With NewsMatch, INN and News Revenue Hub have helped nonprofit newsrooms raise over $200 million
Written by: Katie Hawkins-Gaar
Before joining their current organizations, Courtney Lewis, Meta Stange, and Christina Shih all worked in newsrooms that participated in NewsMatch, a collaborative fundraising campaign to support nonprofit news across the country.
Lewis and Stange were both at WDET, Detroit’s NPR affiliate, where they were directly involved in the station’s fundraising efforts. Today, they work at the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), which coordinates NewsMatch. As INN’s Chief of Growth Programs and Program Manager for NewsMatch, respectively, Lewis and Stange help hundreds of news organizations learn how to build long-term fundraising capabilities.
Shih previously worked at Voice of San Diego, where she participated in the newsroom’s first NewsMatch campaign. Now she’s the Senior VP of Revenue at News Revenue Hub. Among the many hats she wears at the Hub is developing and overseeing fundraising resources for NewsMatch.
“There are three primary partners in the NewsMatch process,” said Stange. She explained that INN is responsible for the facilitation of the program, as well as maintaining membership standards required in order for nonprofit newsrooms to benefit from the funds.
“News Revenue Hub is responsible for generating a significant portion of the training resources and capacity-building opportunities that exist through the program,” Stange continued. “They’re really instrumental in ensuring that newsrooms have support.”
The third partner is The Miami Foundation, which oversees the fiscal administration of NewsMatch funds and the application and reporting process for NewsMatch partners.
Together, these organizations facilitate the largest collaborative fundraising campaign to support nonprofit news in the U.S. For Lewis, Stange, and Shih, it’s a full-circle moment — a unique opportunity to apply their first-hand experience and help other news organizations grow their fundraising capacity.
“I care deeply about the future of the nonprofit news sector,” said Shih. “Everyone on our team does. NewsMatch is a great way to contribute our learnings back to the industry in a scaled way.”
It all starts with the match
In 2016, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched NewsMatch, helping 57 nonprofit news organizations raise more than $1.2 million in match donations.
Since then, the program has grown significantly in both scope and vision. Last year, Knight was one of 17 NewsMatch funding partners, providing a combined total of nearly $4.8 million in matching gifts and goal-based bonuses. And the 275 participating nonprofit newsrooms leveraged those matching funds to raise $46 million during the final two months of 2021.
Every year, the NewsMatch matching-gift campaign begins on November 1 and ends on December 31. During this window, participating newsrooms can raise funds in a variety of ways, including a dollar-for-dollar match (up to a predesignated match cap) for individual donations at newsrooms with operating expenses below $1 million; generating bonus funds after reaching certain giving milestones; and securing community funders or a group of funders to match donations.
This multi-pronged approach is wildly successful — since 2016, nonprofit newsrooms have raised more than $192 million from individual donors during the NewsMatch matching-gift campaign. And, the program has had an outsize impact on smaller news organizations: in 2021, almost half of all participating newsrooms had operating expenses under $250K the previous year.
“A lot of NewsMatch participants are startups or small organizations — they’re newsrooms that were started by journalists who are really passionate about covering issues in their communities, but might not have the skills that they need to fundraise effectively,” explained Stange.
“They have this really strong set of journalism skills, but not necessarily marketing or fundraising experience, so NewsMatch and the training provided by NewsMatch, enables them to start to build those skills in a real-world scenario and generate funds for their organization,” she added.
But matching funds are just the beginning. As Madeleine Bair, founding director of Spanish-language local reporting lab El Tímpano, told INN, “The matching funds from NewsMatch are a great incentive to join, but just as valuable to us has been the wealth of resources and expertise provided to participants.”
Training for year-round success
In order for newsrooms to run successful NewsMatch campaigns, they need resources and training to fundraise effectively — and that’s where News Revenue Hub shines, say Lewis and Stange.
“News Revenue Hub are experts in helping newsrooms leverage their digital communication strategy to fundraise, and that’s a lot of the work that goes into NewsMatch,” Lewis said.
The Hub offers a dynamic set of training offerings designed to meet a variety of newsrooms’ needs, no matter their level of fundraising expertise. Some of those offerings have been available since the Hub joined NewsMatch in 2017, including the campaign toolkit, with email pitches, digital assets, and templates; one-on-one coaching sessions with Hub staff; and webinars and newsletter courses focused on the fundamentals of digital fundraising. Other resources are new this year, including webinars on SEO, product development, and running election-focused campaigns; and free access to the Hub’s new donation management software, News Revenue Engine.
