March 20, 2019; Nieman Lab

It’s no secret that US news organizations face challenges of all types today, which is why NewsMatch’s rocketing success in the last three years continues to make headlines. NewsMatch, a national matching gift campaign, helped spur over 240,000 people to give to news organizations last year, more than 50,000 of whom were new donors. Since its start, NewsMatch has helped to raise $14 million for newsrooms nationally and helped to raise $7.6 million last year alone.

Jumping on the celebration bandwagon, Harvard’s Nieman Lab interviewed four of the 154 successful organizations from last year’s campaign. What makes their successes all the more striking is that many of the people working on these campaigns were trained as journalists rather than fundraisers. As Christina Shih, vice president of business development at News Revenue Hub, explained, “Journalists are really great at telling other people’s stories but they’re not super comfortable talking about themselves.”

The Trace is an independent news organization that reports on gun violence and reform efforts. According to their website, they believe that the “epidemic rates of firearm-related violence” in the US correlate with “a shortage of information about the issue at large.” In 2018, The Trace drew 340 new donors and received $104,500—a big jump from 2017, when it received $20,400. Miles Kohrman, special projects editor, told Nieman Lab that this campaign was much easier with the all-in-one email tool-kit developed by the News Revenue Hub. Building on traction from a popular story about the surprising power of an NRA lobbyist, Kohrman came up with an email interview with the story’s author as a way to draw readers in by giving them more of the backstory. His discovery along the way that trying to reinvent the wheel is not always the best route will no doubt ring true for many in the nonprofit sector. “After having such a successful campaign this year, I was like, ‘Holy crap, we should have done this last year and just used the toolkit.’”

Block Club Chicago emerged just last year from DNAinfo Chicago and raised $183,000 from 3,000 people through a Kickstarter campaign. The organization, whose focus is on Chicago neighborhoods, did not participate in NewsMatch in 2017, but received $57,581 from the campaign in 2018 and drew 436 new donors. In its campaign, Block Club Chicago opted to promote the value of NewsMatch and the fact that donations would be matched dollar-for-dollar to support their boots-on-the-ground news coverage. The organization also tried a fundraising event, an evening of cocktails and trivia with tickets starting at $100 at a local bar, which sold out. Stephanie Lulay, Block Chain Chicago’s managing editor, told Nieman Lab, “We took NewsMatch as a reason to experiment.”

The Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University has been in existence since 2010, with publications Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and Youth Exchange. The organization received $61,720 from the 2018 campaign (they received $17,627.80 in 2017) and drew 153 new donors. According to Nieman Lab, the secret sauce in their campaign came from a 20-hour-a-week grant writing intern who built and oversaw a database that started with personal contacts from staff members. The center is also kicking off a new lunch program to highlight its work with a special focus on major donors. The 20-hour-a-week staff member will soon be graduating from college and after such success with this campaign, he has “a newfound appreciation for nonprofit legwork.”

Oklahoma Watch is an investigative news organization with a focus on policy and quality of life issues. In 2018, the organization received $71,513 from NewsMatch and drew 93 new donors. (In 2017, it received $42,576.) With a track record with matching grants, Oklahoma Watch incorporated some additions, including their own thank-you postcards, to donors and cold phone calls from political donor lists, all of which were well received. Executive director David Fritze told Nieman Lab, “You can spend three hours on a grant application and maybe get $25,000.”

“It takes many hours to get that money from 200 people,” he added, but, “It’s meaningful to us, because it shows people are responsive.”

As these fundraising ideas continue to take shape across the country, NewsMatch is raising the match fund for the 2019 campaign. We plan to keep reading.—Anne Eigeman