INN Major Gifts Coaching Cohort raises $1.7M

LOS ANGELES – October 08, 2019 – The Institute for Nonprofit News today released a case study on results of an INN pilot program that tested strategies and tools the nonprofit news field can use to increase major donor support for their work.

The study found that even small investments in major donor programs can reap major results. For eight of the nonprofits in the pilot, the increases in major donor giving ranged from between 9 percent to 367 percent, and collectively they raised $1.7 million in net new revenue.

Securing funding is the fundamental challenge of the emerging nonprofit news field. Gifts from individuals contributed provide nearly 70 percent of all U.S. nonprofits’ charitable donations in 2018, according to GivingUSA. And most of that came from major gifts. But for nonprofit newsrooms, individuals provided only about 40 percent of donations, according to the 2019 INN Index report. To ensure that communities have continued access to reliable news sources in the future and that citizens can count on independent investigative reporting to watch out for their interests, the nonprofit news sector needs to develop the individual philanthropic backbone for news.

INN piloted a program to test whether the rate of major donor giving could be meaningfully improved. The encouraging findings paint a clear path for nonprofit newsroom success in this area. INN is using the results to develop further tools and programs that support nonprofit newsroom efforts to build sustainable revenue to fund quality journalism.

“A key INN focus is to build a culture of philanthropy around journalism, as well as the skills at nonprofit newsrooms to develop those relationships,” says Sue Cross, INN CEO and executive director.

Ten nonprofit newsrooms participated in the pilot, including MinnPost, Voice of Orange County, and Injustice Watch. Participants understood the urgency of developing major donors. “If a nonprofit newsroom is not prioritizing major gifts, it will not last long," said Tom Laskawy, publisher and executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network, and one of the pilot participants.

Some were surprised to find that creating a major donor program builds on skills many journalists have.

“The curiosity and persistence that journalists bring to their investigative work are exactly the skills required for major gift work. What is missing are the tools and training that journalists need in order to have the confidence to go talk with their donors — and ask for a gift,” said Diane Remin of, who lead the major gifts coaching program for INN.

The major findings:

  • Even small investments in major donor programs can reap major results - for the cohort of eight nonprofits in the pilot, the increases in major donor giving ranged from between 9 percent to 367 percent, and raised $1.7 million in net new revenue.
  • Nonprofits should make major donor giving programs part of their start-up planning. While the conventional wisdom is that nonprofits should wait to become established before beginning major donor programs, the pilot made clear this work needs to begin at start-up.
  • While leaders of emerging nonprofit newsrooms face the time-and-priority challenges of any start-up, it’s vital that major donor planning be part of start-up strategies. Leaders need to allocate time for consistent weekly and monthly donor outreach.
  • Simple tools can dramatically improve results, by giving nonprofits information about potential donors’ capacity to give and interests.
  • Nonprofit newsrooms need to develop clear concise messaging to donors describing the nonprofit news organizations mission and needs. With the right messaging and focus, nonprofits can transition existing small donors to major, sustaining long-term commitments.
  • Nonprofit newsrooms need to identify clear projects to match to donor interests.
  • Role-playing conversations between nonprofit leaders and potential donors is a surprisingly effective preparatory tool.

The full case study is downloadable in PDF here.

For more information contact Sue Cross at or Fran Scarlett at