Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight to help grantees kickstart a passionate community of supporters

May 28, 2013, 10:28 a.m., Posted by Chris Sopher

Infragram: the Infrared Photography Project by Public Lab on Kickstarter

At Knight Foundation we have the delightful, challenging task of giving financial support to promising people and ideas—but this is rarely enough. We’ve found that the most successful projects are those that gather a passionate, dedicated community of users and contributors. Where that community exists, we see projects that change whole neighborhoods and industries; projects that continue in spirit and effect long after their founders have moved on. Much as we might want to, we can’t write a check for that.

The growth of the Kickstarter community has made it possible for creative people with interesting ideas to gather supporters they couldn’t have found before, enabling worthwhile projects to thrive. We think that’s true for many of the groups we fund, too, that are working on innovative ideas for journalism and information with potential relevance to many people and contexts. We’ve already seen journalism projects succeed on Kickstarter, such as Roman Mars’ 99% Invisible, Homicide Watch and Matter. And in a field that easily tends toward sprawl, engaging the Kickstarter community is a great way to launch and test focused projects and find the people who are excited about them.

That’s why we’re excited to launch our curated page and matching support for our grantees who run successful campaigns. In many cases, finding backers is more valuable for projects than is raising more money; a loyal, energetic community can propel future work beyond the current project. To that end, our support is structured to encourage more backers— we’re giving small grants to these projects as their campaigns hit 100, 250, 500 and 1,000 backers, up to $10,000 (our contribution is to the project, not to the Kickstarter campaign). In the past, we’ve found that matching funds can help projects accelerate their work more quickly.

This is new ground for us, and two projects are helping us test our approach over the next 30 days. We’ll have more details for our other grantees after that.

  • Public Laboratory is doing Infragram: The Infrared Photography Project, which launched last week. More than 750 people have already backed the project. Help them get to 1,000 backers and Knight will kick in a $10,000 match.
  • ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism outfit, is doing a project on Investigating the Intern Economy – launched today, this second test project is a journalistic investigation into the intern economy, starting with a road tour to college campuses around the country.  

Go to our Kickstarter page to check them out and back their projects! If you’re a grantee and interested in participating in the future, contact me at cksopher@knightfoundation.org. And you can find me on Kickstarter.

By Chris Sopher, journalism program associate at Knight Foundation