August 8, 2018

When Bruce Putterman started as publisher at The Connecticut Mirror in 2017, he knew that the nonprofits in his state weren’t working together. And from 15 years working in the nonprofit world, he knew they wanted to.

“The Mirror, as a statewide news organization that most of the major community foundations already supported, was an excellent candidate.”  

The results: $100,000, sponsorship for two in-depth series, two or three planned community conversations related to the projects and money for the Mirror’s general operating expenses.

Foundations are starting to work together to support journalism, said Teresa Gorman, a local news associate at Democracy Fund. (Disclosure: Democracy Fund is a funder of Poynter.)

“But there’s potential for much more and to use collaboration as a way to get more funders into funding journalism,” she said.

The Mirror used $45,000 of the grant money to fund two series — one on wealth disparities in the state and another on the impact of the state’s fiscal crisis on nonprofits. Another $40,000 goes for general operating support, and $15,000 to support community conversations on the two series.

Putterman worked with The American Press Institute’s guiding principles for funders of nonprofit media on transparency, making sure the people at the foundation understood that foundation employees wouldn’t be involved in the editorial process and they wouldn’t get to see the work before it ran.

The Mirror includes a graphic at the bottom of each story that shows the logos of the foundations and a note that the work is independent.  

One tip from Putterman: Make sure the project you’re proposing is specific enough to start right away.

“Another lesson learned — before you propose a topic to a funder, make sure that you really understand what you’re going to try to do,” Putterman said.

Democracy Fund’s Gorman had a few more tips.

  • Know that each foundation is different. “They have different processes, people, and strategies. Read up – look at their strategies, grantees and other writing. What do they fund, why do they fund it, and what is their goal?”
  • Build relationships before making the pitch. (“It can take some time.”)
  • “Learn how to sell yourself,” Gorman said. “And prepare for the questions you’ll be asked, including your vision, goal and how you’ll make it happen.”
  • You might not get a meeting at first, but speak on panels and write about what you’re learning. “This all ups your chance at them coming across your work, and it also shows that you’re a collaborative organization that is open to change, learning, and has insights into what works and what doesn’t,” Gorman said.

Next week, we’ll focus on a for-profit newsroom that got grant money for big projects.

In the meantime, I’m still on vacation and wrote this newsletter two weeks ago, so instead of sharing some great stuff to read, here’s are a few resources to check out for more on this topic, with thanks to Teresa Gorman. Visit Local News Lab’s “Unlocking the secrets to foundation funding,” these case studies on innovative funding from the Shorenstein Center, and this look at journalism and grants from Media Impact Funders. Also, here’s another list of great local newsletters to subscribe to: Democracy Fund’s Local Fix, Lenfest’s Solution Set, IRE’s Local Matters, CJR’s Colorado Local News and Media, LION Publishers (on the right side of the homepage), Gather and Membership Puzzle Project.

See you next week!

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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