» Crowdfunding Covering the Business of Nonprofit and Independent News Thu, 12 Mar 2015 19:10:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Steal this crowdfunding playbook for your news nonprofit Mon, 16 Feb 2015 20:39:23 +0000 A year ago, American Public Media decided to place the crowdfunding site on hiatus and conduct an assessment of the platform and its potential. We completed that evaluation in the spring, took a few months to digest what we learned, and decided to sunset effective [Feb. 11.]

The things that didn’t work about’ back end were significant, and it would not be possible to scale the platform or improve the user experience without completely overhauling the code base. Doing this would be expensive, and given the other crowdfunding options that are available to journalists today — both general interest and journalism-specific – it became clear that we could not offer a fundable service that would benefit audiences, journalists or public interest media more than what already exists. Our analysis also showed:

  • Most projects were funded by friends and family, as opposed to community members with an interest in or a need for that information;
  • The majority of funders gave once and never returned;
  • The market for crowdfunding journalism projects in general, as based on actual donations, is tiny, accounting for just .13 percent of the $2.8 billion raised in FY2013.
  • Journalism projects have a 63 percent failure rate compared to 56 percent for all projects.
  • There are few successes, business model-wise, for scaling and sustaining a crowdfunding platform. proved that crowdfunding can help support independent, local journalism, especially that of freelancers. It was an important early innovator in the field, and many of the platforms available in 2015 owe a lot to founder David Cohn and the community of users. (We are archiving the code and the stories that make up, so the world won’t lose them.)

Its legacy also includes a large body of research, including the assessment we commissioned fromCarlson Ventures Enterprise (CVE) at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

As Cohn so often said, “was an experiment in pushing the boundaries of transparency and participation in the process of journalism.” And it is in that spirit that we would like to share with you some of CVE’s other findings, specifically those that will help to write a new chapter in the crowdfunding playbook.

Large crowdfunding platforms can help grow your audience and test new ideas.

Kickstarter boasts 7.9 million users, including 2.3 million who have backed more than one project. Indiegogo, meanwhile, touts 15 million monthly visitors. (Donor stats were not immediately available.)

These large-scale platforms introduce users to projects via genre recommendations, making it possible for you to reach new audiences with an affinity for the kind of content you are making, even if they’ve never heard of you before.

“That is the purpose of public media: to provide educational, great content that betters families.” – Sara Robertson, KLRU’s vice president for production and technology

In 2012 and again in 2014, Austin’s public television station KLRU used Indiegogo to raise money for its educational “BBQ with Franklin” web series featuring Austin BBQ master Aaron Franklin. The first campaignattracted 241 donors and helped grow the station’s YouTube channel to 32,000 subscribers. The second campaign met its $20,000 goal in just three weeks and inspired a dramatic jump in views to the show’s YouTube channel.

Weekly views of KLRU YouTube channel before and after launch of second BBQ campaign. Image courtesy of KLRU.

Weekly views of KLRU YouTube channel before and after launch of second BBQ campaign. Image courtesy of KLRU.

Sara Robertson, KLRU’s vice president for production and technology, said the first campaign helped prove that there was an audience and a community ready to support the series, something that was critical to getting the attention of major TV underwriters.

It helped to have a BBQ celebrity whose advice is widely valued, Robertson added. But viewers also appreciate – and regularly comment on — the relevance and helpful nature of the videos. “They teach their sons how to [make BBQ], using the videos. To me, that is the purpose of public media: to provide educational, great content that betters families.” The series is available on and is coming soon to TV.

Crowdfunding can grow your donor base and, with proper planning, increase membership.

Crowdfunding does not cannibalize donors, a concern of crowdfunding critics. Instead, it segments them, according to Gabe Bullard, director of news and editorial strategy at WFPL in Louisville, Ky.

WFPL ran a successful campaign on Kickstarter in Spring 2013 for “Unbound,” a new program focused on short works of fiction. The station slightly exceeded their $4,000 goal with contributions from 150 backers. For the 70 backers who were already members of the station, the Kickstarter donation was an additional gift and didn’t reduce subsequent gifts.

