Five strategies for how news organizations can grow their corporate revenue
Corporations have always played a role in supporting community organizations and nonprofits. Total charitable giving across the country in 2021 clocked in at almost $485 billion, according to according to Giving USA, an industry leading report on American philanthropy. Corporations contributed $22 billion to that total.
As news organizations continue to turn to philanthropic sources for support, many are looking to tap into corporate funding as an opportunity to grow their revenue. However, corporate giving can take different shapes depending on the organization and how it’s looking to deploy resources.
Companies may give to help drive their business, to support employee interests, or to simply give back to their community. They give in a variety of ways, from advertising to sponsorships, events, and philanthropy. Gifts can be in-kind support, employee matching gifts, or outright gifts that are project specific or unrestricted. And corporate support can come from different sources — event budgets, marketing budgets or philanthropic budgets — aligned with their corporate social responsibility agenda.
It can be a challenge to know how to begin to approach corporations through all these avenues, but Texas Tribune’s Chief Revenue Officer April Hinkle and Director of RevLab Emily Dresslar, Block Club Chicago’s Director of Development and Community Engagement Maple Walker Lloyd, The 19th‘s Chief Revenue Officer Johanna Derlega, WSIU’s Associate Director of Corporate Support Brian Flath, and VTDigger’s Leader of Community Engagement and Partnerships Libbie Sparadeo joined the News Philanthropy Network to share best practices on how to engage corporate funders.
Like all fundraising, the key to success is about building relationships, asking donors about their interests and goals, and showing how you can help them meet those goals. And then, as always, thanking them and showing them the impact of their gift is the first step toward the next gift. The good news is that a little bit of research can help sort through the giving priorities of your local corporate community.
Here are a few tips from colleagues in the field on how they approach raising corporate support.
- Think creatively, and leverage what you are already doing in new ways. One way for news organizations to first pursue corporate support can be through existing products or opportunities that already are coming their way. For example, Texas Tribune Chief Revenue Officer April Hinkle shared how the Austin-based nonprofit started a paid speakers bureau. Companies and groups around Texas were frequently asking Tribune journalists to come and speak to their groups or share insight into their reporting, so the Tribune seized on the opportunity and was able to turn that into a new revenue stream. The Speakers Bureau framework additionally affords the Tribune an opportunity to build a relationship with the organization and an opening to continue or deepen the partnership after the event.
- Articulate a clear value proposition. Many news organizations — especially smaller outlets and local outlets — will not be able to compete with other platforms for reach or the ability to target specific consumers, but they do offer an opportunity for corporate supporters to express their values and demonstrate support for their communities.
“You’ve got to figure out who gets you, who is your advocate, who understands how much differentiated value you have,” Derlega said. “[Our audience] is coming to us for something completely different than anyone else. These organizations want to be mission aligned with us.”
- Wait until you’re ready. The nonprofit Block Club Chicago is celebrating its 5-year anniversary this year. Until now, it has not invested much into pursuing corporate funding because it did not have the resources and staffing to manage the work while still focusing on other key revenue streams, like subscriptions and institutional philanthropy. Block Club is making its first in-roads into corporate philanthropy with a gala event to celebrate its anniversary this year. Using an event to dip your toe into the corporate world can be a smart starting point — it offers clear opportunities for support, but you can focus on that single event without worrying about sustaining a body of the work for the long-term if you’re not ready to do so.
- Find ways to build mission-aligned relationships—even if it doesn’t result in revenue right away. In an effort to better support BIPOC-owned businesses in Vermont, the nonprofit news site VTDigger launched its Underwriting for Racial Equity program, which provided excess advertising space to businesses owned by people of color. While the program doesn’t provide immediate revenue benefits, it is in line with VTDigger’s public-service mission, and it allows the organization to build relationships with businesses that could result in funding down the road.
- Corporate matching gifts work! Companies will often provide matching gifts and match employee giving. Many public media outlets, including WSIU in southern Illinois, will leverage corporate donations as part of matching campaigns during membership drives. This arrangement allows the companies to support the station and to help make individual donations go further by matching them and helping listeners feel like they are contributing more. WSIU will even invite corporate partners on air to help with the pledge drives.
Many thanks again to our six guest speakers for the great corporate giving sessions they led. If you want to learn from them firsthand, check out the session recordings and resources here. And be sure to sign up to join the News Philanthropy Network and get notified of upcoming workshops and courses.