Reportback: Newsfunders booster for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

In December 2015, Newsfunders wrapped the last of three experimental “fundraising boosters” for nonprofit, public-interest news organizations.

(Previously, Newsfunders ran boosters for the San Francisco Public Press, an ad-free newspaper and website serving its eponymous city; and Oakland, California’s Making Contact, a nationally syndicated public-radio program.)

Rationale

News nonprofits serving neglected communities and issues tend to be cash-starved and lack capacity for fundraising and promotions. Newsfunders can serve as a third-party booster for such organizations by helping to increase the visibility of their work through grassroots and community-organizing strategies.

Goals

  • Identify any potential impacts an unaffiliated advocate can have on a public-interest news organization’s fundraising.
  • Test out email and Facebook as distinct vehicles for inspiring the act of giving.
  • Seek donor feedback on their motivations and expectations for giving to a nonprofit-news organization.

Outcomes in brief

  • Consistent with the other two campaigns, individual advocacy (usually via email) enables a donor to multiply her or his gift ~2x-3x by inspiring “companion giving” by peers.
  • Facebook promotions tend to have a wide reach, providing lots of exposure, but shallow impacts when it comes to inspiring microphilanthropy for journalism. A critical, unanswered question is the conversion rate for Facebook referrals to a news-nonprofit’s donation page.

Activity detail

Part I: Interpersonal outreach got the Maine Center at least one new membership and at least two renewals. The new member agreed to pass along a promotional email peers encouraging further giving.

Part II: The Facebook campaign got 6,000 impressions, and a healthy number of likes, shares and comments perked along — 122 “post engagements,” of which 28 were link clicks.

However, the Newsfunders booster campaign for the Maine Center got about 1/3rd of the Facebook traffic and engagements received by our Facebook campaigns for the Public Press and Making Contact. We can attribute this to having the Facebook ad’s geo-targeting limited to the state of Maine itself. The Public Press and Making Contact Facebook campaigns were targeted more broadly to national and interest-based audiences.

One interesting question is whether geo-targeted Facebook promotion of the Maine Center’s fund drive produced higher-quality donor referrals (with a higher conversion rate). That question remains unanswered for now. Although the outbound links to the Maine Center’s donor page, for both the Facebook and email boosters, had embedded UTM tags, we currently lack conversion analytics from the beneficiary’s email service.

Referrals vs. destination — a user-experience conundrum

One thing we have learned definitively is that a booster campaign can create thousands of impressions for the news organization, and can send dozens or even hundreds of traffic referrals to a news organization’s donation page for a comparatively small amount of money — easily under $100 per campaign.

However, even with all those referrals, conversions of first-time visitors to a nonprofit-news website would seem to be extremely unlikely; the act of donation is usually at the end of a “ladder of engagement” process.

For the news-interested Mainer, would an ad on Facebook or a promotional email boosting the Maine Center’s funding campaign serve as a rung in that ladder?

Another critical question is about the final rung in the ladder. Once the referral has been made by Newsfunders, it’s up to the news organization to close the deal … and most small news nonprofits don’t have big budgets for good user-experience design based on fundraising best practices.

Newsfunders beneficiaries might see greater outcomes from a booster campaign if we were able to offer some sort of improvement to their donor experience — perhaps via a UX audit and/or makeover, or perhaps by providing a centralized, third-party donor page in the style of a crowdfunding service.

Next steps

With the three booster campaigns completed, Newsfunders is now exploring surveying options to follow-up with donors about their experience, motivations and expectations.

Reportback: Making Contact’s “Immigrant Voices” campaign, October 2015

Newsfunders microphilanthropy experiment #2

(1) Summary

In October, Newsfunders ran its second public-awareness campaign, this time to drum up support a crowdfunded team of six immigrant journalists to cover how immigrants are participating in the 2016 election.

The benefitting news organization was Making Contact, a nationally syndicated public-interest radio program produced in Oakland, California.

The fund drive was part of a matching-gift program through the Beacon crowdfunding platform that doubled every dollar raised — with the catch being that the match would only apply if  Making Contact could hit a $20,000 minimum, thus netting $40K for their immigrant-voices program.

Making Contact succeeded in their crowdfunding campaign by a small margin, and promoted it heavily through its own networks, which produced the vast majority of the donations.

Newsfunders succeeded in generating a small number of donations, and also produced data about the number of people its outreach efforts accessed, and the actions they took.

The campaign used two strategies: personal referrals (via email) and social-media advertising (on Facebook).

(2) Strategy: Personal referrals (via email)

Personal referrals (via email) went to 21 individuals known by Newsfunders staff, and selected for their potential interest in both public-interest issues and immigration in particular.

A more general announcement of Making Contact’s fund drive went to the SF Bay Area’s Young Nonprofit Professionals Network email list, which is comprised of individuals interested in a variety of social issues, with a subset specifically interested in immigration and international issues.

OUTCOME:

  • Donations. Two individuals responded to the outreach email affirming that they donated to the campaign.

(3) Strategy: Social-media advertising (on Facebook)

Social-media advertising (on Facebook) included four boosted posts on the Newsfunders Facebook page, and one advertisement propagated in Facebook user feeds according to topic keywords such as “immigration,” “issues,” “elections,” etc.

