By Emilie Lutostanski • Director, Local News Resource Center

On Easter weekend this year, hundreds of individuals heard from Sonny Messiah Jiles, CEO and publisher of the Houston Defender, which publishes community news in print and online.

Sonny Messiah Jiles

The text messages she sent were simple and personal, and drew attention to the Defender’s COVID-19 Local News Fund page, soliciting donations, Jiles said.

“Our social media person sent out a note about the fundraiser posted to social media on Saturday and we got two hits. So when I saw that, I thought, I was going to sit here and text all these people to say, Happy Easter and a Happy Resurrection Sunday. Why don’t I just text them the link when I tell them?” she said. “So I spent from about 10:30 that morning until about 7 o’clock that evening — off and on but mostly on — texting everybody in my phone.”

Jiles said she drafted three different types of messages: for family and friends, for professional friends, and then for her “posse” — or close friends.

“People actually started that Saturday, and by Sunday, I was in tears almost because of the love and because of the caring and because of the amounts that people were actually giving.”

The first few days of fundraising kicked off by the text campaign set the runway for the Defender. By Sunday night, in three days of informal asks, 54 donors contributed more than $8,800. That was before the fundraising campaign officially launched, all raised via direct appeal from the publisher, mostly in text messages.

By the end of the first week of fundraising that included two emails and more social media posts, the Defender raised $20,000. As of April 21, the Defender’s COVID-19 Local News Fund page tallied $21,665 donated via the website link. An anonymous donor contributed $25,000 directly to the fund, for a total of nearly $50,000.

Next up for the Defender’s fundraising campaign is to continue to approach its general audience and known users for donations, including through direct appeals from other staff members within their personal own networks. Jiles said they will also approach organizations, political leaders, ministers and other prominent community leaders.

Jiles said it has been invaluable to offer readers and supporters a tax-deductible way to give to the Defender.

“At a time when we were being stretched in five or six different ways, from revenue generation, staff coordination, to filling out … government funding applications, LMA was giving us the infrastructure [to fundraise] and putting all of the marketing collateral pieces together,” she said. “This lifted a burden and opened an opportunity that I never would have had time to develop.”

View the Defender’s fundraising video from Sonny Messiah Jiles:

Learn more about the COVID-19 Local News Fund and how to get involved.