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Three ways nonprofit news outlets can grow individual giving in 2021 and beyond

August 10, 2021

The annual INN Index report on the state of nonprofit news, released in June, uncovered a surprising trend: despite 2020 being a year of crises, nonprofit news outlets grew by almost every measure (more revenue, more outlets, more stories and bigger audiences). Individual giving, or donations from individuals ranging from major gifts to small-dollar contributions, drove the sector’s revenue growth.

Individual giving grew for nearly two-thirds of outlets in the INN Index survey sample from 2019 to 2020. Median revenue from individual giving increased to $118,000, a 41% gain from the prior year based on our subset of organizations with comparable financial data. 

From 2019 to 2020, individual donor revenue grew for nearly two-thirds of outlets. Source: INN Index Report

Nonprofit outlets went above and beyond during a crisis year — providing public health information during a pandemic, delivering nonpartisan news on political candidates and issues during a pivotal election, and giving context and history during our country’s reckoning with racism. People noticed, used this service, and supported it financially. 

INN knows there are key opportunities ahead that will allow nonprofit news outlets to continue the individual giving momentum. Below, you’ll find three ways nonprofit news outlets can grow individual giving contributions in 2021 and beyond. 

1. Incentivize recurring contributions

News outlets should incentivize recurring financial contributions over one-time gifts. Recurring contributions lead to loyalty between contributor and news outlet, ultimately increasing the lifetime value of the contributor. Setting up your member or donor contribution form to default to recurring, monthly contributions over one-time contributions is one way to do this.

Compared to public media, it’s clear that outlets across the Institute for Nonprofit News network have room to grow when it comes to building recurring gifts. Recurring donations make up only 5% or less of total individual giving revenue for a sizable share of INN members — 40% of Index survey respondents. Compare that to Greater Public’s annual benchmarking data, where the average public media station converts between 40% – 50% of small-dollar and mid-range givers to recurring, monthly donors. See the retention chapter of Membership Puzzle Project’s Membership Handbook for more on incentivizing recurring contributions. 

2. Grow mid-range contributions

Mid-range contributions, or donations ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, present another opportunity for individual giving growth. From 2019 to 2020, the average revenue from mid-range donors per outlet and the number of mid-range donors per outlet decreased by about 20%.

INN knows there is an opportunity to grow existing, small dollar donors into mid-range contributors. In a review of more than 20,000 small donations to 45 different news sites, the INN Network Philanthropy Center found over 40% of the donors analyzed had the financial capacity to give substantially more (or to become major donors of $5,000 or more a year). While not a representative sample, the findings broadly point to the need for more mid-range gift development.

Major donor contributions make up the majority of individual giving dollars for nonprofit news. Source: INN Index Report

3. Suggest planned giving to major donors

Gifts from major donors account for the majority of individual giving and act as a stable backbone for many nonprofit news outlets. Yet, securing planned giving contributions from these major donors remains an underutilized tactic for nonprofit news. Only 8% of our survey respondents said they secured planned giving commitments in 2020, indicating a strong need and opportunity for more training and coaching on how outlets can talk about planned giving with their supporters. Planned giving comes in different forms, but essentially means gifts made during someone’s lifetime or at death as part of a donor’s overall financial planning (including equity, life insurance, real estate, personal property or cash). 

How INN can help

Interested in growing your news outlet’s individual giving, including midrange contributions and planned giving commitments? INN’s Network Philanthropy Center can help coach nonprofit news fundraisers on how to engage major donors or even pitch a planned giving ask. Whether your organization is a startup newsroom or a long-running publication, there is an opportunity for all INN members to increase individual giving with access to a library of tools and shared services that guide nonprofit news organizations toward sustainable fundraising efforts.

To get started today, click here or email Jeffrey Woolverton, INN Network Philanthropy Director at

See INN’s full 2021 Index report for more information on the state of nonprofit news, and the opportunities ahead. 

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