“Get the fundraising team involved early on in the process, so that things run smoothly.” – Kelly Wilkinson, WFPL membership manager

But WFPL only was able to convert three of the new donors into members.

“They just fell off our radar because they were such a small group, and we had all these larger groups we were managing,” said WFPL Membership Manager Kelly Wilkinson. The lesson? “Get the fundraising team involved early on in the process, so that things run smoothly.”

That’s what KLRU did with its “BBQ with Franklin” campaign. In fact, the station treated all of its crowdfunding backers as members, inviting them to events (especially to anything BBQ-related), to receive station newsletters, and to connect on social media.

“Success at this fundraising method requires a shift away from thinking about crowdfunding as simply a gathering of small gifts. It’s more akin to joining and building a cohesive funding community,” explains public media consultant Richard McPherson in a 2013 commentary on

Observing Radiotopia’s recent successful Kickstarter campaign, Josh Stearns of agrees: “Throughout the [Radiotopia] campaign there was an intentional and ongoing recruitment effort to keep people engaged not just as donors but as part of the team.”

Of the 241 people who backed KLRU’s 2012 “BBQ with Franklin” campaign, all but eight were not current members. Twenty-five percent of those donors stuck around as members (including 10 as major donors) for more than one year, and 20 percent are still active today.

According to KLRU Membership Director Susannah Winslow, their success has made KLRU “stop and think about being more strategic about how we touch our prospective donors,” and that crowdfunding creates “more of a connection to the production and then to the station, whereas pledge is a transaction.”

Pubmedia producers want a playbook for planning crowdfunding campaigns.

Again and again, we’ve heard from stations (and our own internal producers, too) that they want a playbook for public media crowdfunding. This blog post and anything I’ve linked to should help you start to get an understanding of what works. We can also offer you a timeline and checklist of what to do when in order to conduct a well-run and well-organized campaign. This timeline was created by the CVE team working with us, and informed by interviews with staffers from nine public media organizations.

First, you should be able to answer YES to at least two of these questions:

  1. Is the program/content very specific and well-thought-out?
  2. Does the program/content have an engaging & relevant purpose for target audiences?
  3. Does the program/content have a charismatic or well-known person as the lead or central player of the campaign? (Not necessary, but it certainly helps.)

Next, make sure you give yourself enough time before and after the campaign. It’s smart to break up the project into four segments of work, which can potentially comprise a year-long project:


Planning (allot 30-90 days)

  • Content brainstorming & refinement.
  • Assess proposed content with organizational strategic fit.
  • Plan & set pre-promotion activities/targets.
  • Evaluate crowdfunding platforms (Indiegogo, Kickstarter, etc.)
  • Empower internal champion to align and manage all activities related to the campaign.
  • Seek partner organization.
  • Carefully budget entire programming.

Pre-promotion (allot 60 days)

  • Solicit pledges from known persons & entities likely to commit to supporting content.
  • Request to use their gift as marketing leverage.
  • Seek organization (perhaps existing partner) to pledge matching funds.
  • Define social media strategy during campaign.
  • Secure “tent-pole” donations to announce during campaign.
  • Select rewards to give to donors.

Campaign (plan for 14-30 days)

  • Balance messaging (emails, tweets, etc.) between announcements, solicitations, & developments.
  • Announce pre-planned/pre-timed donations & matching grants to maintain urgency and enthusiasm.
  • Implement social media & marketing strategy to raise awareness of campaign.

Production/Follow-up (expect up to 180 days)

  • Announce completion of campaign on all messaging channels.
  • Ship outstanding rewards to donors.
  • Begin production of promised programming.
  • Keep donors and followers informed of production status.
  • Manage all communications to keep buzz alive for the programming.

Joellen Easton is the Business Development Manager at the Public Insight Network. This post originally appeared on the Public Insight Network blog and has been republished with permission.

