August 16, 2017

Whether it’s local public radio stations or nonprofit websites, most membership programs launched by news organizations are aimed at a geographic audience.

The Marshall Project, which launched its membership program on Tuesday, wants to change that — and it’s already getting results.

It’s been more than a day since The Marshall Project went live with its membership program, and the criminal justice-focused journalism nonprofit has already raised a five-figure chunk of revenue from a “couple of hundred” members, said Carroll Bogert, The Marshall Project’s president. Those members are making one-time and recurring donations, which have both gotten into the five figures.

Members of The Marshall Project, which was founded by the journalist Neil Barsky and is edited by former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, are invited to donate any amount. But they don’t have to donate to join, Bogert said.

“At this point, we welcome everyone to be a member,” she said. “Part of what programs like this entail is getting people into the family and then getting them to grow their support.”

The Marshall Project, which has an annual budget of $5 million, isn’t expecting the membership program to generate more than 10 percent of its annual revenue, Bogert said. The nonprofit is mostly funded by major foundations and large charitable contributions, but there’s a not-insignificant portion of available revenue from readers who might give $1,000 or less, she said. The membership project aims to make sure they don’t leave that money on the table.

Supporters of The Marshall Project each get three perks, Bogert said:

  • A tri-annual “Impact Report” on the difference their journalism has made.
  • A monthly analysis on criminal justice reform by Editor-in-Chief Bill Keller.
  • An opportunity to be featured as a supporter in a Marshall Project newsletter.

Of the hundreds of people who’ve become members, many heard about the program from The Marshall Project’s newsletters, which have a collective audience of about 35,000 people, Bogert said. They’ve also put out the call for members on The Marshall Project’s website, which consistently has at least 400,000 monthly readers. But the audience that consumes The Marshall Project is larger than that because of the nonprofit’s strategy of partnering with major news organizations like The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Although local news organizations have many advantages to drive membership that topic-focused news organizations don’t have — think events and a shared sense of community — The Marshall Project has a loyal, influential readership on a topic that affects millions of people, Bogert said.

“There are millions and millions of people involved in the criminal justice system, voluntarily or not,” Bogert said. “I’m not saying we’re reaching all of them … [But] we’re fairly essential to a certain cohort.”

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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