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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Heawood

Charitable funding for journalism: an introduction to fiscal sponsorship

PINF Executive Director Jonathan Heawood discusses our role as 'fiscal sponsors' for news organisations that are not registered charities but produce journalism in the public interest. READ ALSO: A guest blogpost from Watershed Investigations, an environmental outlet we sponsor that investigates the water crisis in the UK and abroad.

How can we get more charitable funding into public interest journalism in the UK? That’s one of the questions that motivates us at PINF. We look with wide eyes at the United States, where $376.1m (£297.6m) was given by philanthropists to media related causes in 2022 alone. The comparable figure in the UK was $8.3m (£6.6m), which included several grants for projects taking place outside the country.


In other words, a tiny amount of philanthropy is directed towards journalism in the UK – and that’s a problem when the market is failing to deliver local journalism to millions of people across the country, and we don’t have the kinds of subsidies that support journalism in countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway.


I used to think that the only way for news organisations to access charitable funds was to register as charities and fundraise directly from philanthropists. That is certainly an option for some newsrooms, and we commend the work of the Charitable Journalism Project, which can support news organisations that want to register with the Charity Commission.


However, there are other ways for newsrooms to access charitable funds without having to become charities. For a start, we at PINF can use our own charitable status to support public interest news providers.


If PINF raises charitable funds, we can award grants to news organisations that aren’t themselves charities. We did this, for example, through our Impact Fund in 2021-22. We can also use our charitable funding to provide non-financial benefits to eligible news organisations – for example, through our leadership programme and the Independent News Forum.


Another way we can support public interest news is by acting as a ‘fiscal sponsor’ for news organisations that don’t have charitable status but whose work is effectively charitable, such as the nonprofit news organisation Watershed, which focuses on environmental journalism about the water crisis in the UK and internationally.


Led by two experienced journalists, Leana Hosea and Rachel Salvidge, Watershed runs expert investigations in partnership with larger media outlets such as the BBC, Guardian and ITN. PINF has been able to act as an intermediary between Watershed and their funders, providing those funders with the assurance that their funds are being spent charitably whilst providing Watershed with support and advice.


We are proud to be associated with Watershed, and happy to be able to help them with their important work. In principle, we would be keen to explore the potential to support other newsrooms in a similar way.


If a charitable donor wants to fund a news organisation but is unable or unwilling to donate directly to a non-charity, then PINF might be able to help – subject to some checks and balances.


Firstly, PINF’s trustees have to be confident that any funds we administer are spent charitably for the benefit of the public, which means meeting our definition of public interest news, including that any content is accurate, ethical and politically impartial.

Secondly, it means that we are unlikely to be able to support for-profit organisations in this way.


Thirdly, and most importantly, we need to see that, by supporting a news organisation in this way, we are advancing our charitable purpose of promoting citizenship through the provision of public interest news. As a charity, PINF exists for the benefit of the public, not the benefit of particular news organisations or sectors of the news industry.


As a charity, PINF has a remit to support public interest news in the UK, so we are particularly well placed to work in partnership with UK-based donors. We can also work with US-based donors because we have been recognised as equivalent to an organisation with 501(c)(3) status (the US version of a charity).


Get in touch if you would like to see whether this opportunity might be relevant to your news organisation, of if you are a charitable funder looking to support the crucial work of public interest news providers here in the UK.

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