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For crowdfunding success, ‘simplicity and specificity’ is king Tue, 10 Feb 2015 17:40:17 +0000 When you ask for just $5,000 to crowdfund your journalism project but end up getting more than $13,000, you’re definitely doing something right.

And that’s what happened last month, when the nonprofit raised $13,648 from 215 backers in a Kickstarter campaign to photograph the entire Arizona-Mexico border. Two challenge goals resulting in $3,000 in matching donations helped the news nonprofit reach that goal. 

In fact, the sum is much higher than that, all thanks to a $1,000 donation from a donor outside Kickstarter.

Under Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing policy, campaigns must hit 100 percent of their goals by a given deadline or they receive nothing. Impressively, the site reached 100 percent of its $5,000 goal in the first two weeks, said editor and publisher Dylan Smith.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 2.12.02 PM

While much of its support came from Tucson residents and people directly concerned about border issues, the “magic of the Internet has led people from all over to back us: the UK, Australia, etc.,” Smith said.

Given that the news nonprofit managed to score more than double its asking amount, the lessons it learned in pulling it off could prove valuable to those looking to fund their own journalism ventures.

For one thing,’s secret ingredient was simplicity. Its project boiled down to this: Take at least one photo of every single mile of the Arizona-Mexico border.

That’s it. 

“We worked to focus it just on this particular project—not that it won’t have benefits for the rest of our work,” Smith said. Just asking people to “give us money so we can go report on the border and stuff” would be too vague to catch people’s interest.”


Credit: Joseph Oland /


“We’ve had this project in the works for a long time,” he said, “and it seemed to be a great peg for a Kickstarter campaign. It’s finite and focused, has broad appeal, generates concrete rewards that are directly related—we’re not offering stickers or T-shirts—and is something that only we are crazy enough to tackle.”

Even then, it didn’t come easy. It took a lot of hard work—and some mistakes.

The Kickstarter project required more than a year of planning and some preparatory reporting, Smith said. Much of that was supported by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

“Our biggest mistake was launching with a long title—your URL on Kickstarter is generated from that on launch, so we’ve got an unwieldy address,” he said.

But while URLs can’t be changed, titles can. For anyone who wants to try it out, he advises launching a campaign with a short, punchy title, so you get a concise URL. Then immediately change the title (not the URL) to anything you want, with particular emphasis on keywords.

If you feel brave enough to launch a Kickstarter campaign for your journalism project, Smith has the following advice:

Having a Kickstarter is by no means a “set it and forget it” prospect. “It’s work and requires a steady stream of promotion, responding to potential backers who have questions, and keeping the Kickstarter page updated.”

Do not put all eggs in one basket. Nearly three-fourths of the support for the project thus far has come from backers who found it in places other than the Kickstarter site itself, he said. “Counting on people to just run across you on that website won’t cut it—you’ve got to get out and promote the project and have enough of an existing base which you can draw from.”

Offer tangible rewards. “ plans to publish both paperback and hardback copies of a book stemming from their work, as well as offering photographs from the project,” he said. “Many of the rewards offer an experience, rather than something you can hold in your hand. Some backers will have dinner with the reporting team, others can play “editor for the day” while having input on which photos make the cut for publication, and three high-level backers will have the opportunity to fly along as the border is documented from the air.”

Even with a low ask, prepare to go big. “While many of those who contributed would likely have supported the project regardless, having a compelling case to make for a higher level of donations was helpful,” he said. “We explained how we’d be able to expand the project, and spurred more backers with matches for hitting a monetary goal and a donor count — along with sweetening the rewards a bit for nearly everyone.

One final note. The project was originally backed with a $3,500 grant by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, and Smith said “support from a respected funder may have prompted more people to back the Kickstarter, or to do it at a higher level.”

“Rather than being a completely unknown startup, having a track record and having other reputable organizations backing the project couldn’t have hurt, at least,” he added.

All of the reporting for the project will be made available for free on’s website.

