Double the money: how can we pilot match-funding for public interest news in the UK?
In this blogpost, Joe Mitchell outlines some thinking we're doing on a UK news match-funding campaign, inspired by INN’s NewsMatch. And we want your feedback!
As is often the case here at PINF, we’re inspired - and not a little envious - of American work on support for public interest news. One project we’ve watched with interest for a while is the Institute for Nonprofit News’ NewsMatch.
NewsMatch has been running since 2017, and according to INN has resulted in an extraordinary $271m ‘to jumpstart emerging newsrooms and support independent media outlets that produce fact-based, nonpartisan news and information’.
While it might be a while before we see those kinds of numbers for the UK, we think it's time to start making the first steps in that direction. In the spirit of ‘thinking in public’, here’s where we’ve got to, and where we still have questions. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
What is match-funding?
At its core, match funding is simple: donations made to an organisation are matched by a third party. So you can tell donors that for every £1 they donate to the organisation, it gets £2 (or sometimes more).
There are endless permutations of what that looks like in practice: there might be limits on donation amounts, there might be totals to reach before the match kicks in, there might be a fixed time-period in which donations need to be made, and so on.
And a good match-funding programme can go well beyond the money. A campaign like INN’s NewsMatch comes with plenty of resources and training to help news providers learn best practice and give their fundraising the best chance of success. INN’s campaign also takes place alongside a public awareness campaign 'to promote the value of independent, nonprofit journalism in the U.S.’
Why do it?
At PINF, one of our aims is to build the capacity of public interest news providers. What they most need, they tell us again in this year’s Index, is financial support. We see a match-funding programme as one useful approach to help meet this demand, boost the capacity of providers and build strong foundations of financial sustainability for the sector.
The point of a matching programme, rather than a straightforward grantmaking programme, is that the match encourages more people to donate more money than they would otherwise. In that way, the organisation running the fundraising drive can broaden its donor base as well as benefit from the immediate extra funding.
It should be said that robust evidence on the impact of match funding is not vast. Instinctively, it feels very compelling – and, given that we know the UK population is the least likely among wealthy countries to pay for news, it seems like UK public interest news providers might be particularly likely to benefit from such a programme. The Big Give evaluation (PDF) suggested that underserved causes might especially benefit. But we want to run a pilot and see what happens.
What approach might we take?
We’re still in the early planning stages. Inspired by INN’s approach - and we’re always keen to learn of other projects we can borrow from – we're chewing on questions of the funds, timing, restrictions, tools and resources.
First, the funds. For this pilot, PINF would look to raise £50,000 for the match pot. There are then different ways this could be split among providers depending on how much interest we get: we might be looking at working with five providers to try to raise £10k each, or ten raising £5k each, or it could vary individually based on what they each think is a realistic sum to raise.
Second, timing: INN’s scheme is time-bound for the last two months of the calendar year, which in the US is a kind of ‘giving season’ - a time when a lot of non-profits run fundraisers, partly to do with the US tax year. We're assuming that everyone raising at the same time creates more awareness and that a time-bound campaign creates urgency (and sets a limit on the work needed), but what time of year is best?
Third, because few UK news providers are charities, PINF’s charitable objectives will likely require that the match-funding that comes from our central pot is restricted for spending on a specific public interest project. This might be something like ‘three months funding of a full-time investigative reporter’ or ‘hiring a space to serve as a community newsroom for 12 months’. A specific, clear ask is good crowdfunding practice anyway: donors want to know where their money is going.
Fourth, in terms of the technology to be used for getting donations and taking down donor details, there are plenty of well-known crowdfunding or donation platforms that we could plug into - we'll need to see which most closely meets the requirements of the programme. Providers will already have their own tech too – how can we best work with these providers to limit the amount of work required?
Lastly, for the guidance and training to news providers, we hope to catch up with INN’s NewsMatch team soon to see what we can borrow. The crowdfunding platforms provide a lot of advice too. And this work will be able to take advantage of the results of the messaging work we’ve commissioned to best encourage people to support independent newsrooms.
Over to you
We’re keen to learn about what news providers think about this idea. Please email Joe with a note on any of the following questions – or anything else that comes to mind:
Have you tried crowdfunding before? What’s your capacity like to do it again?
What do you think is realistic to raise from your side?
Do you have the capacity to run a fundraising drive?
What would you need in terms of help to do this?
What platform do you currently use for donations, and would you be up for trying a new one?
What kind of project would you propose using the funding for (see above re core vs project)
And of course, the entire project relies on a match pot. We’re aiming at £50,000 for this pilot approach. We have a provisional £20,000 secured, so need another £30,000 to make it happen. If you think you might be able to help, or you know someone who can, get in touch.
Joe Mitchell is Deputy Director at PINF.