Session 9: Developing a pool of donors: Funding in the information arena


Session 9:  Developing a pool of donors:  Funding in the information arena

Facilitator:  Emmett Carson, CEO, Silicon Valley Community Foundation

Scribe:  Angelle C. Fouther, Senior Communications Officer, The Denver Foundation

Emmett started by sharing his observation that there are two major strategies to developing a pool of donors for information projects:

Strategy 1:  You have the idea of the thing you want to fund, and you append the media component on top of it.  You get buy-in based on the core issue that they are drawn to, and you embed the media component.

Strategy 2:  The innovation itself is what you are using to excite people.  There may be a topic that is not getting enough attention.  To engage people, you draw them in with a texting campaign, for instance, offering a free ticket to a concert.  The tool is what is compelling.

Emmett asks:  Which strategy works best?

Emmett clarified his definition of donors:  Anyone who has money and I want it. . corporations, donor advisors, foundations, individuals . . .

Participant challenges, questions and strategies:

• Fraser Nelson, Community Foundation of Utah –Knight instrumental in funding a youth media group.  Corporate donations were not available.  It’s all about marketing these days.  Credit union offered $7,000 for the project through marketing budget, but wanted to see 100 youth open savings accounts.  Are we willing to perhaps click through for Subway, or a fashion ad, or open an account as a means to the end of promoting serious issues?

• Corporations seek alignment with their brand.   Joe Treaster – University of Miami – Knight Chair –  Noticed students’ quality of writing was not great.  Idea:  Put students on stage and get them engaged in an issue that is important to them.  Focus: environmental cause. How to fund? Gift from Toyota to start.  The brand of Toyota – environmentally friendly – tied to the mission and the young target audience – students.

• Mark Anthony Thomas, City Limits, Investigative Reporting, Brooklyn, NY  – Must make argument that you can reach a different demographic.

• Message for grantseeking organizations:  It is hard when you can Google for free and get info, whether “good” or “bad.”   Why would you pay for it? Have to look at Public TV/Radio type donors. You have to figure out how to get access to them. Get public media underwriter list and develop relationships. Do this in conjunction with community foundations­.

• David Cohn,  Fundraising for Public Insight Journalists.  We are too quick to ask for money.  Take smaller steps to commitment/engagement.   There is a small population of people who will give to journalism just for journalism’s sake.  Most will give when they have an affiliation.  NPR is different – a brand.  Position the relationships to slowly build into a pool of donors. 

• Embedded tools.  Margot Rawlins –  Envision Bay Area – Regional Development.  They utilize keypad interactivity at meetings.  Environmental impact was the issue, technology used as engagement tool.  Several other participants stated they utilized surveys.

• Jessica Kemp – Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation–Building communications capacity is a challenge.  When we seek funding, we don’t have the infrastructure to support the project.  Emmett: interesting tension – every CEO would like unrestricted funds/operating support.  Once it is attained, communications is not top priority though.  It winds up being programs or another area. 

• Blyth Campbell, Alaska Community Foundation  – In a global world, you have to appeal beyond your borders to build a critical mass.  A lot of local pain on hunger, homelessness.  But not on journalism. 

Clotilde Dedecker – The old saying is true, if you want money, ask for advice. Have a problem, engage others in solving it.  Then they are engaged in the “how’ of getting it done.  The communications function becomes part and parcel of the platform.

• How to convene if you are not a community foundation?  Partner with a community foundation.  Find someone who can open the door for you with cf. Networking, networking, networking.

• David Cohn – Missing component – the discipline of cultivating these relationships.  Is there a platform to show prospects metrics of their engagement with you so when we come to ask, it doesn’t come out of nowhere.  Emmett – some people get disturbed if you track them too closely.  Understand the people you are serving. You could potentially drive people away. 

• Blyth Caldwell – “Conversations about Causes that Matter” – invite donor advisers, experts on each topic. Serves as a touch point.

• Funders should collaborate, so that fundseekers don’t have to reinvent themselves to fit into each funders’ criteria. 

• Many outlets in developing countries. Work with corporations at the front.  Can’t do the NPR model.  They can’t afford to give.  Mark Thomas – Equalize voices of underserved readers – invite them to submit columns, etc.

• Utah – Journalists are getting older.  Introduce younger journalists to older ones.  Asking older to put a fund together to support younger.  Planned Giving.  Laura Frank – Colorado – bringing multiple foundations to put together a trust for journalists.

• Ellen Pope – Maine Community Foundation.  Kickstarter.  Online fundraising is a good tool.  St. Paul – communities sponsoring a series of Kickstarter programs.  Powerful tool.

• Journalism/communications as a tool to build community.  New Jersey – Sustainable Jersey – effort to help people on an informal basis build community – gain points toward certification on different issues – education, environment.  With certification – eligible for grant money. 

• Andrew Haeg – Public Insight Network – Most compelling way to get folks engaged is to ask a question.  Build first rung of engagement.  Go up from there.

• Do utilize mass cultivation, Emmett states– once a year ask readers/viewers for contributions­ – corporation match, United Way contributions . . . build a base over time.  Get people used to saying I have to give something if I get something of value from this.

• Emmett – In terms of changing the world, acknowledge that nonprofit journalism plays a role in that.  But there is a lot of competition.  How do you create a unique brand identity for a donor?  Why us against all the other asks?  Funders can evaluate.