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How asking for just $1 can accelerate funding for local nonprofit news Tue, 20 Jan 2015 17:30:42 +0000 Michael Stoll, Executive Director of the San Francisco Public Press

Michael Stoll, Executive Director of the San Francisco Public Press

Was it the novelty? Passion for investigative reporting? Unbridled bicycle mania?

It took all three to inspire more than 1,000 people to back the San Francisco Public Press’ Kickstarter campaign for Pedal-Powered News — a quirky but popular initiative to use bicycle delivery to expand distribution of our local nonprofit newspaper to reach more subscribers, retail outlets and community centers throughout San Francisco.

The Public Press has published independent public policy reporting at since 2009 and produces a quarterly ad-free print edition. We always knew we needed to do something inspirational to expand our audience, so we highlighted a key operational need and built an engaging crowdfunding campaign around it.

We raised $21,328 outright — more than double our goal. But it would not have happened without the support of Knight Foundation, which worked in collaboration with the Investigative News Network to offer up to $10,000 in matching funds, based on our ability to recruit 1,000 donors. It was an experiment to see how nonprofit newsrooms could use crowdfunding to bring in new readers and expand their local donations.

When challenged to count progress one backer at a time, we quickly realized that for a local news startup, 1,000 was a really big number. And yet this highly visible 30-day campaign was just what we needed to generate our most successful fundraising effort ever.

Here’s what we learned:

• Crowdfunding is an increasingly effective tool for funding news organizations. We knew the timing was right when Kickstarter announced the rollout of its Journalism category just as we launched, featuring Pedal-Powered News in its “Projects We Love” weekly newsletter.

• Asking for small (“even $1”) donations is disarming. Humbly asking for a pittance motivates people to increase their pledges. Nearly half our 1,016 donors gave $10 or more, and we grew our membership by more than 50 percent in one month.

• A well-coordinated social media campaign can make fundraising go viral. With enthusiastic posting on five sharing platforms, we attracted support from influential Twitter users, including one with more than 1 million followers and the local CBS TV news affiliate, which aired a segment about the campaign’s success.

• Crowdfunding can accelerate toward the end. Campaigns that are close to reaching their goals often see activity surge right before deadline. In the last 48 hours, we attracted 370 backers, with donations coming in every minute. Early donors urged friends to give as the clock ticked down to midnight; we reached our goal at 10:45 p.m.

• Pay attention to branding and consistent messaging. Nearly every day we published additional material that helped build excitement about the history of bikes and newspapers — photos, maps, trivia and interviews, including one with a former San Francisco newsie who sold papers in the 1950s. We created a story around our “shamelessly retro” distribution concept and stuck to it.

• Ask again and again. Many donors said they had intended to give when they first heard about the campaign, and thanked us for reminding them. Best of all, the campaign allowed us to remind onetime donors of the important work that we do and inspire them to renew their support. No one told us that we were posting too many appeals. On the contrary, the team effort on and off social media created a sense that we believed in our own project enough to shout it from the rooftops.

Michael Stoll is the executive director of the San Francisco Public Press. Lila LaHood is the publisher. For additional details on the campaign, view the video and slides from LaHood’s presentation at the 2014 Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in San Francisco.

This post originally appeared in Knight Foundation blog and has been republished with permission.

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Is crowdfunding adding a twist to the newsroom relationship with its backers? Tue, 28 Oct 2014 22:29:30 +0000 Success stories in journalism crowdfunding offer a telling sign that more and more newsrooms will turn to individual donors as a source of revenue, especially when other sources dry up.

It makes sense, why not ask your audience to chip in? A successful campaign not only raises funds, but helps an audience feel like they really have a stake in a particular organization or story.

New Dutch outlet De Correspondent, for example, gives crowdfunding donors exclusive access to its site and it offers them the opportunity to act as expert sources on a specific topic—in essence, value for their money. Last year it set a journalism crowdfunding record when it raised $1.7 million from 15,000 people.