“The Hub’s team has dynamically adapted our training every year to meet the industry’s needs,” explained Shih. “At the core, we still walk every newsroom through the fundamentals of digital fundraising and create a campaign toolkit, but we’re constantly looking for ways to expand our training to broaden the impact of NewsMatch in newsrooms throughout the year.”
Although the NewsMatch campaign runs for the last two months of the year, training and preparation takes place year-round. NewsMatch training begins in June, when the Hub offers webinars focused on reader revenue and audience development. The Fall months are all about campaign readiness, when the Hub delivers that year’s NewsMatch campaign materials and offers one-on-one coaching sessions. And, in the Winter and Spring — after the November 1 to December 31 campaign has ended — the Hub offers post-campaign donor reporting support, including training for newsrooms to review their campaign performance and set ambitious goals for the coming year.
“News Revenue Hub is really helping these newsrooms build skills that they utilize all year in order to become more sustainable. They are helping to build a more sustainable field overall, which is super exciting.”Meta Stange, NewsMatch Program Manager
“News Revenue Hub is really helping these newsrooms build skills that they utilize all year in order to become more sustainable,” said Stange. “They are helping to build a more sustainable field overall, which is super exciting.”
“This whole program ends up being like a launch pad for newsrooms,” Shih explained. “They get to go through this year-long fundraising training boot camp in their early stages, which is so critical.”
While the Hub largely focuses on small-donor fundraising, INN has started to work more closely with newsroom partners to help them secure additional matching funds, from community and local funders. In 2021, the number of local match funders increased by nearly 150%, with 929 community supporters
“NewsMatch doesn’t just bring small dollars; it’s bringing large dollars, in the form of additional matching funds,” Lewis explained. Each year, NewsMatch provides a predesignated amount of dollars in matching funds, but newsrooms, with the support and encouragement of INN, are encouraged to ask other major donors, local businesses, and foundations for additional matching funds.
That combination — of helping newsrooms to secure individual donations and larger matching funds — is what makes NewsMatch work, and what makes the Hub and INN such good partners. “When you add the two together, it’s like we are each bringing our unique specialties to the table,” Lewis said.
Part of a bigger movement
The best thing about NewsMatch, Lewis said, isn’t the money or training: it’s the movement. Because hundreds of participating news organizations run their NewsMatch campaigns at the same time, there’s a unique opportunity to inform the public about why nonprofit journalism matters, and why they need support.
“There is this powerful element of hundreds of newsrooms all saying the same thing at once about the value of nonprofit news,” Lewis shared.
One of the key ways that newsrooms share that messaging is through the NewsMatch campaign toolkit, offered by the Hub. While all of the email templates, social media copy, and other materials can be customized for each participating organization, the overall theme — explaining the importance of nonprofit journalism — remains intact.
“The Hub pulls together a series of emails, graphics, and social media copy that really helps to hone in the key messaging points for the entire field,” Lewis explained. “It can’t be understated how powerful the messaging work is.”
Stange, who’s been at INN since January, said she’s learned a lot from working with the Hub, and watching these resources come together. “It’s been really valuable to have people who are experts in this field and who have the skill sets that inform both my own approach to the [NewsMatch] program as well as help our newsrooms bolster their fundraising initiatives.”
The future is bright for NewsMatch. For the first time in the program’s history, eight funders have made multi-year commitments — totaling $14 million — which will ensure NewsMatch campaigns for 2022 and 2023.
This kind of future planning is a hallmark of Lewis’ leadership, something Shih especially admires.
“She’s really evolved the program to really think ahead strategically about how we can serve this diverse swath of newsrooms, but also make the program sustainable,” Shih said, adding that Lewis tends to think and plan three to five years ahead, and has gotten NewsMatch partners and funders to do the same.
Strategic planning is Lewis’ favorite part of her job. “I love being in a position to really think strategically about a lot of the problems that we’re trying to solve as a field,” she said.
Meanwhile, Stange said her favorite part of her job is “talking to newsrooms and really understanding what they’re doing in their communities and how we can support them in making that happen.”
“I believe in this program and in News Revenue Hub’s efforts to bolster and strengthen these entities so that they can go out and do the important work of informing their communities,” she added.
Shih said it’s surreal to think about how much NewsMatch has grown since she first participated in the program in 2016. “I can’t really describe it,” she said. “I so often work on the day-to-day details of NewsMatch, putting each individual newsroom first, and it can be hard to take a step back and think about the scale, but it is pretty remarkable to see.”
“This program has helped restore journalism in so many different communities across the country,” Shih added. “It’s really an honor and a privilege to be a part of it.”