Guest Columns Reader Revenue
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4 lessons for 2022 publisher fundraising campaigns

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Ready to take a breather now that you made it through the year-end campaign season? Not so fast. Now is the time to establish an ambitious campaign roadmap for 2022 so you have clear goals and a comprehensive plan to achieve or exceed them next year. 

Many newsrooms have turned to fundraising from their audiences as a valuable source of revenue. This makes good sense as ad revenues decline and paid subscriptions continue to be an uphill battle. Plus, it helps the public understand their role in supporting quality, fact-based reporting while building trust and transparency between news outlets and their readers. 

Voluntary donations have become a sustainable revenue stream for hundreds of digitally native newsrooms in the United States. Since the News Revenue Hub launched in 2017, we’ve helped nearly 70 independent digital news organizations raise over $50 million in new revenue from individual donors.

For newsrooms that are just starting to run fundraising campaigns, they might be tempted to save marketing dollars and organizational energy for that crucial end-of-year push, especially since the national NewsMatch campaign provides matching funds for year-end donations to nonprofit newsrooms.  But my experience, as well as the data, shows that by weaving those investments of time and energy throughout the year, newsrooms will see an even bigger ROI at the end of the year.

Not all of this stewardship work has to be manual and time-consuming. Newsrooms that simply deploy a compelling new subscriber welcome series tend to earn about $11,000 more per month from volunteer donors, our data shows.

In addition to establishing reliable revenue by campaigning year-round, it’s also important to educate and encourage donors to commit to a recurring gift that auto-renews. We’ve found that donors who establish a monthly donation tend to remain active for at least two years, doubling the amount given by the one-time donor whose donation expires after a year. As an added bonus, newsrooms don’t have to spend marketing and fundraising resources to renew those donors each year. In either case, the key is dependable revenue streams that maximize total revenue throughout the year. There are many reasons for this but chief among them is that reliable income gives newsrooms a solid foundation on which they can keep building. This helps them invest in the infrastructure they need to grow.

In turn, this work has an amplifying effect on those end-of-year campaigns, which become more impactful. Though it feels counterintuitive, people who have already given are highly likely to give again — throughout the year — and in December. The messaging and marketing work has already been done, so the reader comes to you committed to the mission. The “big push” of the end of the year becomes more of a nudge.

While it might seem like 2022 is already in full swing, it’s not too late to map out the year and put plans in place to:

  • Set ambitious fundraising goals for 2022

To provide some benchmarks from newsrooms in the News Revenue Hub, the annual median amount raised by local news organizations from volunteer donors giving gifts of $5,000 or less was $149,167 in 2021. Newsrooms serving a state or region raised a median of $223,573 and national investigative news organizations in the Hub earned an annual median of $309,788.

  • Craft a robust 12-month campaign roadmap

To achieve ambitious goals, you need to do the kind of planning that will put you  —and keep you — on a path to achieving them. Craft a 12-month plan that offers intuitive quarterly, monthly, and even weekly milestones and plots out the strategies and tactics you need to get there. 

  • Assign tasks and accountability to staff

Setting ambitious fundraising goals and sustaining the effort needed to achieve them is a team endeavor, but it’s one that starts at the top. Your 12-month plan, with clear deadlines, will detail who’s responsible for what, and how you’ll institute mechanisms to ensure accountability.

  • Develop key performance indicators to track progress

Like any venture, you need to measure your progress against benchmarks, or key performance indicators (KPIs). For example, tracked KPIs could include month-over-month audience growth, email list growth, list loyalty, and donor conversion. Developing these KPIs is an important part of the process and requires a lot of thought and research. But getting them straight the first time will help you stay on track and build on your success over time.

Mary Walter-Brown
Co-founder and CEO, News Revenue Hub

News Revenue Hub, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, provides critical technology infrastructure and consulting services to newsrooms seeking greater financial sustainability. The Hub implements fundraising models, automates time-consuming processes, conducts experiments, adopts best practices, and more. Founded in 2016 by Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper, the Hub has helped more than 70 local, regional and national organizations crowdfund over $50 million since launch. The Hub’s News Revenue Engine, a simple-to-use contribution management system, will launch in early 2022.