Right now, nonprofit newsrooms are surviving and, in some cases, even thriving. A steady stream of new nonprofits continues to join the media market. Many have a strong focus on public interest news, particularly investigative and analytical journalism. INN Index 2020: The State of Nonprofit News research offers insight into nonprofit news organizations’ sustainability, especially among those serving at a local level.
Community journalists generally launch nonprofits with lean budgets and a small staff, with a management style similar to that of many startups. They engage directly with audiences and members. However, even with claims of success, non-profit newsrooms face struggles of their own. At least 40% expect declines in revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while more than half expect no impact, and 8% report expectations of revenue gains. Revenue declines are directly tied to losses in events and advertising.
According to the INN Index, 12 or more nonprofit news outlets launch each year. Growth areas include local reporting and explanatory reporting, with more than one-third of the outlets focused on these areas. Further, specialized nonprofit publications have also launched and grown, often funded by foundations supporting a coverage topic.
About half of INN members earn more than $500,000 per year while the remaining half earns less. This has remained consistent for the past three years. Non-profit publishers manage multiple revenue streams. In fact, on average, 41% manage at least four revenue streams. Interestingly, reader revenue in the form of donations and memberships accounts for just a small percentage of overall income, with little change in the last three years.
In all, foundation grants still comprise the largest revenue stream, accounting for approximately less than half of total revenue. Individual giving, including both major gifts and small donations, makes up about one-third of total revenue.
Focus on direct audience relationship
Significantly, non-profit publishers are highly focused on developing direct relationships with their audiences and connecting “the press” with “the public.” In fact, six in 10 report that they reach their audience primarily through direct publication touchpoints including, their website, newsletters, podcasts, and events. Direct engagement makes sense as nonprofits seek to convert loyal readers into donors.
Establishing ties to communities and strengthening audience engagement are two best practices to build upon in order to expand the public’s understanding and support of community-based journalism. Unfortunately, there are many nonprofits operating without a substantial reserve fund. As many non-profit publishers manage their businesses like a start-up, it’s important to establish and maintain best-practice standards for nonprofit management and revenue reserves.