Nonprofit public media have been around for years but in the past decade newsrooms of all kinds have launched, or shifted, to nonprofit business models in response to a changing landscape for news media. Fundraising is more than just small-dollar donors and membership subscriptions — it’s also major gifts, which can lead to legacy gifts and planned giving.
During the first Lenfest News Philanthropy Summit, Emily Roseman, director of research, and Lisa Gardner-Springer, chief development officer at the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), presented a virtual session titled, “How major donors support a growing nonprofit news industry.”
In 2020, there was more than $70 million contributed to nonprofit news organizations by more than 2,000 major donors, according to Roseman. Major donors are those who give $5,000 or more, while mid-level donors give between $1,000 and $5,000 and small-dollar donors are those who give less than $1,000.
From 2019 to 2020, six out of 10 outlets with comparable data grew revenue from their major donors. The average number of major donors per outlet grew from eight in 2019 to 10 in 2020. “It’s a growing sector of revenue for the field,” she said. The influx of new first-time major donors, likely giving smaller amounts than older, recurring donors, probably contributed to the average contribution decreasing from $47,000 in 2019 to $31,000 in 2020.
Major donors comprise the largest part of individual giving for national and global nonprofit news organizations — about 70%. That compares with about 52% for state and regional organizations and 40% for local nonprofit news outlets.
Local organizations reported a total of 474 major donors with contributions of $5 million. While that doesn’t seem like that many people, Roseman said nonprofit news is such a young field that there’s so much room for growth. “We can raise these numbers exponentially in the years ahead.”
More than 600 major donors contributed $16 million to state and regional organizations and almost 1,000 major donors contributed $48 million to national and international nonprofit news sites.
Presenting a heat map of major donor activity, Roseman pointed to northern California, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City as representing the majority of contributions to nonprofit news outlets.
Gardner-Springer offered strategic recommendations for nonprofit news outlets to generate major donor revenue in 2022. For startups or organizations new to major giving, create a compelling case for support that explains the history of the organization and demonstrates proof of the organization’s impact, with a goal to inspire a prospective donor to make a gift. For local and state or regional news outlets, she suggested focusing on conversion and moves management while national and global outlets should aim to expand into planned giving.
A review of more than 20,000 small-dollar donations to 45 sites by INN’s Network Philanthropy Center found more than 40% of donors analyzed had the financial capacity to give substantially more.
Only about 8% of nonprofit news organizations reported securing planned gifts in 2020. “We’re a young field so this is new to us,” Gardner-Springer said. “Asking people their planned giving options is not exactly the most comfortable thing to do — it can be awkward — but other nonprofits ask their major donors about this all the time.”
There were 270,000 small-dollar donors across the field of nonprofit news, contributing some $25 million, for an average contribution of about $91, according to Roseman. It’s an important piece of the field, she added.
“We find email newsletter cultivation the most successful with niche audiences to cultivate into small-dollar contributors,” Roseman said.
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