This departure from the traditional reader-publication relationship raises a question worth considering: How does crowdfunding change the relationship between a journalism organization and its money-backing audience?

When environmental journalism nonprofit The Daily Climate took to Kickstarter to crowdfund its climate change project, the nonprofit encouraged donors to share photos of their surrounding environment using the hashtag #climatedoorstep.

The goal was to get readers to join journalists and scientists in a virtual town square to discuss climate change. Daily Climate Assistant Editor Dana Dugan says inviting people to participate in the content-creation process creates an incentive to financially back up the operation.

“We want people to feel as though they can change the paradigm, so journalism is more than just reporters saying what the news is,” Dugan says.

The Texas Tribune has also taken to crowdfunding on two occasions, but COO Tim Griggs says its relationship with its backers is no different its regular members.

People give money because they believe in the cause, he said. “And with that comes the responsibility to deliver on our promises.”

In both of its crowdfunding experiments, Griggs says the Texas Tribune has offered donor perks such as tours of the newsroom and a Q&A with its journalists. However, he says there isn’t enough evidence to prove such perks motivate people to pitch in.

“We don’t have any data to know whether the act of asking readers to contribute for a particular cause changes engagement, brand value, loyalty, etc.,” he says. “But we do know that it can unlock a couple useful relationships.”

Crowdfunding campaigns allows the Texas Tribune to solicit contributions from folks who would otherwise have less interest in general support, similar to the way universities raise funds for specific capital campaigns or for particular academic/athletic programs.

Additionally, he says such campaigns serve as a pipeline for future contributions. Many of those who backed its livestreaming campaign have come back later for general support, attended live events, and become sustaining members.

Griggs says the challenge at the Tribune is to optimize three different types of consumer financial support and the three motivators behind each: one-time contributors who want to support a cause but may or may not be heavily engaged; members who want to be part of the club and share some ideology with the brand; and subscribers who value content enough to pay for it, often because it helps them do their jobs (or live their lives) better.

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Daily Climate launches Kickstarter to fund environmental journalism Mon, 22 Sep 2014 22:29:35 +0000 The latest journalism project coming to the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter wants to make science and journalism interactive in one place.

The Daily Climate this week launched a campaign to fund a website made up of user-generated content, photos or comments or questions shared on Twitter or Facebook. The idea behind Climate at Your Doorstep is that it will encourage people to talk about climate change as it is happening around them.

“Essentially the goal is to change the paradigm, so journalism is more than just reporters saying what the news is,” says Dana Dugan, assistant editor for the Daily Climate.

The Daily Climate’ project will be funded only if backers pledge at least $25,628 by November 5. and its sister site,, are both publications of Environmental Health Sciences. Both are members of the Investigative News Network.


Dugan says this is the first time it has taken to Kickstarter for funding a project like this one, which includes producing environment-focused stories. It’s a new experiment for the organization, she says.

And a lot of it is riding on user participation. For example, the multi-phase project hopes to bring readers and scientists together to answer questions and share ideas through the use of the #climatedoorstep hashtag.

“We really hope folks pass along the Kickstarter link and use that hashtag to create and join the discussion on climate change,” she says.

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Texas Tribune jumps on Beacon to crowdfund ‘The Shale Life’ project Tue, 16 Sep 2014 06:33:38 +0000 This month, the Texas Tribune launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for a new series of in-depth stories about the state’s energy boom and its impact on small towns.

The Tribune’s “Shale Life Project” campaign aims to raise at least $5,000 by Oct. 11 through Beacon, a journalism crowdfunding alternative to Kickstarter. The project promises to take a closer look at “overworked emergency responders, explore the man camps of the Eagle Ford Shale and dig into the data behind the region’s skyrocketing wealth.”

Kickstarter and Beacon allow individuals to financially support projects of their liking. But unlike Kickstarter, which crowdfunds a wide variety of projects outside of journalism, Beacon is aimed at funding the work of writers and news organizations like the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Huffington Post.

