The annual matching campaign helped newsrooms weather the pandemic and make an impact in their communities.
While business models for newspapers deteriorate and many local news outlets continue to struggle to cover their communities, the rise of nonprofit news has been astonishing. These outlets have picked up the slack with growing numbers of local reporters covering hard-hitting topics, especially during the pandemic and unprecedented racial protests and unrest.
As these upstarts grow, they have also become less dependent on foundations for revenues, instead raising more money directly from their audiences. The latest INN Index from the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) found that for the first time a majority of INN members received less than half their revenues from foundations. “Nonprofits are continuing to diversify their revenue sources, particularly by tapping into individual giving,” the report found.
One of the driving forces for this change is NewsMatch, a matching program that helps nonprofit news outlets fundraise from their communities with matching grants from a number of national and local foundations. Last year, NewsMatch turned an initial pool of $3.37 million in foundation funding into a $43.5 million payout for newsrooms. This year, the pool has increased to more than $4 million, and there are now 267 newsrooms participating—up 35% from last year.
NewsMatch runs from November 1 to December 31 each year, and participating newsrooms must be a member of INN to participate. This ensures that partisan sites masquerading as journalism can’t tap the foundation and community funds. In many communities, local foundations step up to offer additional matches to give newsrooms a 3-to-1 match on donations made by supporters.
NewsMatch has a longer-lasting impact on newsrooms by helping them get fundraising infrastructure in place for the long haul. The News Revenue Hub provides support for newsrooms’ outreach efforts, with training and webinars throughout the campaign.
As the next NewsMatch campaign is getting ready to launch next month, I got in touch with various participants from last year to hear about how much money they raised, how it helped their newsrooms and what they would tell others interested in joining this year. Here are their stories.
Sioux Falls, S.D.
According to South Dakota News Watch executive director David Bordewyk, NewsMatch gave the publication a major boost for its fundraising efforts. Not only did they raise the funds, but they also got resources and training and “credibility and visibility with our audience,” Bordewyk told me.
2019 Campaign: Raised $250,000, with the help of a local donor adding in a $50,000 match challenge.
Funding Impact: Helped support the two-person reporting team that has been doing deep reports on the impact of COVID-19 on the state, including on agriculture, native reservations and tourism in the state.
NewsMatch Tip: “Follow the roadmap and tools and tips that the program provides,” Bordewyk said. “Given all the terrific resources provided, it’s like having another staff person on board for us… Look for ways to tailor the tools to your own needs and campaign. Leverage those tools to work best for you with your donors and audience.”
St. Paul, Minn.
Similarly, the Sahan Journal, reporting about immigrants and refugees in Minnesota, used NewsMatch to help bring in new donors right as the publication was launching last year. “Challenge grants or matching money is one of the best ways to expand and increase donors to Sahan Journal,” said executive director and editor Mukhtar Ibrahim. “]NewsMatch] opened the door to hundreds of donors to support our digital nonprofit news organization. Using the NewsMatch challenge helped us to continue to build our credibility with our audiences.”
2019 Campaign: Sahan Journal raised $23,000 from nearly 450 donors last year.
Funding Impact: Helped build a financial base to hire freelance reporters and do more timely and reliable reporting for its communities.
NewsMatch Tip: “Read the numerous articles published and helpful information from INN and the NewsMatch website to take advantage of any matching funds,” Ibrahim said.
While this local publication had raised some funds in 2018, it really gained momentum with a NewsMatch campaign last year, helping sell the idea that a nonprofit news outlet is worthy of philanthropy, according to executive editor Christiaan Mader. “The coaching we got through the webinars and toolkit made the process approachable,” Mader told me.
2019 Campaign: Raised $80,000, with $40,000 in local matching grants.
Funding Impact: Helped the publication boost its reporting to meet a very busy news year in 2020. While newspapers in Louisiana were furloughing employees and losing ad money, The Current was able to deliver the news that residents needed during the pandemic without having to tap out their operating budget. “We put together a COVID-19 Resources Dashboard to track things like what was open and what wasn’t during the pandemic,” Mader said. “Before coronavirus, we ran a weekly newsletter. We started publishing it five days a week and taking reader questions. The freelancers basically quadrupled our output. We were publishing more stories and reaching more people than ever.”
NewsMatch Tip: “Don’t be afraid of the ask, and take advantage of the heft of the philanthropic brands behind NewsMatch,” Mader said. “Also, follow the email campaign outline [from NewsMatch]. It looks like a lot, if you’ve never done it before, but the rhythm works.”
This small monthly newspaper used NewsMatch for two crucial goals: creating a reserve account and building up its fundraising efforts. It succeeded on both counts, raising more than $20,000 in 5 weeks and getting more than 100 new donors. “Because of Newsmatch we had enough funds to create a reserve account early in 2020, before the pandemic,” said Aisha Sander, assistant editor at PRT. “We had no idea how important that reserve fund would be in 2020, with the increase in our news coverage due to COVID-19.”
2019 Campaign: Raised a total of $27,724, with one local matching grant for $2,000.
Funding Impact: Created the reserve account, upgraded some equipment, produced virtual events for the community, increased staff hours, added an email newsletter and boosted coverage during COVID-19 through March, April and May. “The reserve fund definitely helped the PRT to make decisions to increase staff time and coverage of COVID-19,” Sander said.
NewsMatch Tip: “Be organized! Download the reporting excel sheet and keep it up to date right from the start,” Sander said. “Have more than one staff person involved in running the campaign.
While NewsMatch is great for one-time donations and matches, another benefit is how it can help supercharge membership programs. At Mississippi Today, NewsMatch gave the publication a base of donors who could then be converted to paying members. “NewsMatch got the ball rolling in terms of how we message our value proposition to readers and ask readers to become member donors,” said Elizabeth Hambuchen, membership and audience manager. “NewsMatch helped us solidify a workflow around reader giving and, ultimately, our membership program.”
2019 Campaign: Raised more than $25,000 from individual donors and an additional $49,000 from local matching donations.
Funding Impact: Helped start the year with a strong base of recurring membership payments, and the publication was able to meet the increased information needs of its audience during the pandemic. “NewsMatch gave us the flexible, unrestricted funding needed to invest in tools that helped us stay on top of the news, like updated laptops, while working from home,” Hambuchen said.
NewsMatch Tip: “It’s up to us as news organizations to craft the narrative around why donating to journalism is important,” said Hambuchen. “So don’t be afraid to ask for financial support from readers a first, second and third time. It may feel awkward in the beginning, but being transparent with readers early and often about why you need their support and what you’ll do with it reinforces the reader’s role in the newsmaking process. Don’t spend too much time in the weeds with logistics; focus on getting the message out and making a strong case for a free, independent press.”
Interested in joining NewsMatch this year as a donor or local-matching funder? Check out all the details at the NewsMatch website, and keep an eye out for your local nonprofit newsroom’s fundraising campaign starting November 1.
Mark Glaser is a consultant and advisor with a focus on supporting local and independent news in America. He was the founder and executive director of MediaShift.org, and is an associate at Dot Connector Studio, and innovation consultant at the New Mexico Local News Fund