In 2015, El Salvador’s El Faro launched one of the first crowdfunding campaigns for an online news site in Central America. In June 2016, the campaign (dubbed “Public Excavation”), won a Cannes Lion award, which recognizes creative marketing and ad campaigns across the globe. Jose Luis Sanz, the current director of El Faro, spoke to SembraMedia about the project:
What motivated the Public Excavation campaign?
The Public Excavation campaign is an idea we’d had at El Faro for a while: engaging our readers more actively via crowdfunding. Nevertheless, that idea could only be pursued at this particular time. We all know that commercially, El Faro isn’t viable in El Salvador, but we did have the support of our readers. But we didn’t know how to take advantage of that in a society that has very little access to internet and very little buying power.
In 2014, we had a precedent ... we took the idea from [Colombian news site] La Silla Vacia’s Super Amigos campaign, and we set ourselves a very small goal: raise US$3,000 to cover our costs while covering an election year.
The campaign was a small disaster. There were multiple mistakes in its execution. We launched it too late, the payment platform was inefficient. But in a sense it was a big learning experience.
And even still, we met our goal. That allowed us to understand that readers are willing to support and donate. From the beginning of 2015, we knew we wanted to carry out a bigger fundraising campaign.
How did you launch the campaign?
El Faro is very focused on the quality of our investigations, always. And we’ve been very conscious that many readers are based outside of El Salvador. So it was obvious to us we needed a campaign that went beyond our country, and that we could — and should — target various niches.
The campaign was constructed around two major groups:
Readers in El Salvador, during a time of great political polarization. Remember that in 2015, El Faro received various threats and attacks meant to undermine our credibility. In that sense, the campaign was a way of reaffirming ties with our readers. You could make $1 donations. That really activated the campaign. It made it feel like a website open to everybody. Everyone could donate.
Readers based outside El Salvador; specifically, Salvadorans in the U.S. We knew that there were fewer of them, but we wanted them to contribute greater amounts.
What were some of the tangible results of Public Excavation?
Lots, from seeing people’s solidarity to seeing businesses and small startups join in. For example, one of the biggest creative agencies in El Salvador worked on this campaign for free. There were multiple businesses and producers who contributed to the campaign with ideas, posters, videos. Artists donated their work. Comedians. Actors. The campaign lasted a month.
Our symbolic goal was to reach 500 donations. At the end, we had 570. The financial goal was US$20,000. At the end it was US$27,000.
What did you learn?
So much. We were very content. It confirmed our hypothesis that it was worth doing. We reached our emotional goal of reinforcing our bond with our readers — making them participants in the medium. They knew the money would allow us to do what we already do, with greater depth.
The campaign also made us build a model and a message. We heard thousands of ways to run a crowdfunding campaign, but in the end we placed our bets on offering our readers connection: “We promise you more transparency and more information about what’s happening in El Faro...” That’s the commitment we’re making. But the most important is what we promised: to do journalism.
This article is a translated excerpt of a piece originally written by Mexican entrepreneur Jordy Melendez for SembraMedia, which was founded by ICFJ Knight Fellow Janine Warner. Learn more about her work as an ICFJ Knight Fellow here. Read the full article (in Spanish) here.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Tax Credits.