OUTCOMES:

  • Clicks. The combined Facebook ad campaigns sent 311 people to the Making Contact donor page on the Beacon crowdfunding site.
  • Reach/Impressions. 16,825 people total saw the Making Contact posts and ads on their feeds. These are branding opportunities; it should be noted that the Newsfunders logo (appearing since the ads were posted by Newsfunders) got as much exposure as the Making Contact content of each ad.
  • Whether the “dual branding” on Facebook produced confusion or curatorial leverage can’t at present be measured. It would be hoped that Newsfunders could be perceived as a reputable referrer for quality journalism. But since neither referrer nor beneficiary have particularly visible public brands, it seems likely that some confusion arose. Communicating the opportunity and building the respective brands of Newsfunders and its beneficiaries is a complex task that needs greater sophistication and more resources.
  • Conversions/Donations. Improper URL generation means we cannot identify how many conversions resulted from the 311 referrals Newsfunders sent to Making Contact’s Beacon crowdfunding page. Assuming a conversion rate of between 2 percent and 4 percent, and people giving either $10 or $25, it’s possible the Newsfunders Facebook campaign raised as little as $60 and as much as $300 for Making Contact.

BUDGET:

  • The ads cost $113.22, which was provided for by a grant from the Harnisch Foundation.

(4) More about Making Contact

Making Contact is an Oakland, California-based public-interest radio program. It’s broadcast nationwide on more than 100 radio stations, and specializes in long-form coverage. Learn more about Making Contact and their October 2015 campaign.

(5) Major lessons

  • Be sure to properly implement UTM tagging in referral URLs, in order to track the number of people (we can’t tell who came, just how many) sent to nonprofit donor pages and identify any conversions.
  • Communicating the opportunity and building the respective brands of Newsfunders and its beneficiaries is a complex task that needs greater sophistication and more resources.

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Newsfunders is looking for more news nonprofits to showcase and promote! Do you have a nonprofit, public-interest news project that you think needs greater exposure to potential supporters and donors? Tell us all about it!

Donate to: Making Contact

Making-Contact

CURRENT FUNDING CAMPAIGN:

“Putting Immigrant Voices on the Air” (Deadline Oct. 8)

You can help Making Contact’s special team of six immigrant journalists explore how immigrants are participating in the 2016 election. Your donations will be doubled by a $20,000 matching gift, but if the campaign doesn’t hit the $40K mark, it all expires on Oct. 9 at 11:14 AM EDT.

Newsfunders summary for the prospective donor

Making Contact, produced by the National Radio Project out of Oakland, California, produces longer investigations and enterprise coverage of issues that often don’t get a lot of depth in mainstream media. The program has won a variety of awards and is heard on public and community radio stations around the United States. Coverage goes deep on issues that are often politicized and of particular interest to left and progressive communities. Founded in 1994, Making Contact’s scope of coverage is international.

Coverage examples:

Links to Donate and About pages: 

Follow or subscribe to Making Contact:

Nonprofit status:

  • 501c3 organization, Tax ID 94-3239511, INTERNATIONAL MEDIA PROJECT is Making Contact’s official non-profit name

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Reporting & issues

“Making Contact produces media that analyzes critical issues and showcases grassroots solution, in order to inform and inspire audiences to action.

“Rather than cover breaking news, we specialize in long-format sound-rich radio features. We are particularly interested in WHY and root causes, structures and systems, as well as who what where when.

“We want the people most affected by issues to be at the center of our stories. Our topics are often at the intersections of these topic silos: Environment, racial justice, economic justice, LGBTQ, women’s health and reproductive rights, police and prisons, undue corporate influence, food and ag, culture, international affairs, war, peace and much in between.

“Hosts Andrew Stelzer, Laura Flynn, and Jasmín López work with a team of freelancers and storytellers from around the world to bring you some of the most important social justice and human rights issues of our time.”

Medium — Radio and audio

“We believe that evocative sound-rich radio has a unique effectiveness as well as the ability to reach beyond ‘readers’ to a very broad audience. Occasionally when we are slow-cooking on one of our enterprise pieces, we will present a strong speech or panel presentation or adapt a video-documentary.”

Recognition

“We are delighted when community groups applaud our work along with recognition and awards from journalism organizations — for instance, two awards in 2014 from the Society of Professional Journalists-Northern California.”

Partnerships & distribution

“Our focus is on radio and audio podcasts but we enjoy cross platform collaborations with print, web and video partners.

“We are broadcast each week on 112 radio and another two dozen stations air our programs frequently as specials. These non-commercial stations span 33 states and include National Public Radio affiliates, Pacifica Network and university stations, community stations, grassroots/low-power FM stations, and Native American-owned stations.

“We reach approximately 70,000 listeners via radio and tens of thousands more via our digital channels.”

Does Making Contact accept commercial sponsorships or ads?

“We are independent and non-commercial. We have recently for the first time accepted a material donation in exchange for a thank you mention on our website text, and in our podcasts (but not broadcasts) — ‘Our software sponsor for the Community Storytelling Fellowship is Hindenburg,’ with a Hindenburg logo and a link on the page.

“It is challenging to make our work sustainable, and we are exploring other income streams and discussing taking on very selective underwriting. Currently however, we receive no corporate or government funding and the majority of our income comes from small family foundations and individual donations–or as we say in public radio, ‘people like you.'”

Content partners:

Financial Details