Startup Guide: Executive Summary

The Startup Guide is organized in chapters and throughout each chapter are links to resources that expand on the topic to deepen the reader’s understanding. Although each chapter stands alone, the Guide follows the path from ideation to launch and beyond.

We hope you find the Guide useful and welcome suggestions for additional tools and resources to help those on the journey. You’ll find a suggestion link on each page.

Chapter 1: Where to Start introduces readers to the business model canvas and the vocabulary of running a nonprofit news business used throughout the rest of the guide. It explains the qualities of entrepreneurship and the demands upon an entrepreneur. It explains the need for market research and having a truly user-centered business.

Chapter 2: Nonprofit News Mission addresses what needs to be in a mission statement, with examples, and how to develop a brand. It explains what an impact model is and how to measure output, outcomes, and ultimately impact. It explains how and why to do a competitive analysis.

Chapter 3: Audience Strategy and Development covers market assessment and what it takes to fulfill a nonprofit’s mission. It discusses strategies for building both a direct audience and distributed audiences, which are reached through syndication and redistribution of content. It offers resources on building an email list and creating newsletters to develop an audience willing to support the organization.

Chapter 4: Revenue Models for Nonprofit News introduces the most common revenue streams for nonprofit news, with examples. It offers templates for forecasting revenue based on the kind of revenue a news organization chooses to pursue.

Chapter 5: Fundraising and Partnerships
explains how and why journalists need to be asking for money in an ethical and transparent way, the benefit of up-front fundraising, and the role and limits of grants. It introduces the basic tools and tracking used in fundraising.

Chapter 6: The Business Plan covers the basics of forecasting revenue and costs, management and board structure, building a budget, and how to align costs with projected revenue to make sure cash flow will cover expenses.

Chapter 7: Making the Go/No-Go Decision presents a cost-benefit analysis of starting a nonprofit news organization, and helps readers decide whether they are prepared to do so.

Chapter 8: The Board Is Your Strategic Partner explains how governance is a pillar of success and the community connector for a nonprofit operation. It provides advice on building a strong board of directors.

Chapter 9: Setting up Operations offers practical information about incorporating, charity registration and taxes, the fiscal sponsorship option, financial controls, insurance, legal support, and human resources and employment issues.

Chapter 10: Trust and Ethics briefly recaps the crucial role nonprofits play in restoring public trust in news media.


The Startup Guide was an INN team project led by Sue Cross, Fran Scarlett, Jules Shapiro and Miranda Krapf. The guide was edited primarily by Howard Goldberg, with assistance from Beverly Young and Heidi Carreon.

Work on the Startup Guide began in 2016 under a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and has continued with support from funders including the Democracy Fund, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Open Society Foundations.