How to Fundraise Your Investigation

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fundraiseFor journalists trying to raise money for investigative reporting projects, three experts offered advice on how to develop relationships with donors, including tracking impact and planning ahead.

Bridget Gallagher advised reporters to not be scared of seeking donations.

“Fundraising is a process that evokes fear and frustration,” she said, offering to journalists and investigative nonprofit organizations trying to raise money for reporting.

“Think about donors as people first and foremost. They are your friends.”

To develop relationships with donors, Gallagher recommends:

  • Articulate who you are and what you do that is better than anyone else. Put your work on multiple platforms.
  • Measure the impact of your work. Learn the size of your audience, analyze web traffic, unique visits, and social media following. Conduct surveys and get feedback from listeners and readers.
  • Be visible. Go to relevant conferences and speak on panels. Apply for awards and recognition.
  • Start the relationship early because it will take time and persistence. Think creatively about who can introduce you to a potential donor you want to meet.
  • Keep donors informed throughout a project to make them feel involved. If something good, bad or interesting happens, let them know.
  • Stay in touch and thank them promptly. Treat them as a resource for more than just money, and be a resource in return.

“Donors are looking for sustainability,” Algirdas Lipstas of the Open Society Foundation added.

When applying for a grant, Lipstas suggests that you include a plan to survive after grant money runs out:

  • Spread your bets. Do not assume one donor will support you year after year. Having other donors is appealing when you seek money from new sources, so include them in grant proposal.
  • Fundraise continuously. It is not an emergency exercise you do once a year.
  • Allow time. Even successful negotiations may take several months.

Finding money is a science, Leon Williams of the Global Forum for Media Development pointed out. If you are an investigative reporter seeking money for an individual project, he recommends you avoid “donor science.” It takes an enormous amount of time.

For networks and organizations participating in this process, there are a few things that Williams suggested:

  • Donors are interested in results, not you or the righteousness of your subject. Find out what the donor wants to achieve and adjust your proposal to meet those priorities, without losing sight of your project.
  • Don’t forget to listen.
  • It is not the topic they are interested in but whether or not they believe in you

While the media is oversaturated with ephemeral stories, in-depth reporting is not only needed but has proven to improve readership and audiences. Finding money necessary to keep an investigative unit afloat is a challenge and the landscape competitive.

But raising funds is not impossible.

As Gallagher points out, donors who share your fundamental values are your best friends.

“If you can think about them in ways that keep the shared mission in focus,” she concluded. “You’ll find it easier to build those relationships.”

Abby Ellis reports on this event as part of the IACC Young Journalists Initiative, a network reporting on corruption around the globe.

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