Beacon also allows donors to fund the project with monthly (or one-time) contributions of anywhere between $5 and $250. And in the spirit of transparency, Tribune editor Emily Ramshaw writes that anyone who gives $250 will be listed on the crowdfunding site. No anonymous donations are accepted, Ramshaw adds.

While it is not the first time the Tribune has turned to crowdfunding to support its newsroom projects, publisher and COO Tim Griggs told a little about this campaign and why it chose Beacon over Kickstarter.

What made this particular project—the Shale Life Project—a good candidate for this Beacon crowdfunding campaign?

Griggs: The Shale Life project was a good fit for a few reasons: 1) it’s a subject of interest to people across the state and right in our wheelhouse, mission-wise; 2) because it’s focused on people affected by the shale boom, it’s not likely to be as inflammatory or as inherently political as some of other coverage, and therefore more likely to attract contributions from both sides of the aisle; and 3) it was fortuitous timing with the Huffington Post’s Ferguson project unveiled on Beacon right before we were set to launch.

The Texas Tribune's first Kickstarter campaign one year ago.

The Texas Tribune\’s first Kickstarter campaign one year ago.

Why did the Tribune go with Beacon for this project as opposed to going back to Kickstarter where it did so great?

Griggs: We definitely didn’t see this as a Kickstarter vs. Beacon decision. We’ve been wanting to test the idea of crowdfunding for a specific series anyway and had followed Beacon for awhile as an interesting platform to test. We think Beacon is the right fit for this one. We’ll see how well it works. But regardless of the outcome, we’ll learn a lot from it.

What lessons has the Tribune taken from its previous Kickstarter campaign and applied them to this Beacon campaign?

Griggs: There are a lot of differences between the two initiatives, but in both cases it was important to make sure someone “owns” it. In the Kickstarter case, it was our Chief Innovation Officer, Rodney Gibbs. In the Beacon case, it’s our (relatively new) consumer marketing director, Allison Netzer. They’re both phenomenal leaders and so incredibly innovative in what they do. In both experiments our editor, Emily Ramshaw, has been an absolute rock star.


If your newsroom is considering pursuit of crowdfunding support for a project, you can check out these lessons learned by the Texas Tribune back when it ran its Kickstarter campaign. Five tips courtesy of Jake Batsell, a former fellow at the Texas Tribune:

  1. Pre-launch prep is vital. [Tribune CIO Rodney] Gibbs brainstormed with colleagues about what type of project to pitch. He reached out to friends (both journalists and nonjournalists) who had found success with Kickstarter. He studied and heeded Kickstarter’s own advice, including the importance of creating a video and making sure the proposed project has a finite end. And even with all that preparation, Kickstarter still sent back the initial project proposal, asking for more specifics.
  2. Craft a clear, succinct call to action. In the Tribune’s case, the appeal basically boiled down to eight words: Help us livestream the 2014 Texas governor’s race. “It’s kind of that proverbial elevator pitch,” Gibbs said. When making your fuller case, though, craft pitches catered to specific audiences, whether that means complete newcomers, fellow employees or die-hard supporters. For example, Gibbs’ blog post announcing the Kickstarter campaign safely assumed that most Tribune readers were familiar with the Wendy Davis filibuster coverage that inspired the livestreaming project, whereas the Tribune’s complete pitch on Kickstarter had more background information.
  3. Rally co-workers and make it easy for them to share. “A lot of people here want to help,” Gibbs said. “They’re just busy with their beat or their department.” So Gibbs made it easier for his colleagues to participate by sending out emails containing pre-written text for tweets and Facebook posts, as well as images to promote the campaign. “That helped people leverage their own communities,” he said. It also created internal momentum that pushed the Tribune through the mid-campaign “trough,” when interest typically wanes. (And it built a sense of office camaraderie that led to some hilarious but spooky rejected Kickstarter promos.)
  4. Aggressively spread the word — online and in person. The Tribune launched the Kickstarter campaign on the opening day of its annual public policy festival, where staffers talked it up in person. Two weeks later, an email blast to the Tribune’s membership list drew more than 300 clicks to the project’s Kickstarter page. And throughout the campaign, Tribune reporters and editors sent out constant reminders on Facebook and Twitter, creating enough buzz to draw tweets of support from the likes of national political bloggers Chris Cillizza and Ana Marie Cox.
  5. Adjust as you go along. “It’s not like you’re just casting it in stone and praying,” Gibbs said. “You can adapt, based on what you’re seeing in the campaign.” For example, as a post-launch incentive aimed to help reach the Knight Foundation’s challenge of 1,000 individual backers, the Tribune offered a button as a reward for anyone who contributed at least a dollar. Also, based on requests in response to the campaign, the Tribune committed to host a three-part webinar series to teach participants how to livestream.


