Journalism Funders Forum Ideas Day boards

Blueprints for better collaboration between journalists and donors

If you have ever been to a meeting with donors and journalists, you’ll know that both sides can get a hard time. Each accuses the other of not understanding their priorities and processes. And yet, they are increasingly vital to each other’s work and often want the same things.

Our Journalism Funders Forum seeks a more productive approach. Last month, during Storm Friederike, we gathered 20 foundations and journalism organisations in Amsterdam. The event was facilitated by Sameer Padania, Maartje Eigeman, and me.

We wanted to find a better way for funders and journalists in Europe to work together.

The results far exceeded our expectations. So much so, that we felt we needed to do more than publish an event report. Instead, we’ve crafted blueprints — structured solutions to challenges that our experts identified.

How to use the blueprints

People who work on wicked problems — in, say, public policy or the environment — don’t look for grand solutions. They study the system itself, paying close attention to the relationships between the parts. Then they look for leverage points, spots in the system where a relatively low-cost intervention could have an outsized effect. (Heather Chaplin, The Crisis in Journalism Is a Wicked Problem)

This is a wicked problem. Below are the leverage points our workshop identified. These frame every problem as an opportunity for a process or interaction to be rethought and redesigned.

Then, in this collaborative document, we’ve listed blueprints for solutions to all these problems. These are the potential low-cost interventions that should have an outsized effect.

The idea is that you can take these blueprints, remix them, or add your own solutions. We open sourced them so people can suggest existing solutions where they exist. Organisations and individuals can team up to tackle these problems immediately.

The European Journalism Centre is already working on some of these ideas. The Journalism Funders Forum is one of them. But to succeed we’re going to need collaborators.

If you’re interested in helping, or just wanted to know more about the problems, read the outcomes of the workshop below, and then dive into the blueprints.

Ten problems to solve

  1. Better understanding between foundations and journalists
    The rationales of funders are sometimes difficult to understand for journalists. Journalists’ working methods and need for editorial independence may scare off funders. It’s clear we need a space to get to know each other better. This will also help journalists get access to more funders and vice versa.
    Potential solution: Unconference, expert circles, face-to-face meetings, panels and forums. Bonus solution: Both parties wanted to engage in a role-play exercise that puts them in each others’ shoes. Anyone up for a job-swap?
  2. Address power dynamics
    There is, of course, always the potential for an imbalanced power relationship where money is involved. If we can redress this imbalance, we might have more productive collaboration.
    Potential solution: More cooperation between grantees to increases their collective leverage. Regular surveys from funders to grantees and open forums at journalism conferences would also help.
  3. Sharing new information
    There are a lot of best practices, lessons learned, and scientific research in this space. However, such knowledge is not circulated.
    Potential solution: Some kind of hub collecting scientific and heuristic findings, and pushing them out to the community, could be really valuable.
  4. Consultants to support grant writing
    Journalists don’t often realise the value for money that a freelance grant writer can provide. Plus, good people are hard to find. That’s why some foundations subsidise business developers and grant writers as part of their support.
    Potential solution: There are many way to solve this, but one of the most promising is a database of consultants.
  5. Raise visibility of funding opportunities
    The funding landscape is so diverse that grant-seekers miss calls that are right for them. Application deadlines from different funders also often clash. Many journalists struggle to prioritise which call they should prioritise.
    Potential solution: Structured and categorised database of funding opportunities.
  6. Boost fundraising and grant writing skills among journalists
    Journalism teams, especially newly-formed ones, are often not expert grant writers. Our participants identified a skills gap here that would help out both funders and grant applicants. Strategy development and cross-industry grantee training was also identified. 
    Potential solution: On-demand training workshops, handbooks or online learning resources.
  7. Using concept notes to save time
    Several foundations have had success asking for concept notes as part of a proposal process. These are short texts that gauge funders’ interest before a full proposal. This saves time on both sides. 
    Potential solution: a coalition of funders and journalists agree on a common concept note format.
  8. Improve open calls
    Open calls are good for funders because they promote diversity and bring in fresh projects for consideration. However, they are one of the biggest sources of frustration for journalists. Can we find a way to help donors better explain what they are looking for?
    Potential solution: Donors who open up feedback loops on their open calls seem to get better applications in the future. The database above could also help make donor requirements explicit.
  9. Encourage more core grants
    Typical funding opportunities are limited to specific projects with a narrow time frame. They often cannot be extended or repeated. This doesn’t aid the sustainability of journalism, which many foundations rely on as an enabling environment for all their work.
    Potential solution: Funders seem to be moving towards more core support and
  10. Define shared objectives to measure
    Understanding of impact measurement and appropriate metrics is varied and often underdeveloped. This can obstruct collaboration.
    Potential solution: funders and grantees should cooperatively define impact objectives early on. This saves a lot of headaches later!

All we need now, is you!

There you have it. Those are the ten potential sites of low-cost interventions that could have an outsized effect in our efforts to promote better collaboration between journalists and foundations.

The full list of blueprints, which suggests solutions to these problems, is now open for your comments. Let us know which ideas you like or which you can offer support to.

With your help, we can realise some of these solutions. And, who knows, maybe you have solved these problems already.


More resources

Thanks to Eric Karstens and Biba Klomp for contributing to the blueprints, as well as all the Journalism Funders Forum workshop participants, especially our amazing facilitators Sameer Padania and Maartje Eigeman.

Journalism Funders Forum Amsterdam was kindly supported by Democracy & Media Foundation and Adessium Foundation.