Donate to: The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

 

 

 

SUPPORT THE PINE TREE WATCHDOG’S $20K MATCHING-GIFT CAMPAIGN:

Any new donations, or donations from lapsed donors, count toward a $20,000 match from the Maine Center’s largest funder, the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Donate now to support this campaign. Every penny build capacity and sustainability for accountability journalism in the Pine Tree State.

Newsfunders summary for the prospective donor

We at Newsfunders had the chance to visit the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting a few years ago in their small office in the basement of the Maine statehouse in Augusta. Naomi Schalit, one of the Maine Center’s founders, conducted the tour, and recalled a time when there were 20 full-time reporters in the statehouse press wing, representing a wide variety of newspapers and news agencies.

Today there are just five full-time reporters left, and the Maine Center has become a critical bastion for statewide accountability reporting. Investigative journalism is hard, but the Pine Tree Watchdog is the real thing, working out of a tiny office with a minimal staff, and piles of talent and commitment.

See below for details on their reporting achievements, their media partners, and their guiding philosophy.

Coverage examples:

Media Partners:

Your support of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting doesn’t just benefit one single nonprofit news agency. Their reporting is shared with more than two dozen media partners statewide, including:

  • Sun Journal
  • Bangor Daily News
  • Times Record
  • Journal Tribune
  • Portsmouth Herald
  • The Ellsworth American
  • Mt. Desert Islander
  • The Forecaster
  • American Journal
  • Lakes Region Weekly
  • Sun Chronicle
  • The Reporter
  • Lincoln County News
  • York Weekly
  • York County Coast Star
  • WERU-FM
  • St. John Valley Times
  • Boothbay Register
  • Fiddlehead Focus
  • Courier-Gazette
  • Camden Herald
  • The Republican Journal
  • Portland Press Herald
  • Morning Sentinel
  • Kennebec Journal
  • PenBay Pilot

Links to Donate and About pages:

Follow or subscribe to the Pine Tree Watchdog, publication of the Maine Center for Investigative Reporting:

Nonprofit & financial status:

      • 501c3 organization, Tax ID 27-2623867
      • 2014 Budget: $194,265

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Vision: The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting will fulfill the responsibility of a free press in the American democracy by looking beneath the surface of Maine government and writing clearly and without fear or favor about what it discovers.

Mission: The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting will keep citizens informed about their government and their public servants through high-quality, independent investigative reporting that is published by media outlets across the state.

In recent years, most newspaper and broadcast news outlets in Maine have reduced newsroom staffs through layoffs, early retirements and attrition. One of the first victims is in-depth journalism — stories which often take one or more reporters “off the street” for weeks or even months.

Serious coverage of the electoral and legislative process has also suffered. In Maine, statehouse coverage has declined from about 20 year-round reporters in 1989 to 10 in 1999 to the current five.

 

 

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.

To stay up to date, subscribe for free to the Watershed Media / Newsfunders Tinyletter newsletter.

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!

Reportback: Newsfunders Aug. 2015 campaign for the San Francisco Public Press

Newsfunders microphilanthropy experiment #1

Summary

This past August, Newsfunders ran a pilot public-awareness campaign to drum up support for the San Francisco Public Press’s summer fund drive.

The campaign produced four new memberships for the Public Press, and sent 134 people — almost exclusively via mobile — to their website’s donation page.

The campaign used two strategies: personal referrals, and social-media advertising (via Facebook, to the tune of $68.65). The social-media ads provided the Public Press with 13,000 impressions in Facebook news feeds, which all should be considered brand exposures, but they did not produce any donors.

The only donations were by people personally referred to the Public Press by a friend or peer, which raises two interesting questions:

  • What’s the optimal experience provided by Newsfunders to the potential donor that will result in a clickthrough to the news nonprofit in question?
  • Once they arrive a Newsfunders referral, what’s the optimal user experience of the potential donor on the receiving news-nonprofit’s donation page?

Goal

Test online strategies for inspiring individual giving to independent nonprofit journalism projects. This goal is deliberately focused on process rather than outcomes, as this is our first go-round in promoting a news-nonprofit’s funding campaign.

Beneficiary

The San Francisco Public Press, which was pushing to close the gap on its 2015 operating budget.

Strategies

  • Person-to-person recruiting based on familiarity and shared interests
  • Facebook boosted posts and ad campaign

Activities

(1) PERSONAL APPEALS: Newsfunders personnel reached out to 25 offline friends and peers who are not journalists, by emailing them individually three times. The first time was introducing the idea. The second was a reminder/re-explainer. The third was the “go” notice for people to donate if they intended to.

(2) SOCIAL-MEDIA APPEALS: Newsfunders ran a series of Facebook ads and boosted posts directing people to both a blog post encouraging support of the Public Press, and to the Public Press donor page, spending a total of $66.58 from August 19 to 21.

Outcomes: Individual, direct, personal appeals

Of the 25 individuals who received personal communications, 10 responded in some manner.

Of those, four ended up donating or becoming member of the organization — a successful conversion rate of 16 percent.

The individuals who responded but didn’t donate provided valuable feedback:

  • One said that they are donating only to nonprofits addressing racism and youth issues, but offered to share the appeal.
  • One couple said they were interested in the idea but that they liked the specificity of crowd funding for specific projects, and that they no longer subscribe to publications. They also suggested strengthening the donation-appeal’s messaging.
  • Two said they didn’t have the mental bandwidth to give the appeal any attention.
  • One said they would examine the donation page and consider giving (but didn’t).

Outcomes: Facebook promotion campaign

Out of the entirety of the campaign there were no online conversions that didn’t follow a direct personal appeal between peers.

Facebook-only promotions may be helpful by building awareness of the nonprofit news organization over time, suggested Public Press publisher Lila LaHood.

“Based on my experience,” she said, “it takes more than one interaction with someone who’s never heard of an organization to generate a donation. If they were curious enough to click on a social-media post generated by a supporter, our best hope is that some of those people followed us on Facebook or Twitter, or signed up for the newsletter.”

In fact, the Public Press did get a goodly amount of visibility via the Newsfunders promotion on Facebook — about 13,000 “impressions” in user news feeds, as well as varying numbers of link clicks, likes and shares.

Campaign No. 1: Boosted Facebook post

The first campaign was a boosted post that ran August 19 and 20, and took clickthroughs to a Newsfunders blog about the Public Press’s fund drive.

  • View the boosted post
  • The campaign reached 6,186 individuals, netting 18 likes, two post shares and just two clicks on the link (not so good)
  • All engagements were via MOBILE
  • Cost: $10

Campaign No. 2: Facebook ad

Recognizing the lack of value in promoting the Newsfunders blog about the Public Press, the second campaign sent link-clickers directly to the Public Press donation page. We ran this on August 20 and 21 as a formal Facebook advertisement rather than a boosted post.

  • View the Facebook ad
  • The ad reached 7,202 people and received 130 website clicks going directly to the Public Press donor page
  • Again, most engagements were via MOBILE
  • Cost: $56.58

Clearly, the Facebook ad had much better outcomes in terms of delivering clickthroughs directly to the nonprofit beneficiary than the boosted post.

Reflection

Personal appeals

The goal of recruiting donors was more effectively served when individuals appealed directly to peers with whom they have an offline connection. This phase of the experiment had a 16 percent conversion rate from a pool of 25 individuals.

These 25 potential respondents were recruited based on personal connection to Newsfunders staff, their geographic proximity to the Public Press’s area of coverage, and on their interest in local news and issues.

Also, personal appeals were targeted specifically at non-journalists and people who are not involved in the news and media industries, for the purpose of reaching beyond “the usual suspects” and smaller social circles that journalists tend to operate within.

Facebook/social media

  • The wider Facebook ad campaigns generated no donations to the Public Press, and an unknown number of social-media follows or newsletter signups. Although Facebook promotions reached 13,000 people, most of these were impressions — merely appearing on people’s news feeds.
  • The first part of the campaign sent users to a Newsfunders blog post about donating to the Public Press, which merely diluted user interest and reduced the subsequent clickthroughs to almost nil.
  • The second part of the campaign sent 130 clicks directly to the Public Press donation page, at which point the user experience (UX) design of the donation page comes into play.

