states, “defining and illustrating impact is one of the biggest challenges facing both emerging and established nonprofit journalism organizations.”
My toolkit tackling development aims to help small, community-focused newsrooms that serve unique, often dedicated populations, to gain access to the tens of millions of dollars that have been made available to support the important work journalists do. It will cover foundation support, project-specific support, and individual giving — but has the opportunity to explore much more.
One note: Philanthropic support is about building strong relationships and demonstrating meaningful impact, not just the templates, emails, or other things this toolkit will provide. Having a strong start with entry-level materials will let you focus on what matters: Your organization’s story.
So that’s what I’d like to know: What are you most interested in exploring as it relates to philanthropy and your newsroom’s financial future?
Your participation in this brief survey will help shape how I prioritize research and develop this project.
If you’d rather chat, I’m game: Schedule a call with me to talk about what you’d like to see and your time constraints toward fundraising.
We want this tool to feel like a good fit for you.
I’m looking forward to changing how you feel about the dreaded “F” word while supporting the local news that matters the most to your community.