Small and nonprofit news outlets can serve a great public good. They can fill and bring attention to niches that mainstream publications cannot afford to dedicate their time to. They can provide focused news to a region when commercial models have led to regional and local news declines.

But how do you fund such a thing? Whether a ramshackle and scrappy news organization or a large professional outlet like NPR, you still need to figure out how to pay for equipment, personnel, and more. Being a nonprofit or very small organization means you’re not in the business of making or having much money, so how do you raise that money, especially when advertising money becomes harder and harder to come by.

Organizations need money. Thankfully, there’s a lot of ways to do it.

Donors can go a long way towards starting such an outlet, as was the case for investigative and analysis outlet The Intercept.

That does not mean getting money from donors is inherently better than private investment or commercial advertising. It creates the same ethical strain that heavily relying on particular advertisers is, in that you are beholden to them albeit not explicitly. Labor also needs to be compensated.

Memberships and live events have created diversified revenue streams for nonprofits like NPR and the Texas Tribune which has allowed them to have robust staffing and output, while not being as beholden to the interests of large donors.

Many small media creators have turned to subscription platforms like Patreon or Substack to support their work.

Incentives such as donation and membership rewards, such as exclusive content, can help provide the needed push for people to become subscribers or members. Some independent podcasts, for instance, have found it very successful to have every other episode behind a paywall, tempting listeners to pay for and engage with the otherwise free media. The modern gonzo vox-pop journalism of All Gas No Brakes has adapted videos to this Patreon model as well, giving the power of paywalls to small-time creators as well, with Substack acting in a similar way for writers.

If these models are getting popular then, is it going to get too saturated to work? Especially as a small creator or one with limited resources, comparing yourself to YouTube channels and outlets with hundreds of thousands or millions of fans and visitors can be tempting and daunting. Thankfully, to sustain your work, it does not have to be that way!

If you are working alone, for example, you would only need to convince 1000 people to become what founding executive editor of Wired magazine Kevin Kelly calls “True Fans”. This group would be those you convince to give that money, while also appealing to a wider group beyond it. Of course his calculation of $100 a year per individual fan being a good place to meet is not going to be the same ideal, especially for larger initiatives and non-profits, but it provides a good framework to go off of, especially when combined with other revenue sources. If you convince 1000 people to give $5 a month, that’s $60,000 on top of what revenue you earn from advertising, live events, large donors, or if a non-profit, grants.

If you plan on starting a news outlet, funding can be challenging. However, an array of options are available, and that means you should utilize an array of different solutions to find success.


Reuters | Google, Facebook show power of ad duopoly as rivals stumble

Institute for Nonprofit News | Starting a Nonprofit News Organization: Revenue Models: The Big Eight

The Intercept | About

Slate | Nonprofit Journalism Comes at a Cost

Nieman Storyboard | Exploring the Rise of Live Journalism

Texas Tribune | 2019 Annual Report

Graphtreon | Top Patreon Creators

Substack | Foreign Exchanges

Patreon | QAnon Anonymous

Patreon | All Gas No Brakes


Kevin Kelly | 1000 True Fans

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *