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.)


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.


  • 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.

Donate to: The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting





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
  • 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


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.