News website Forum.tm recently completed Croatia's first-ever crowdfunding campaign for a media project, raising nearly double their original fundraising goal and attracting hundreds of backers. It's a success story that could be a helpful model for other small, independent journalism projects struggling with financial security.
The fundraising campaign's goal was to help support Forum's self-described "fearless journalism." The investigative journalism project, which is co-sponsored by local nonprofit House of Culture, was founded in 2013 by a group of Croatian editors and reporters. They'd previously worked at larger newsrooms, but wanted to start an independent news site that focused on serious, high-quality political journalism.
Forum initially set a modest goal of raising US$5,000 (35,000 Croatian kuna) when it launched its crowdfunding campaign in November 2016. While the initial goal was meant to take into account Croatia's struggling economy, Forum managed to raise the entire amount less than 24 hours into the campaign. In total, the campaign raised just over US$9,000 (about 62,000 Croatian kuna, enough to pay Croatia's monthly minimum salary for nearly two years).
This success is a positive sign, given Croatia's grim economic climate. It shows that, if pitched correctly, crowdfunding projects can succeed even in smaller, struggling media markets. A major challenge facing independent Croatian journalists is lack of local funding — in early 2016, the then-Minister of Culture abolished the organization responsible for issuing grants to media nonprofits, and cut all funding to media nonprofits for the 2016 fiscal year. This, in part, prompted Forum's crowdfunding campaign, as without those funds, the organization would no longer exist after two to three months.
In a phone interview, Forum founding member and editor Iva Borković summarized what she thought was crucial in pulling off a successful crowdfunding campaign for a small media outlet:
1. Good timing. Forum was the first media organization to turn to crowdfunding following the government's change in policy. In many ways, this meant they were facing the ideal fundraising climate, as the public was already aware of government hostility toward media nonprofits and was willing to express support, Borković said.
2. Support from other media organizations and journalists. Forum's crowdfunding campaign was widely covered by Croatian media and even counted other journalists and editors among its backers. The campaign has also resulted in a 20 percent boost in Forum's readership, Borković said, another sign of public interest in an independent political news site.
3. Honesty. "We didn’t try to sell it as anything other than what it was, but clearly stated that we needed support to survive the next few months," Borković said.
4. Humor. Forum used a witty and humorous tone when describing what rewards their backers would receive in exchange for donations, which helped provoke further sympathy for the campaign, Borković said.
Other factors that may have influenced Forum's success include preparation — the team prepped the fundraising effort for at least a month, with assistance from a team of volunteers who'd already run their own successful crowdfunding projects. These volunteers offered advice on what platform was best suited for Forum's crowdfunding campaign (they ended up selecting Indiegogo), how many rewards they should offer, and so on.
Forum also succeeded thanks to their DIY principles — they didn't hire expensive consultants to produce glossy videos explaining their project. Instead, one of Forum's journalists filmed the videos on his mobile phone — he learned how to edit video just a few days before the campaign launched, thanks to a workshop organized by the European Federation of Journalists. Forum showed that a crowdfunding campaign may have a greater chance of success if you focus on timing and getting your core message out to your target group in a way that feels authentic.
Despite the campaign's overall success, the Forum team has pointed out that crowdfunding is a stopgap measure for financing journalism, not a long-term solution. While Dutch news website De Correspondent did succeed in raising a record EUR1.7 million in 2013, examples of news organizations that subsist entirely through crowdfunding are hard to come by. Forum hasn't entirely figured out how to become financially sustainable — but its campaign suggests there’s a way forward for independent journalism even in small media markets.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Andrew Holmes.