By Matt DeRienzo • LMA Consultant and Emilie Lutostanski • Director, Local News Resource Center
The COVID-19 Local News Fund launched its fundraising program for independent and family-owned nonprofits in late March, evolving over the past four weeks to partner with nearly 200 local media organizations that have raised $500,000 from 6,000 donors — and they’re just getting started.
The purpose of the Local Media Foundation’s COVID-19 Local News Fund program is to increase coverage of COVID-19 issues in local communities. This allows local news organizations to solicit tax-deductible community donations to support and increase their coverage of the crisis.
So far, 13 participants in the fund have raised $10,000 or more, including The AFRO, Scarsdale Inquirer and Greenfield Recorder. Six publishers have surpassed $20,000, including Concord Monitor and Daily Hampshire Gazette. The week of April 20, 2020, saw huge growth milestones and several record-setting single days for individual campaigns as well as the entire fund.
The Day of New London, Connecticut topped $50,000 and 500 donors. The campaign brought in more than $15,000 early in the week, doubling its total money raised to that point, and its total number of donors, after an appeal written by Publisher Timothy Dwyer appeared on the front page of the Sunday print edition and prominently online.
These types of transparent, personal appeals continue to drive the most success for participants, especially the top fundraisers.
The Anchorage Daily News has raised more than $39,000. Editor David Hulen shared a heartfelt appeal that generated hundreds of donations to the Anchorage Daily News.
“This is new for us. It’s the first time we’ve ever asked readers directly for support in this way, so we approached it with some caution,” Hulen said. “Our relationship with readers and the community is based on trust and this is a big ask. We didn’t want to screw it up or do anything that would undermine that relationship.”
Before the Houston Defender officially launched its COVID-19 Local News Fund campaign, Publisher Sonny Messiah Jiles sat down to text friends a link to the Defender’s fundraising page. At the end of three days of informal asks, she’d raised $8,800 from 54 people, and has now topped $23,000. But that doesn’t reflect the entire total. The outreach prompted a single $25,000 anonymous pledge that will bring the Defender’s campaign up to nearly $50,000.
The Examiner has raised nearly $22,000 by mobilizing staff and supporters to fundraise and speak for the paper.
Ken Paulson, the former editor of USA Today, wrote a column on behalf of the Examiner weeklies in New York’s Westchester and Putnam counties. Examiner publisher Adam Stone also turned the microphone over to his sports editor, who has built relationships with a loyal local sports audience over the years. Even Adam’s seventh-grade daughter, Maddie, has weighed in with one of the more articulate cases for local journalism that’s emerged from this effort. In the Examiner’s case, these efforts even drew the attention of the local Patch site, which wrote an extensive feature story about the fundraising campaign.
Of the 6,000 individual donations, the COVID-19 Local News Fund campaigns have ranged from $10 to $25,000, with an average of $82 per transaction and donors at all amounts leaving tremendously positive and encouraging comments.
“Our communities and country have not been well served by the rise of Twitter and the decline of local newspapers. Maybe a positive outcome of the pandemic is that attention to and interest in our communities and neighbors will come back,” said a supporter of Concord Monitor, which has raised $31,000. “Thank you, Concord Monitor, for all that you do.”
“Thank you for providing such an essential anchor for our community as we make our way through this,” a donor left on the fundraising page for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, which has raised more than $40,000 from 500 supporters.”We are so grateful!”