Foundation funding firsts: How this Rhode Island publisher secured a $10,000 match in the COVID-19 Local News Fund


By Emilie Lutostanski • Director, Local News Resource Center

East Bay Media Group saw early success with the COVID-19 Local News Fund program. In about two weeks the family-owned publisher has raised $43,000 to support its seven local newspapers in Rhode Island, including its first donation ever from a local community foundation.

“When we started we had a lot of trepidation about asking for money … so we started talking about a match or matching grant,” said Matt Hayes, president and publisher. He said they immediately recognized locally well-known philanthropic organization Rhode Island Foundation as a potential partner to raise funds for vital coronavirus reporting.

“In addition to the actual grant money match, what we thought with the Rhode Island Foundation … was that it would give us fundraising credibility, which we don’t have and we’ve never done. Putting our newspaper brands with the Rhode Island Foundation, we thought it would give people a sense of assurance that the money was going to go in the right direction.”

East Bay Media Group approached a fund within the foundation that has connections to East Bay’s publications and explained what the money would be going toward. They immediately got a positive response — a $10,000 match offer from the Rhode Island Foundation.

“Rhode Island Foundation just gave us such a stable foundation to launch from, along with LMF [Local Media Foundation],” said Jock Hayes, director of audience and engagement. “It gave us, at least internally, a real sense of credible purpose beyond our mission of local journalism, but in the fundraising space, which is obviously unprecedented for us. It gave us confidence that we could go forth in our community with this ask, and feel like it would be well-received.”

For East Bay, the Hayes both said this well-known foundation was top-of-mind because of its size and reputation, so the approach was fairly easy. They’re also in talks with other major donors and philanthropic organizations who might be interested in funding local journalism.

For other organizations looking to tap into foundation funding or major donors, LMA Consultant Matt DeRienzo said local news outlets can appeal to the idea that they address many of the same priorities important to foundations.

“If you step back and think about what [a foundation’s] priorities are right now – we’ve got a public health emergency in every one of our communities. That public health emergency relies on accurate information and journalism to address it. And so you are, in  many senses, a perfect partner and solution for them because their priority right now is to give money to help address this problem,” DeRienzo said.

It’s also important to consider how a particular fund or foundation might overlap with existing or potential coverage, such as reaching underserved portions of the community or reporting on the impacts to individuals experiencing homelessness.

“On everybody’s mind — and on the mind of these funders, including people who you might not see as funders like the Chamber of Commerce or the regional planning commission in quasi-government operations — is how the economy is going to restart,” DeRienzo said. “Local news organizations have a huge role to play in that as well, and so that could be part of your proposal.”

Learn more about the COVID-19 Local News Fund.