There is no magic formula for engaging with funders, but there are concrete steps your organization can take to improve your chances of securing funding.
“Above all, it’s important to remember that relationships with funders are cultivated before, during, and after you receive funding,” said Gabriela Hadid, the Latin American Investment Representative for the global philanthropic organization, Luminate.
Hadid shared insights during a discussion with women media founders in the Metis program, supported by the Google News Initiative, which helps develop the business skills of women media leaders. “We fund organizations, but [our goal] is to support people, so really we are providing funding to people,” said Hadid.
For her, it is important that the team behind media organizations show consistency and build trust with funders, investing the time needed to cultivate a productive journalist-funder relationship.
But how do you find these organizations that fund journalism projects? How do you start a conversation with them and maintain relationships over time?
Below are Hadid’s recommendations to foster these relationships.
Understand the media funding world before starting a conversation
Get to know the landscape for organizations that fund entrepreneurial journalism.
These include organizations that work internationally, private or corporate philanthropic groups, and companies focused on investing in social causes. As a starting point, visit this section of the SembraMedia website which breaks down sources of funding for journalists and journalism projects.
Analyze the overall strategy and priorities of the funding organization.
Check for the countries the organization works in, if it supports nonprofit or for-profit media companies, if it supports certain topics or specific niche interests. It’s also helpful to determine what types of funding the organization offers, whether that be seed funding for a certain project, or if you have to apply to an open call for applications. You may also need to approach the organization with a strategic proposal. Understanding the guiding principles of each organization will allow you to understand if there is an opportunity for a relationship to prosper between your organization and the funder.
Prepare your team before talking to funders.
Create a clear, engaging pitch to the funder, whether you plan to speak with them formally or informally, talk face-to-face, or send them a written proposal. The ideal pitch tells the story of your media organization.
The funding proposal should also include:
- What your organization plans to accomplish with the funding. This could be growing your audience, expanding the team, developing a new source of income for the outlet, etc.
- What makes your organization stand out from other media companies?
- A specific, clear explanation of the amount of money your media outlet needs to meet its objectives
- A description of the media organization’s team: How many women are on the team? Who makes up the leadership? What steps has the news outlet made toward inclusivity?
- Put your organization’s achievements into perspective. How has your media company grown and evolved since its founding?
- If your media outlet is a for-profit company, provide a clear financial assessment, including the investors your company already has, as well as which investors your organization is reaching out to and the status of those negotiations.
- Explain how your organization will measure mid-project and final impacts related to the goals you would like to achieve with the funding.
Make sure the type of financial support your organization is looking for matches the proposal you submit.
It's critical to not overpromise what you can accomplish if awarded funding. Funders know the media ecosystem, the opportunities available and the limits to what is possible to accomplish with certain amounts and types of funding. An essential element to developing trust with funders is to fully deliver on what you promise.
Be transparent with potential funders about the difficulties your organization or your project may face.
It’s better for a funder to learn up-front about potential challenges, before entering into an agreement. “As philanthropists, we aren’t looking to finance the perfect project, because that doesn’t exist. With the projects we support, we want journalists and their media companies to improve and grow. That’s why it is important for journalists to show their vulnerabilities, so funding organizations can help them overcome the challenges that may arise,” said Hadid.
Starting the conversation with funding organizations
Share information about the inner workings of your organization openly and honestly with the funder.
This is especially important when discussing the sustainability of your organization’s business model, including the limits and potential areas for growth. It’s helpful to talk about your organization’s finances overall, so go beyond describing general donations and the specific funding you are trying to receive. It can also be helpful to funders if media organizations bring up the challenges they have faced, including staff turnover, instances of harassment, or difficulties with inclusion efforts. If these issues don’t surface until later in the funding process, the media organization could lose the funder’s trust.
If your organization is submitting multiple funding proposals to various organizations, make sure those proposals are clear and consistent.
Especially if they are related to the same topics or projects. In your applications, it is best to clearly state the amount of funding you are requesting from each funder and how far along your talks are with those different funders. In some cases, this information can also help one funder facilitate or expedite your conversation with another funder, due to the fact that in the process of analyzing media sites to receive funding, funding organizations often talk with one another.
When awarded funding, make an effort to communicate with your funders more frequently than your agreement requires.
This will help avoid disconnects with your funder and ensure that all parties are working with complete information. This also helps ensure that your funders are finding out about what’s going on at your organization from you, as opposed to receiving updates about your organization from news headlines, social media, or informal conversations with other people in the media world.
Continuing the conversation after you’ve been awarded funding
Create a schedule with the topics that your media organization plans to cover, both in the medium and long term.
Be true to yourself and your organization, don’t let yourself get distracted or thrown off course by topics that seem to be “in style” for receiving funding in the moment. Having a solid body of work is the most useful tool for introducing yourself to future funders — much more so than reporting on current trending topics. This portfolio of high-quality projects will allow you to make a lasting impact on your audience, and provide visibility to both your team and organization.
Report the qualitative and quantitative impacts your organization and its reporting have.
Make sure to provide context. “Don’t fail to see the value of your own work. Even if it takes time to record, a documented impact is one of the things that attracts a funder’s attention the most,” said Hadid. “Use your storytelling skills to highlight your own accomplishments and impacts, and let funders know how your organization and its reporting have changed someone’s life.”
A realistic funding proposal strikes a balance between an organization’s team size, the resources the outlet is requesting, and the desired impact of the project, explained Hadid. For example, it would be inconsistent to have a large team and promise large impacts, but request a small amount of resources to make the project happen, or vice versa. “With many funding proposals, the concerns that arise for funders don’t have to do with the projects being risky, but with project proposals lacking consistency,” said Hadid.
Fabiola Gutiérrez is the SembraMedia ambassador for Bolivia.