User-experience issues for news nonprofits

Once a prospective donor leaves the Newsfunders point of referral and lands on the news-nonprofit’s donor page, the receiving nonprofit has to:

  • Inform the visitor and inspire her or him to take an action, and,
  • make it easy for the visitor to take those actions

Desired actions range from actually closing the deal and making a charitable donation, but also signing up for newsletter, sharing an article, or following the news nonprofit on social media.

All this is further complicated if all the majority of the referrals are from mobile, as was the case with the Facebook clickthroughs.

Future Newsfunders benefit?

In the future, an added service Newsfunders might be able to offer prior to an actual promotional campaign is a “UX audit” of a beneficiary nonprofit’s donation page, and perhaps even a small grant and a consultation with fund-development and technology professionals to improve donor-page UX.

(Although, realistically, there’s nothing small-scale about redesigning or even improving a website page; the scope of a service program of this sort would need to be strictly defined.)

Another future benefit would be to develop app functionality that would enable social-media users to more easily follow or sign-up for information about the news nonprofit, and which could more effectively track how many users do so.

Major lessons

Overall the major lessons of this pilot Newsfunders campaign are:

  • Lacking a significant marketing budget or customized CRM technology, the highest-impact method for inspiring individual giving to nonprofit, public-interest news projects is to leverage personal, offline relationships through direct referrals and appeals.
  • More research and experimentation is required to determine the true effectiveness of, and best methods for, online brand-building as a precursor to converting donors.
  • Due to funding and resource limitations, this project model does not at this time adequately assess the impacts of Newsfunders’ messaging and of the user-experience design of the beneficiary organization’s donor page.

To stay up to date, subscribe for free to the Watershed Media / Newsfunders Tinyletter newsletter.

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!


Newsfunders is NOT for journalists

While the goal of Newsfunders is to empower journalists to serve communities, it is the communities who must lead this conversation, and the needs of communities that must define the efforts of news producers.

For this reason, Newsfunders is NOT for journalists. It’s for the publics that journalists would presume to serve.

It’s critical to recruit non-journalists as leaders and primary participants in the process of identifying need and funding practice.

Reform has to come from OUTSIDE of the Fourth Estate. Otherwise it’s just another journalism-insider operation talking in circles inside the industry.

That’s too easy, and the public is too easily left out of that conversation.

Ultimately, in the journalism world, money talks, and communities are the ones that no one is listening to.

Why by a Newsfunder? 4 reasons to rally your pals and give en masse to your local nonprofit-news outlet

Independent news media are emerging everywhere, as idealistic journalists work against all odds to push forward their public-service mission at a critical time for our democracy.

Yet the mass-media morass and influence of big money are only getting deeper.

Everyday citizens can turn this situation around, flip the script, and claim power over our broken media system that sells to us rather than serves our actual information needs.

WHY GIVE?

1) You get the journalism you pay for. And who’s paying for the journalism in your life? Exactly.

2) You can afford it. It doesn’t have to be a lot money — $20 is plenty, less than a movie date and a couple drinks.

3) You have the power. It’s about supporting independent reporting, sure — we need our watchdogs of the public interest out on the street, ranging widely and licking their chops. But it’s also about making your collective presence felt, and claiming power over media. 

4) You are not alone. Trust in journalism is hitting rock bottom. Everyone knows journalism is defanged, declawed, prettied-up like a show dog and kept on a short corporate leash. But what if everyone were inclined to do something about it? How much you give is less important than how many of you give.

Being a newsfunder is NOT the same as giving to a crowdfunding campaign. By donating to nonprofit news purposefully, en masse, you are wielding collective economic power, with the goal of influencing news organizations so that they can more effectively serve the public interest.

Why give? Because you live in a democracy, not a marketplace, and we’re all in this together.