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Kickstarter launches category for journalism projects Thu, 12 Jun 2014 22:55:54 +0000 1a976440fe32681db402ae40b0b32997_medium

Kickstarter has launched a new category dedicated to funding journalism projects, the company announced on its blog today.

Journalism is now one in a list of 16 categories, each with their own subcategories, including subcategories for journalism projects that are based on audio, photo, print, video and web.

“To us, that means it’s more important than ever to make sure journalists have the tools and resources to try new things — whether they’re professionals looking for innovative ways of funding and sharing their work, or ordinary folks with a hunger to tell the stories around them,” the company said on its blog.

Explore the journalism projects here and tell us what you think.

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What Makes Crowdsourcing Campaigns for News Work? Mon, 24 Mar 2014 16:39:35 +0000 At INN, our core mission is to create sustainable, independent nonprofit news organizations — so we’re fascinated by the many different approaches journalists are using to fund their work.

Lyra McKee of The Muckraker is writing a book about the 33 year old murder of Robert Bradford, a politician from Northern Ireland.  In exchange for a donation, backers get access to the book as it’s being written.  We asked Lyra what she’s learned about crowdfunding an investigative journalism project.
“If I could offer any advice on doing a crowdfunding campaign, it’s – don’t set a target you want, set the target you think you can get,” says McKee.  “It’s not the be all and end all: you’ve got to look at it as part of a longer process of nurturing readers and bringing them into the fold. So if you even get just 100 readers backing you, that’s great: provide them with something so awesome that all they go out and convince one friend to help you in some way. Then you’ll have your ‘1,000 True Fans’, as Kevin Kelly calls it.”

McKee points out that we don’t always know who our core supporters will be. “People will completely surprise you,” she says.  “It looks like I’m only going to get 100 readers all in all (out of 200) yet the 95 who have donated so far have generated nearly $3500 in donations, with $530 of that recurring monthly in the form of subscriptions. Often, it’s the tiny audiences who contribute the most because they really, really love what you’re doing or they’re care about it. Always assume you’re operating on a long tail and work really hard to nurture that audience: they are your evangelists. Don’t sit in the ivory tower: go out and talk to them. I have coffee with my readers all the time. If I know them well enough, I give them sneak peaks of what I’m working on before it goes out. They’re collaborators, as far as I’m concerned.”

Brett Orzechowski of INN member news organization CT Mirror recently completed a crowdfunding campaign for a project on homeless children.  He offers these tips: “We just finished one up for a homeless children project. We offered incentives but what also helped is that we had a funder who was willing to match what was raised before the launch of the campaign. This helped in two ways: 1) Name association – reputable, people recognized the stamp of approval; 2) Tapping into another network of like mind for the mission-driven reporting. The concept was distributed through their network. Strength is in numbers.

Orzechowski points out a key fact: even campaigns that fall short of the originally stated goal can still jumpstart a project: “We fell short of our goal, but reached what we needed to get the project off the ground.”

Lyra’s campaign is ongoing, and she needs to get 200 supporters before March 31. Even a small donation will help, so if you want to kick in $5 or more, click here.

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