The report is organized into three sections that reflect areas considered essential to sustainability:
Data and analysis in these areas builds on a review that Knight Foundation produced two years ago, Getting Local: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability, which examined eight local news startups. Two years later, the 18 organizations in this study demonstrate significant progress, but they still face some challenges. As such, the report provides a benchmark for nonprofit news organizations and funders to develop new strategies and models for future growth.
In addition to the comparative data contained in the report, click on any of the thumbnails below to view individual datasets for the 18 nonprofit news organizations that participated in the study. You can also download them as a pdf here or the complete excel file here.
1. Attack your assumptions, always. They regularly develop ways to gather insights on who their audience is and what their audience cares about. They incorporate that feedback to pitch sponsors, refine membership programs and tailor user experiences.
2. Pursue the greatest overlap between niche and need. Their strategy grows out of observing the market in which they operate and identifying a balance between two extremes – coverage that’s so broad it’s hard to build a community around it while so narrow that it creates long-term financial challenges. Their answer to “who is your audience?” is never “everyone.”
3. Provide services, don’t just publish. They recognize that their business isn’t about publishing and advertising, but about developing and marketing experiences for individuals that are rich in information and connections. They think beyond their website and see events, community discussions and partnerships as content that’s created in many forms.
4. Invest beyond content. They devote a significant share of their spending to priorities that go beyond editorial. They invest in marketing, business development and fundraising and see these activities as core to their operation, rather than something done “after-hours.”
5. Measure what matters. While they track traditional cumulative Web metrics such as monthly unique visitors, they focus on indicators that offer feedback on repeat user engagement. They combine this data with qualitative narrative accounts on how their reporting affects their target community.
6. Strive for diversity in funding. They aggressively look for ways to step down foundation funding and to raise dollars from their community through sponsorship, events and individual donations. These revenue sources are prized because they offer greater independence in reporting and more flexibility strategically.
7. Bolster the brand by building partnerships. They offer their content to others to reach key audiences and structure those partnerships to derive the following benefits: opportunities to prominently market their brand, feedback and business intelligence on the audience their content reaches and fees from syndication.
8. Move to where your audience is. They understand the changing habits of how individuals consume information. They don’t only focus on the home page of their website; they’re building responsive design and prioritize social media.