Journalism funded by philanthropy: 5 questions local news outlets should address to prepare for a funder pitch


By Emilie Lutostanski Director, Local News Resource Center 

As much as one-third of a midsized newsroom’s reporting could ultimately be funded through philanthropy, Joaquin Alvarado of The Seattle Times told attendees at a virtual workshop on funding journalism, part of LMA’s Accelerate Local 2021 virtual event.

In two interactive workshops offered as part of the Feb. 22-26 event, industry experts and publishers from LMA’s Lab for Journalism Funding shared proven ways to earn philanthropic support for local news.

“There’s a reason why this is a moment in time to have these conversations around philanthropic funding for journalism and to pursue this as a pillar going forward,” said Frank Mungeam, LMA chief innovation officer, manager of the lab and host of the workshops. “Funders and newsrooms are recognizing they are aligned in their purpose of serving and informing local communities.”

During two sessions, publishers shared how they have applied lessons from the lab to their own newsrooms. Autumn Phillips, managing editor of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., described a campaign to raise $100,000 in 100 days for investigative reporting. With the right positioning, The Post and Courier raised nearly half its goal in the first week and exceeded its goal in just three weeks.

Alvarado, an instructor in the lab, said a key strategy in approaching philanthropic funding is to leverage the list of potential funders already known to the media organization. This funding can come from community foundations, civic-minded businesses, and individuals that support arts, education, racial equity, and other causes.

Targeting a specific ask that aligns with the mission of the organization is critical to gaining funding, Mungeam said. When journalists and funders share core values, publishers can convert those intentions into actionable reporting projects.

Mungeam offered five elements of a funder pitch that can help local news organizations initiate purposeful conversations with potential funders:

1. What is the problem that needs to be solved?
2. What is the community that will be served?
3. How will the news organization do this?
4. What specific resources are needed?
5. What are the expected impacts and outcomes?

With responses to these five questions, he said, publishers have been able to approach new funding opportunities with more confidence and success — one step in developing sustainable business models for local journalism.

See the workshop presentation and check out the rest of the resources from Accelerate Local 2021.

Learn more about the Lab for Journalism Funding.