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.

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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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


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?


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.


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


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


(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.


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!

The San Francisco Public Press needs you — DEADLINE: August 20

Climate change? Cost of living? Rising sea levels? Prying tech-startup eyes? The San Francisco Public Press can cover these stories — but only with your help. Be a Newsfunder … and join our donor flash-mob to support commercial-free journalism for all of San Francisco.

Give directly to the SF Public Press right now.


  • The San Francisco Public Press is a great organization doing commercial-free investigative reporting against all odds. They’ve broken some important stories, including segregation in San Francisco schools and SFPD inaction on domestic violence. They’ve also won some fancy awards, and are building a strong base.
  • They also have plenty of room for improvement; if this experiment succeeds, we’ll be able to help them take some much-needed strides forward — and make them depend on us for their success.
  • The SFPP has a major fundraiser going on right now. They’re ~$15,000 shy of hitting a $50,000 goal. Since their coverage is produced by paid freelancers, that kind of scratch goes a long way.


  • After you give, come back here and post in the comments section of this article (by name or anonymously, your choice) stating that you did give. This helps build collective commitment and inspires other participants.
  • Then, send a note to identifying yourself as a newsfunder, and stating that your ongoing support is conditional on their performance in the public interest.


Tell your pals you donated and encourage them to do the same! Can you rustle up 10 more donors and get them to post their pledge here?

Holy smokes, we need 750 of us to close the SF Public Press’s funding gap! What a show of force that would be … but can we even get 10 people to give?


  • Newsfunders will follow-up this fall with an open discussion about choosing the next news nonprofit to support with a new round of mass $20 gifts.
  • This time next year, we revisit the SFPP and discuss their coverage over the previous 12 months, to determine whether to support them again.


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.


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.