Publishers join the Giving Tuesday bandwagon

With more news organizations soliciting donations from their readers, a growing number of them used Giving Tuesday as a peg for their end-of-year appeals.

On Tuesday, the Guardian U.S. published an op-ed by Rebecca Solnit, “Why I’m Supporting the Guardian This Giving Tuesday.” Her post inviting readers to support the publication represents the U.K.-based news organization’s first overt embrace of the unofficial holiday. Since 2017, the Guardian U.S. has focused on soliciting readers’ donations as a source of direct revenue.

The Guardian now joins an increasingly crowded field of publishers hoping to use Giving Tuesday to pull in donations and build reader support. This year, NewsMatch has helped almost 200 nonprofit newsrooms undertake fundraising activities, a rise from 150 last year, said Josh Stearns, a program director for the Democracy Fund. His organization helps run NewsMatch, a nonprofit that trains newsroom staff and raises awareness of the need for quality journalism.

Other organizations are invoking Giving Tuesday tie-ins as they fundraise for projects supporting local news. While recent research has suggested that the general public does not greatly understand the challenges faced by local news organizations, certainly observers of the industry do. The urgent need for news organizations to develop a new business model is part of what drives Nancy Lane, CEO of the Local Media Association, which this year launched its first large-scale Giving Tuesday effort.

“Every week we hear about a newspaper going away or reducing frequency, and this is just going to continue,” Lane said. “We don’t want incremental; we don’t want small gains. That’s not what we’re going for: We want impact.” Having set a goal of raising $150,000 by the year’s end, the association hopes to hire another person for its startup accelerator program (Accelerate Local) and also to participate in an NYC Media Lab project exploring the use of artificial intelligence for creating local news. By midday on Tuesday, the Local Media Association had raised more than $80,000.

And the Giving Tuesday phenomenon has evolved over the years. Initially launched in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y as an informal marketing campaign,  as of last July it is a standalone organization that operates year-round. Last year, Giving Tuesday’s allied payment processors collected $380 million, a rise from $274 million in 2017. Now thousands of organizations are vying for consumers’ attention — and their donations.

This crush of activity has informed the Giving Tuesday tactics of some news organizations. For example, The Forward, changed its Giving Tuesday approach this year; it hosted a Facebook Live video session, with its new editor taking questions submitted by Forward readers. The strategy? To collect donations certainly, but also to build a relationship between readers and new editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren, who in July left The New York Times for the nonprofit media organization focused on Jewish news and culture.

“It’s something we thought would be a little bit different and connect the readers to what they’re supporting and to showcase our editorial strength and potential for the future,” said Lisa Lepson, The Forward’s vp of development.

NewsMatch has changed its tactics, too. After leaning on celebrity endorsements over the last two years, this year NewsMatch focused on training nonprofit newsrooms to create their own donation and development strategies and thereby engage directly with their readers.

“They’re the ones most suited to talk to their communities,” Stearns said. “We put a lot more effort into teaching local newsrooms how to build direct relationships with their communities.”

The training sessions began in June, Stearns said. And while his organization’s Giving Tuesday campaign scored positive financial results, Stearns considers the event an opportunity to spread an idea he hopes will become more mainstream. “People still don’t understand journalism as a thing we should be donating to,” he said.

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