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A short guide to crowdfunding journalism

Seven lessons from our world record breaking campaign with De Correspondent

Ernst Pfauth
Apr 16, 2015 · 7 min read

1. Don’t ask what the crowd can do for you, ask what you can do for the crowd

‘Save journalism jobs’, ‘help us to create good journalism’, ‘the world needs great reporters’. You might recognize some of these slogans from other journalism crowdfunding projects. They’re all about the journalists’ problems.

2. Find the right ambassadors

A ‘daily antidote to the hypes of the day’ — or any promise to your readers — can still sound abstract. That’s why it helps to find the right ambassadors for your campaign. Journalists that are known for the kind of journalism you want to provide. We asked a Dutch documentary maker — who we can best describe as the ‘Dutch Louis Theroux’ — to join us. Because people might not know what you mean with ‘good journalism’, but they do recognize good journalists. If they want to see more work that’s like your ambassador’s, they’ll back your project.

3. Start a movement, not a publication

We don’t think our backers felt like they bought a product. They joined a movement. One that doesn’t depend on the rules of the news industry. For example: we promised our readers that we’d be an advertisement-free publication. Banning ads from our site helps us to stay independent. We don’t need a travel or career section, just because advertisers like those. We don’t need to hunt for page views. We don’t have to compete with huge social networks for ad budgets. And most importantly: we don’t have to turn our members into a ‘target group’.

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The original crowdfunding site. Notice the focus on members (the left counter). By the way, we have a new logo now.

4. Don’t worry about the final product (just yet)

When we launched the crowdfunding campaign, we had no idea what our future site would look like. We didn’t even have a full editorial staff yet. Before starting the campaign, we sometimes worried about this, but we soon found out that people didn’t mind. They believed in our ideas and trusted the ambassadors’ names and that was enough for them to invest.

5. Pick perks that fit your mission

Even though he’s our creative director, Harald Dunnink didn’t want classic crowdfunding perks like t-shirts and coffee mugs to be part of our campaign. ‘Before you know it, we’re more concerned with printing shirts than with building our platform.’ Boy, was he right. After the crowdfunding campaign, we needed every minute of the day for hiring staff, finding an office and developing our site. God forbid we had also needed to run a t-shirt brand.

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One of the nights we organized for our backers. Photo: Janus van den Eijnden

6. Manage expectations from day one

During the campaign — which ran from March 18th, 2013 to April 18th, 2013, we promised to launch our publication in September 2013.

7. Think beyond the crowdfund campaign

When we reached our original goal of 15,000 backers after eight days, we were euphoric. Champagne flowed. When the campaign ended 20 days later and 18,933 people had joined the movement, we were still celebrating.

8. Keep your backers updated

All our backers have a ‘pioneer’ badge on their profiles. We have over 33,000 paying members now, but the 18,933 members of the first hour will always have a special place in our hearts.

  1. Our 50 best articles, curated by our editor in chief
  2. Our biggest mistakes and lessons learned, written by our deputy editor in chief
  3. A piece chart of how we spent the 60 euros:
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Infographic designed by our co-founding partner Momkai

Epilogue

We now have 33,000 paying members, 24 people on FT staff and still feel like we’re on an incredible and thrilling journey. A journey we owe to the crowdfunding campaign and the 18,933 pioneers who supported us. We’re eternally grateful and wish you the same crowdfunding success.

The Correspondent

The Correspondent is a movement for radically different…

Ernst Pfauth

Written by

Cofounder & CEO of The Correspondent. Working to bring our ad-free, reader-funded journalism to the US and beyond.

The Correspondent

The Correspondent is a movement for radically different news. Founded in Amsterdam, now bringing our ad-free, member-funded, collaborative journalism to the English language.

Ernst Pfauth

Written by

Cofounder & CEO of The Correspondent. Working to bring our ad-free, reader-funded journalism to the US and beyond.

The Correspondent

The Correspondent is a movement for radically different news. Founded in Amsterdam, now bringing our ad-free, member-funded, collaborative journalism to the English language.

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