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Google News Initiative and INN expand Sponsorships Lab

May 5, 2021

The Google News Initiative (GNI), in partnership with the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), today opened the applications of the next round of the GNI-INN Sponsorships Lab. First launched in June 2020, GNI Sponsorship Labs provide news leaders with the knowledge and skills to develop relationships with businesses, build their sales strategy and secure underwriting – all with the goal of making their organizations digitally sustainable.

“We are excited to expand our partnership with INN in round two of the Sponsorships Lab,” says Ben Monnie, Director of Global Partnerships Solutions at Google. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to digital transformation, and we are grateful for the opportunity to work with publishers dedicated to public service, equipping them with tools and strategies to fuel their growth — a key objective of the Google News Initiative (GNI). All lessons generated from this Lab will be shared with other news organizations through the GNI Digital Growth Program.”

In addition to training, the program has also produced in-depth case studies of news outlets that have successfully built sponsorship revenue and a playbook called the Nonprofit News Guide to Earned Revenue, which has been downloaded several hundred times in the first quarter of 2021 as newsrooms increasingly look to business relationships to increase their viability.

“INN studies show that sponsorship is a key business development opportunity for news nonprofits, said Sue Cross, INN executive director & CEO. “Being able to strengthen these skills and digital approaches is a great opportunity for our members and public service news entrepreneurs. And it will result in stronger, more sustainable journalism serving more communities.”

Over a period of three months, the Sponsorships Lab offers coaching and hands-on workshops delivered in partnership with Blue Engine Collaborative — a consortium of mission-driven consultants and advisors, led by Tim Griggs, focused on driving digital audience growth and revenue of all kinds. Participants are also eligible for up to $1,000 of implementation grants after the Lab to build systems and workflows to apply their learnings.

Maple Walker Lloyd, Director of Development and Community Engagement at Block Club Chicago, participated in the first GNI-INN Sponsorships Lab. Maple cites the program’s coaches as key accelerators for some of Block Club’s earned revenue work. Thanks to the guidance of her coach, Susan Scott, Maple launched an advertising referral program for clients and built on their robust newsletter advertisement operation.

As Maple put it: “It’s challenging because we don’t have the bandwidth to implement a lot of our ideas to increase earned revenue. It wasn’t until we joined the training program that my coach, Susan, was able to reframe my thinking about how we could tackle earned revenue in simple ways.'”

For Jim Lehnhoff, coming from the world of commercial media to the local, mission-driven VTDigger meant having to learn the tricks of the trade in local markets. One idea Jim took from the program, thanks to coach Steve Shalit: the power of virtual events. Jim and the Digger team ran a lively virtual event series between November and January that successfully brought in one larger sponsor who supported all five sessions of the series.

Pat Schmitt, Grist’s Senior Development Officer, cited the unique community of earned revenue and sales professionals as a key value-add of the program. “There are existing communities and programs in the nonprofit media space for revenue streams like foundations and major donor fundraising. But I hadn’t seen or been a part of any sort of work like this around earned revenue. Now, having this community is one of the most valuable parts of the program.”

The second cohort of the GNI-INN Sponsorships Lab will include 12-15 news organizations selected from INN members and other nonprofits or public-service oriented news organizations in North and Latin America. This group will consist of established news outlets that already have started to build earned revenue streams and are dedicated to building sponsorship revenue in the coming year – and who have a staff position at least partly dedicated to earned revenue development. INN encourages applications from news outlets serving communities that are under-covered or underrepresented in journalism.

INN members will be joined in this Lab by selected newsrooms from Latin America and Spanish publications, although all Labs and workshops and related materials will be in English.

The online application for the Lab can be accessed here until May 21 at 5:01pm EST.

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