The Lo-Down, a six-year-old community news site and monthly magazine on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, launched a very smart crowdfunding pitch in 2015. The Lo-Down team asked their community to help fund a one-year reporting project on the struggles of small businesses in their neighborhood. Here is why I think this was clever:
Listening to Community
The project was sparked by feedback from local residents who were worried about preserving the unique local character of their area. “Small businesses are the heart and soul of the Lower East Side, but they are endangered,” the team writes. By listening carefully to their community, Ed Litvak, Traven Rice, and The Lo-Down team were able to tap into the passions of their readers while meeting specific needs. Thus, the crowdfunding campaign was also a community-building effort, inviting more people more deeply into the reporting process.
Connecting with Advertisers
At the same time, this work helped shine a spotlight on the small businesses across the Lower East Side, many of whom were also advertisers on the site. The editors were not giving advertisers any preferential treatment or coverage, but by shining a spotlight on the challenges of local entrepreneurs they were helping connect residents and businesses. In addition, Litvak and Rice have structured the crowdfunding rewards with both residents and local businesses in mind. A number of local shops donated rewards for donors, and other businesses have been stepping up to contribute to the campaign.
Buy Local (News)
Finally, the focus of the campaign gave editors a chance to talk about themselves as a small business, reminding local people about what it costs to do great journalism. Building on the interest in buying local, they illustrated how small businesses across their area — including themselves — need community investment to survive.
Solutions Journalism and Community Engagement
The project builds on years of terrific reporting by The Lo-Down on changes in the neighborhood. Since its founding in 2009, The Lo-Down has been documenting contentious real estate, land-use, and housing debates. But with this project, Litvak and Rice were applying a solutions journalism approach to the reporting. This project helped strengthen their capacity to do ground-level reporting and gave them the flexibility to test events and engagement activities with local residents.
The project struck a nerve quickly — they raised 40 percent of their goal in the first two days of the campaign — and went on to exceed their fundraising goal.
The Lo-Down is part of the journalism sustainability project at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and The Democracy Fund provided $5,000 in matching funds for the project. If your community is facing similar issues and challenges, this crowdfunding model could easily be duplicated.