Individual Giving: Journalism’s Defining Funding Challenge

Savor this irony.

In 2012, after a decade of financial and readership losses, local and regional newspapers can nonetheless claim 25,000, 80,000 or 250,000 paying subscribers to their daily editions. Yet Internet publishers battle for even a fraction of those people to simply show up and read the news, online, for free — not to mention donate to the cause.

Imagine what 10,000 members donating $35 a year could do for your local news nonprofit! So what’s the disconnect? Why aren’t the donors turning out for news nonprofits?

Individual Opportunity

Reconnecting with individual donors could be the proverbial Great Work of the current generation of nonprofit news entrepreneurs.

It presents complex issues of branding, of building trust with news seekers, of presenting quality news coverage in a consistent and accessible manner over time. It will require research, and the development of staff capacity and expertise at a time of limited budgets.

It’s worth the effort and investment. A news nonprofit without a supportive audience, or at least healthy traffic numbers, will ultimately have to change or disappear.

Community Value

Consider that individual giving is the leading source of philanthropic largesse nationwide. Giving USA reports that Americans gave $298.3 billion in 2011.

With significant amounts of that funding going to churches, the United Way and the March of Dimes,news nonprofits may benefit from thinking about how their own work can be similarly valued by communities.

It’s a positioning issue for news organizations, and for the entire nonprofit-news sector.

Creating New Relationships

Americans remain an active, engaged population. They vote in record numbers, and petitions, polls and political blogs thrive online. There are no indications that individuals and communities are any less committed to or interested in learning about the issues that affect their lives.

They are, however, getting their information in new ways, and have yet to develop significant donor relationships with news nonprofits. Both the newspaper subscription model and the public-radio member model don’t translate cleanly to the online, nonprofit-news sphere.

The challenge for news nonprofits may therefore be twofold.

  • First, they must make themselves invaluable providers of trustworthy, accessible information to voters, consumers, and community members.
  • Second, they must develop the capacity and expertise required to develop a community of engaged supporters that includes a significant number of individual donors.