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February 3, 2023

Local Fix: Eight tips for fundraising for journalism

Welcome to the Local Fix. Every so often we look at key questions in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news. But first, we always begin with one good idea…


When the news gets really heavy, how do you decompress, process, or heal? Rachel Wegner from the Tennessean crowdsourced answers to this question on Twitter this week. Napping, snuggling with pets, talking with a loved one, cooking a hearty meal, watching familiar favorites on TV, and cleaning all emerged as suggestions. We’ll also add having a standing call with professional peers or a midday team dance party like Ryan Belmore from What’s Up Newp and Candice Fortman from Outlier shared on LION Publishers’ podcast about preventing burnout in news business leaders. We’re especially thinking about the local journalists covering the consequences of and community response to Tyre Nichols’ murder, like the folks at MLK50 and the Tri-State Defender, but we hope everyone can find some time to decompress. Check out some resources in the Radar links below.

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Eight tips for journalism fundraising

We spent a bit more time on Zoom than we have in a while this week, learning from thoughtful people sharing their expertise at the Lenfest News Philanthropy Summit. We collected a few of the (many!) points that stood out to us below; if you attended, is there anything else you’d add? 

  • Major giving is major relationship building. “People don’t give money to foundations. They give it to people. Tap into who trusts you and believes in you,” Sarah Solovitch, executive director of Searchlight New Mexico, said. In a separate session, Marcia Maziarz from the Prison Journalism Project echoed: “In fundraising, ask everyone you know and ask everyone who knows you.” 
  • Hire (and listen to) someone focused on fundraising. Many people spoke about the importance of hiring a development lead as soon as possible, or contracting with someone if the budget isn’t there yet. And remember to partner with them: “If the executive director is not my 100% partner, I will not be successful in raising the money,” Tamara Bates, the development director of Searchlight New Mexico, said.
  • Show how journalism doesn’t exist in a silo. Connect the importance of healthy local news to other issues that a funder, especially community foundations, might care about, Allison Taylor Levine of the Delaware Community Foundation shared. Other, intersecting causes could include democracy, public health, and the environment; you can use this resource we created to make the case.
  • Start and restart. In an inspirational talk about the re-emergence of the Baltimore Beat, co-founder Lisa Snowden-McCray and Adam Holofcener of the Lillian Holofcener Charitable Foundation provided us with a case study of how regenerative and transformative funding can be when coupled with conviction, hard work, and trust. They urged the audience and those more broadly in philanthropy to learn, through their example, that more equitably distributing resources catapults new beginnings.
  • Mission > sales. Move away from language that makes people feel like they’re buying a product, Andrea Bichan from Documented NY advised. Instead, move towards language that encourages people to donate to the cause.
  • Embrace the complexities of community-based storytelling. Dana Coester of 100 Days in Appalachia reminded us that, particularly in underserved communities, the challenge and responsibility of local journalism is to “find a very bold, authentic way to…both acknowledge and own some of the real dystopia present” in these communities while also celebrating their diversity, vibrancy, and internally-defined notions of success. She warns against flattening whole communities or regions into any singular narrative in order to appeal to external audiences or funders.
  • Learn from others. As Lizzy Hazeltine of the North Carolina Local News Lab put it, “Nobody was born doing this.” In a session about public funding for local news, Mike Rispoli talked about his experience developing the model for the state of New Jersey to support the creation of the Civic Info Consortium. Rashad Mahmood from the New Mexico Local News Fund described how he met with Mike to adapt the lessons from New Jersey to draft an ask for public support of local news fellowships in his state. Both were involved in conversations that contributed to the fall 2022 launch of state-funded fellowships at UC Berkeley, led by Christa Scharfenberg. 
  • Remember we’re all human. “It’s not just about getting the check, but how are we supporting the whole person?” Shawn Mooring of the Lenfest Institute said. “We are looking to move an organization further down the line toward sustainability, but we’re also understanding that they’re people moving this work forward.” He encouraged both people seeking funding and people working at foundations to get out and engage with each other.
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Happy Black History Month,

Christine & Pinay

The Local Fix is a project of Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program, which supports work that aims to transform journalism so everyone has access to information they need to participate in our democracy.

Disclosure: Some projects mentioned in this newsletter may be funded by Democracy Fund. You can find a full list of the organizations here.
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