Crowdfunding Solutions: 3 Tips for Using Kickstarter to Fund Journalism

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Huffington Post  |  October 14, 2013

Crowdfunding for JournalismThere has been an immense amount of hemming and hawing over the state of the news industry of late. Print circulation is in general decline, digital advertising is still a nascent revenue stream for many, mobile traffic is growing at an alarming rate for publishers who haven't yet figured out how to monetize it effectively, video is in high demand but costly to produce, the paid vs. free debate is as fierce as ever, etc. etc. Responses from media outlets to these challenges have varied and are often multi-pronged efforts, and while there has been much focus on the estimated 500-plus newspapers worldwide that have begun charging for paid content online, others have turned to their readers, asking for their support through what is called crowdfunding.

At Worldcrunch, a young digital global news outfit based in Paris, we, too, have a multi-pronged approach to monetizing our site, which includes a metered paywall, display advertising, B2B subscription sales, and the syndication of our content to other news outlets. We also recently experimented with a crowdfunding campaign on the platform Kickstarter and raised more than $16,000 to launch a special initiative on "solutions journalism": Worldcrunch Impact.

Crowdfunding in journalism used to be a realm reserved for nonprofits and public media in the U.S. such as NPR and PBS, yet a handful of media projects have made headlines over the past year with this strategy, including Matter, a long-form science and technology publication that was recently purchased by the creators of Twitter. There are a number of resources available with advice on running Kickstarter campaigns in general terms; here are some of my tips from our successful experience with crowdfunding specifically for journalism.

Tip # 1 - Choose a project that has a natural fit with existing communities

In the case of Worldcrunch Impact, we had the basic concept formed before we chose to turn to crowdfunding, and the more we considered a Kickstarter campaign, the more it seemed like a good fit. In our campaign for potential backers, we described Worldcrunch Impact as: "Delivering top international journalism on one urgent issue each month -- not just the problems, but real solutions."

We wanted to take our existing structure in a new direction, so in addition to our daily work that involves translating a hand-picked selection of top stories from leading foreign-language news outlets into English, we proposed to run a side-project focusing specifically on one urgent development issue each month, and to use our global network to uncover innovative solutions to these issues.

We were increasingly convinced of the crowdfunding potential here because we saw an opportunity to tap into existing communities with highly passionate advocates: individuals who might be likely to support a journalism project that would further the discussion around topics they cared about. And so we chose to limit Worldcrunch Impact to an initial three topics, each dossier aimed at attracting a different group of potential backers.

  • Education Innovation: how technology is improving learning
  • Future Farming: the organic revolution and its benefits
  • Smart Cities: innovative urban advances making our cities more livable

Defining the scope of the project allowed us to estimate our budget and set a target for of $15,000 for the campaign, and having a defined target audience for the campaign meant we were ready to begin forming our outreach strategy.

Related:  Crowdfunding - A New Financing Model for Freelancers

Tip # 2 - Build pre-launch momentum with a teaser and archive material

As with any initiative that involves readers handing over their money to a publisher, these things deserve careful preparation. The success of a Kickstarter campaign depends entirely on inspiring individuals to a) support your project, and then b) share it in an authentic way that attracts more backers. If a campaign doesn't reach its target funding within the set deadline (neither the target nor the deadline can be changed once a campaign goes live), then all money raised is returned to backers and the campaign fails. (NB: This is how Kickstarter operates; other crowdfunding platforms such as Indiegogo have different rules.)

So, building pre-launch momentum was of the essence for the Worldcrunch Impact project, as were our constant pushes through social media accounts to reach new audiences and recruit new backers. To begin with, we used an existing video about Worldcrunch and updated the voice-over to describe our project, then used it as the centerpiece of a pre-launch page we quickly built through the free service LaunchRock. This page was essentially a teaser for the project, and invited individuals to sign up with an email address for early updates.

When reaching out to those three communities we were targeting around education, organic farming, and urban development, we sent the pre-launch page and often included archive articles from Worldcrunch.com on the appropriate topic to illustrate the kind of journalism these people would be able to fund through supporting our project. This strategy allowed us to compile an email list that we used to announce the launch of the actual campaign and ensure that we would have a healthy amount of early activity to excite and attract new backers.

Tip # 3 - Define rewards that are authentic and meaningful

Crowdfunding results in a fundamentally different dynamic between "creator" and "backer" than the relationship between "publisher" and "subscriber" that comes with a paywall. Felix Salmon at Reuters described it as the difference between letting someone pay and making someone pay. So, when planning out how to reward our backers, we decided that the more someone pledged, the more opportunities they should get to help shape Worldcrunch Impact. The rewards ranged from being able to vote on which dossier topic we would work on first (for a pledge of $10+) all the way to being a guest editor for the dossier of their choice, complete with joining editorial meetings with the Worldcrunch team via Skype (for a pledge of $1,000).

By the end of the campaign, we had four individuals pledge $1,000 each for the guest editor reward -- one was a regular Worldcrunch reader (and already a subscriber) who had initially pledged a lower amount, then increased her pledge to $1,000. When we got in touch to thank her, she explained that she was going to give the guest editorship to her son as a gift because she thought he'd really enjoy the opportunity. Some papers such as The New York Times offer the ability to give a digital subscription as a gift, but we had never expected to see our crowdfunding campaign lead to the gifting of rewards in a similar way.

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The National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada crowdfunding hub providing education, advocacy and networking opportunities in the rapidly evolving crowdfunding industry. NCFA Canada is a community-based, membership-driven entity that was formed at the grass roots level to fill a national need in the market place. Join our growing network of industry stakeholders, fundraisers and investors. Increase your organization’s profile and gain access to a dynamic group of industry front runners. Learn more eBrochure | Prezi or contact us at casano@ncfacanada.org.

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