So how did an off-season, collaborative campaign for nonprofit journalism raise almost $80,000 for 24 participating nonprofit news organizations in one single day?
Simple. They did it in February.
"The first quarter is usually very quiet; the donors are pretty exhausted," says Jo Ellen Kaiser, executive director of the Media Consortium, which sponsored the event.
This meant that a collaborative February campaign would be unlikely to threaten the fundraising calendars of the news nonprofits in her network, which she describes as "progressive and interested in impact and solutions journalism."
Yet that serendipitous timing still had its challenges. Could news organizations safely share donors, and not freak out over sovereignty issues?
Yes, it turns out — given the right conditions. Support Your Media Day's ultimate success was in a collaborative planning process that built up trust between participants.
"Having a strong strategic framework for this kind of event is vital," notes Erin Polgreen, the Media Consortium's former interim director. "You can't just say it's going to happen without doing the legwork to seed personal connections and identify common threads."
Another concern was whether Consortium members could overcome post-holiday donor torpor. Bigger still is the issue of whether people even like to donate to journalism in the first place.
"No, they don't. Journalists are right behind lawyers on the hate list," said Jason Barnett, executive director of The Uptake in Minneapolis, and an early Media Consortium advocate for a one-day fundraising event. "Of course, Congress has low numbers; but when people are asked about their congressman, they tend to have significantly higher ratings. So they also might like their local nonprofit news organization."
This, he said, is an opportunity to "cross pollinate" the donor rolls of all Media Consortium members, by building on the links of affinity and affiliation between donors and their preferred nonprofit news outlets, and rolling it all into a larger, combined marketing campaign.
Ultimately, on February 15, 2012, Support Your Media Day inspired 1,408 acts of individual giving to nonprofit journalism, of which about 25 percent were second, third, or even fourth gifts by donors who crossed over to give to other news organizations beyond their first choice.
The haul wasn't so bad, either — $79,924, an admirable sum even if it was short of what Kaiser describes as an "ambitious" goal of $150,000.
Also worth noting is that the lion's share of the funding — $52,226, about 65 percent — went to just eight news outlets, including heavyweights of the advocacy press such as Mother Jones, Truthout and GRITtv. Almost all of the rest raised three figures or less.
"A lot of the folks that participated didn't draw in a lot of money," said Kaiser. "They thought, 'If you announce it, they will come.'" She described it as a "great learning experience" for those Consortium members that were surprised to discover they didn't have very good lists.
Beyond any financial goals, Support Your Media Day also was a high-water mark for Media Consortium efforts to inspire collaboration between its membership of likeminded but otherwise competitive news outlets
"The Consortium had spent years building relationships and connective tissue between the organizations," says Polgreen. "We were able to build on a strong history of organizations working together."
The inspiration for Support Your Media Day itself came from GiveMN's Give to the Max Day — a daylong fundraising campaign and event aimed at supporting Minnesota nonprofits and schools.
Give to the Max Day's launch event in 2009 raised $14 million for more than 3,000 participating nonprofits in one day, says GiveMN's executive director Dana Nelson; in 2012 that number approached $16.4 million for 4,381 organizations.
The Uptake's Barnett had participated, and later proposed a variant on Give to the Max Day for news organizations at a Media Consortium revenue-generation lab.
The notion took hold, and prep for the big day progressed throughout 2011. Members chose the online-fundraising platform Razoo for donations mechanism, and followed the GiveMN script closely.
That meant an emphasis on community, and fun. Donations were driven through a hub website hosted by Razoo, which kept a running tally of individual goals for participating news outlets, amounts raised, and diverse promotional opportunities and competitions between participants.
This carnivalesque atmosphere, complete with prizes and sponsors, inspired fascination, participation, competition, and cooperation.
Some donors, fired up by brand loyalty and monitoring the campaign's progress on the Razoo hub page, would rally to help their favorite news outlets meet their fundraising goals.
Some news outlets, having hit their fundraising goals early on, would promote other participating news organizations that were shy of the mark and needed a boost.
The lesson was not lost on Kaiser.
"When you know the work someone is doing is extraordinary," she said, "don't worry about telling your loyal supporters about something else they may like. If they like Yes! Magazine, why not Earth Island Journal?"
Despite the successes of Support Your Media Day, the Media Consortium is taking a year off to cultivate sponsors and build the infrastructure.
It's also time to let the network of news outlets continue to cultivate their budding collaborative potential.
"Once a couple outlets started promoting the work of their peers, it started to spread. After the fundraiser, that really good feeling continues," Kaiser said. "It's much easier to create editorial and business collaborations, because that feeling of trust that started with that collaborative fundraiser has extended and continues.
"In some ways it's the most magnificent outcome of the fundraiser."
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