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.

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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: The San Francisco Public Press

Organizational details for prospective donors.


Donation and About pages:

Follow the San Francisco Public Press:

  • Facebook — Be sure to select “Get Notifications” under the “Like” button so that Facebook can’t throttle your access to their news feed!
  • Twitter
  • Newsletter

Organizational summary:

The San Francisco Public Press is a nonprofit, public-interest news organization with a noncommercial mission statement to “to enrich civic life in San Francisco by delivering public-interest journalism to broad and diverse audiences through print and interactive media not supported by advertising.”

They publish a quarterly, four-color, ad-free print newspaper, and a website with daily and weekly news-blog updates.

They also produce a issues-focused public programs — such as the Hack the Housing Crisis conference — and engage in wide-ranging content partnerships through with SF Bay Area news organizations, including KALW, KQED, Bay Nature, El Tecolote, the Commonwealth Club and others.

The San Francisco Public Press spends most of its budget on paying freelance writers, and on publishing, marketing, promoting and distributing their content. Editors mostly work on a volunteer basis.

News coverage:

The San Francisco Public Press publishes deep-dive, locally attuned reporting on public interest issues, a focus that often puts them out ahead of the pack with award-winning coverage, including:

Financial information:

Newsfunders provides access to the most recent, publicly available financial documents and details. 

  • 2013 Expenses Budget: $64,160
  • 2013 IRS Form 990
  • Institutional funders include: The San Francisco Foundation, the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Institute for Nonprofit News, and others.
  • The Public Press also has an ambitious membership program with several hundred members paying $35 for an annual subscription and other benefits.

Read more about the San Francisco Public Press on Newsfunders.

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.