2017 Was a Record Breaking Year for Giving to Nonprofit News, Here is Why

NewsMatch Brought More Dollars to More Places to Support More Trustworthy Journalism

As trusted information providers, local and nonprofit journalism organizations play an essential role in providing news that communities rely on to stay informed, make decisions and participate in civic life. In the wake of the digital disruption of news and declining trust in the media, there is an urgent need to redouble funding for local and state coverage to ensure the nonprofit journalism sector can fulfill its democratic mission.

That is why the Democracy Fund, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Knight Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation came together in 2017 to launch NewsMatch, a national matching-gift campaign to grow fundraising capacity in nonprofit newsrooms and promote giving to journalism among U.S. donors.

A new study released this month by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University revealed that from 2010 to 2015 nearly $1.8 billion in grants were given in support of journalism. However, only a small fraction, about 4.5%, went toward nonprofit local and state reporting. The report also found significant and troubling geographical gaps, with the majority of philanthropic dollars ending up in a few coastal cities.

NewsMatch was designed from the ground up to respond to the gaps that the Harvard research now highlights so clearly. It supported newsrooms in almost every state, brought new foundations and donors in, and expanded the capacity of journalism nonprofits to develop support from their community.

Today we are releasing the results of an external evaluation of NewsMatch as well as our reflections on what we learned over the past year.

NewsMatch supported newsrooms in almost every state, invited in new foundations and donors to support journalism, and expanded the capacity of nonprofit newsrooms to develop longterm support from their community.

In 2017 NewsMatch provided 109 newsrooms with more than 500 hours of fundraising training, a professional campaign toolkit, national marketing around the importance of contributing to nonprofit news, targeted advertising using $100,000 in ad credits donated by Facebook, and a 1:1 match of individual donations, up to $28,000 per news organization. Nearly all 109 organizations who participated in NewsMatch raised more money, from more donors than ever before. In total NewsMatch helped raise nearly $5 million for local and investigative journalism and inspired 43,000 new donors to give to nonprofit news. Those are just the topline results. The report dives deep into how NewsMatch was structured, what worked and what didn’t.

We are currently raising dollars for NewsMatch 2018 in hopes of making it even bigger than last year. Several updates to the 2018 program reflect the evaluation’s suggestions:

  • We will support nonprofit news organization’s membership models by matching the full-year value of new recurring donations during NewsMatch.
  • We will offer extra bonuses to small and medium organizations that show they have measurably improved their fundraising capacity over 2017.
  • We recognize that individual donors support nonprofit news in many ways and will match gifts made by individuals through their businesses and family foundations.

As in 2017, NewsMatch is open to members of the Institute for Nonprofit News. The deadline to apply is Aug. 1, 2018.

NewsMatch was first launched by Knight Foundation in December 2016 and supported 57 nonprofit and local news organizations with matching grants at the end of the year. Building off the success of the 2016 campaign, Knight Foundation partnered with Democracy Fund, the MacArthur Foundation, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), News Revenue Hub, and The Miami Foundation to co-design and expand NewsMatch 2017 in an effort to increase the impact and reach of the program. By the end of the year we were joined by more than 20 other foundations and donors who set up matching campaigns alongside the national NewsMatch effort.

It was clear to us then — and still is today — that if nonprofit news organizations are to achieve long-term financial sustainability, they have to draw more support from individual donors. Individual giving provides nonprofit news organizations with the unrestricted dollars that are critical to safeguarding editorial independence, building organizational resilience, and creating relationships that can improve the public’s trust in journalism. Yet despite the need for individual fundraising, many nonprofit news organizations lacked the resources and expertise to run professional fundraising campaigns. Nor had there ever been a unified national message around the importance of making giving to nonprofit news a core part of U.S. philanthropy, especially during the critical year-end fundraising period.

Thus, we launched NewsMatch 2017 with three goals:

  • Incentivize new donors to support nonprofit news organizations
  • Build the fundraising capacity of nonprofit news organizations
  • Raise awareness of nonprofit journalism and its need for public support

We are obviously excited that NewsMatch helped make 2017 a record-breaking year for giving to nonprofit news. However, the real success of NewsMatch hinges on its capacity to change the landscape of nonprofit news over the long haul, and the evaluation found evidence that NewsMatch is doing that too. Nonprofit news organizations given access to professional fundraising materials used those materials enthusiastically and said they would increase their investment in fundraising in the future. Journalism funders increased their commitment to the broad field of state and local journalism, not just the few news organizations that have received the vast majority of philanthropic support.

This evaluation has helped us learn a great deal about how to strengthen the program and we hope it is useful for others. As we move forward, we are committed to learning from this evaluation and strengthening NewsMatch’s ability to support a bright future of journalism in America.

Josh Stearns is the Director of the Public Square Program at the Democracy Fund. A journalist, community builder, and civic strategist, Josh joined the Democracy Fund from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, where he served as the Director of Journalism and Sustainability and worked to support and expand community-driven local news. Previously, Josh served as press freedom director at Free Press. He is a nationally recognized leader in public participation and civic innovation and has won numerous awards for digital storytelling and online campaigns. Josh is a founding member of the First Draft Coalition and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @jcstearns.