INN Partners with Google News Initiative to Attract Sponsorship Revenue to Nonprofit Newsrooms

The Institute for Nonprofit News is launching a pilot program funded by Google News Initiative (GNI) that will enable a cohort of well-established nonprofit newsrooms to increase their earned revenue from sponsorships. Currently, income from sponsorship of content or events makes up a small portion of revenue at most news nonprofits, but it has the potential to grow substantially larger.

“We see sponsorships as a significant revenue growth area for our members and we are excited to equip them with the tools and know-how to grow their sponsorship programs,” said Sue Cross, executive director of INN. “Because many of these newsrooms are filling the void left when legacy newspapers and magazines closed, they have become a focal point for community engagement — which is where sponsors want to be.”

While many nonprofit news organizations launch with the support of foundations, most that have grown and thrived have developed diversified revenue streams to become self-sustaining. The latest findings from the INN Index 2020: The State of Nonprofit News, published June 16, show that foundation grants still accounted for the largest single slice of all revenue across the field in 2019, but it remained at just under half (48%) for the second year in a row. For the first time in the three years the survey has been conducted, a slight majority of nonprofits (54%) said that foundation grants accounted for less than half of their annual revenue. Moreover, 41% of nonprofits draw on at least four different revenue streams, including donations from readers and fees from events.

"Now more than ever, nonprofit news organizations are under pressure to diversify their revenue streams,” said Ben Monnie, director of global partnerships solutions for news at Google. “The Google News Initiative is delighted to be partnering with the Institute for Nonprofit News to explore how newsrooms can creatively identify and execute new sponsorship opportunities."

As part of this GNI-funded program, INN newsrooms will have the opportunity to work with Blue Engine Collaborative, a new consortium of independent consultants and advisers with deep experience in driving audience and revenue at for-profits and nonprofits. The entire network of 250 nonprofit news organizations will gain access to a customized playbook from Blue Engine Collaborative with best practices on attracting sponsorship revenue from corporations, individuals and foundations as well as guidance for creating the internal structures for growing this revenue into a sustainable, cost-effective income source.

In addition, INN will select six to 10 members that are currently pursuing sponsorship revenue and are ready to quickly implement the added expertise. These members will work directly with Blue Engine Collaborative from September 2020 through March 2021, including up to 100 hours of one-on-one coaching.

Fran Scarlett, INN’s chief knowledge officer, will lead the project and guide the selection of this initial cohort.

“Using data from the INN Index 2020, we’ll look at newsrooms that currently get at least 10 percent of their revenue from sponsorship and have the organizational infrastructure and market potential to support expansion in this area,” explained Scarlett. “Then we’ll look for a mix of geographic representation, type of content, and audiences served, with a particular commitment to including organizations that serve communities of color and other marginalized communities.”

With GNI's partnership, INN is working toward increasing sponsorship funding for participating INN members in the year following completion of the program -- by June 2022. Case studies of each newsroom’s experience with the program will be shared, so other news organizations can learn from and implement the findings.