How a local, nonprofit news outlet grew revenue from major donors during a crisis year

Originally posted on Medium

The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic uncertainty that followed brought challenges for many nonprofit newsrooms’ major gift fundraising efforts. 

Uncertainty around support from major donors is a serious challenge. Donations from major donors, defined as gifts of $5,000 or more from individuals, are an essential part of many nonprofit news organizations’  revenue strategies. Indeed, early findings from INN’s latest Index survey (which includes financial data from 218 nonprofit news outlets) show that contributions from major donors account for over half (55%) of total revenue from individual giving. 

Here’s some hope: even during this challenging time, INN found that the organizations who participated in INN’s Major Gifts Training & Coaching Program were able to raise a significant amount of revenue from major donors.  

Ten member newsrooms participated in the major gifts training & coaching program virtually from May to December 2020. One standout participant was Bay City News, an independent local news outlet that covers the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2020, Bay City News raised $200,000 from local major donors, including gifts from two major funders. These efforts tripled the organization’s individual and large donations from 2019.

In order to capture the best practices that emerged from this newsroom’s success, INN today published a case study, How Bay City News raised major donor revenue in a time of hardship. Below are a few of the case’s tips for other nonprofit newsrooms. 

  1. Remind your donors that high-quality journalism is essential. Show your donors how your organization’s journalism helps amplify and support other organizations who are fulfilling basic needs, like food banks, COVID-19 testing centers and now groups coordinating vaccinations for underserved communities. See our roundup of service journalism examples for examples of this kind of work in action.
  2. Focus on the long game. One key to major gifts fundraising is establishing relationships with your network of supporters, an approach that counterintuitively has nothing to do with money at first. In other words, be far more focused on building relationships than making cold calls.
  3. Remember that your fellow journalists can be donors and ambassadors. Journalists are an ideal group to consider as donors because they understand and believe in a newsroom’s mission. Bay City News found current and former journalists very likely to donate, and said this segment of donors became “ambassadors, allies and spokespeople” for their organization’s mission-driven work.
  4. Reach out on a mix of platforms. In-person fundraising pitches were off the table this past year. With more phone and video communications, it’s vital to send follow-up emails and old-fashioned mail to potential and current donors. What does Bay City News’ owner and publisher Katherine Rowlands say in these messages? “I really wish we could have met in person and I’m looking forward to when we can get together for an in-person lunch. But for now, I wanted to thank you for adapting to these times and hearing me out on this phone call, Zoom call or email.’”

To learn more about INN's fundraising programs and supports, visit INN’s Network Philanthropy Center or contact Jeffrey Woolverton, INN Network Philanthropy Director, at