INNovation Fund

The INNovation Fund is a $1 million grant over two years to spur business innovation in the nonprofit news industry.

Nonprofit news publishers are true believers, committed to informing the public and strengthening democracy. But they are also business owners who have to meet the same economic realities facing for profit media and technology organizations.

We believe that innovation is key to sustainability in the nonprofit news and public media space. So together with the Knight Foundation, we have launched the INNovation Fund to help online news providers diversify their revenues, invest in their businesses and experiment with technology innovations to help increase their prospects for long-term viability.

We hope that this fund will encourage experimentation, collaboration, lesson sharing and above all increase the ability for these organizations to have long-term, positive impacts on the communities that they serve.

Q: Who can apply?

Nonprofit, online news organizations in the United States and public media organizations. Organizations that don’t have their own 501(c)(3) exemption but operate under the fiscal sponsorship of a 501(c)(3) can also apply.

Q: What about projects that are not in the U.S.?

Projects must be part of a U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit or be a fiscally sponsored project of a U.S. 501(c)(3) project.

Q: How much are the grants?

We will accept grant proposals for around $35,000 but expect grants to average about $25,000.

Q: Will you fund content projects?

Grants will be limited to investments in sustainability and initiatives that show how audience engagement can translate into revenue. We’re open to all ideas, but proposals must stipulate how the innovation will help the organization increase and diversify revenue, or increase audience size and engagement.

Q: What are the deadlines?

Check our INNovation Fund page for the next deadline.

Q: How should the projects measure success?

In each case it will be up to the project to determine what metrics make sense. The metrics must be quantifiable, verifiable and sharable for future guidance on similar initiatives. For instance, if a project aims to increase audience engagement, it could track the number of people who sign up for newsletters or attend events, not just general web traffic.

Q: How can a recipient spend grant money?

The grants can be used to help an organization cover hard costs for any “shovel-ready” project that it believes may help diversify its revenue either in the short or long term. In this case “shovel-ready” means projects that have already sourced necessary resources and secured firm estimates of costs.

The types of projects we expect to fund include but are not limited to:

  • Events: Money to hire an event coordinator, to secure space, for marketing and to cover costs of selling tickets.
  • Technology: Money to build a mobile app, as well as market it.
  • Sales development: Money to hire a sales consultant to develop a corporate sponsorship or local advertising sales offerings and materials.
  • Services development: Money to develop and create a data or news application or development services for third-party paying customers.
  • Membership development: Money to hire a street team to go to local civic events to garner sign-ups for a newsletter or membership product.
  • Operations development: Money to hire a business consultant to review internal costs or to develop a plan to reduce overhead and third-party expenditures.

Q: Who will decide the winners?

INN’s management team will review the applications and make recommendations to the INN board to pick winners. Learn more about our grading process here.

Q: Will my project be made public?

If you are selected as a winner of an INNovation Fund grant, INN will document on its website and possibly on other platforms a public profile of your project, updating it at the end with “lessons learned” and results. You will be expected to share your experiences and results, the good, the bad and the ugly. We learn a lot even when we fail.

Q: What about the intellectual property created by the INNovation Fund projects?

All intellectual property for any work, including technology or systems developed under this fund, will be shared with INN and open sourced for use by the sector. For example: If a new piece of software or mobile app is developed, the source code will be posted publicly and available for use under an open source license.

Q: What questions should my application answer?

Applications will only be accepted via the online form, available on the INNovation Fund page. The application includes such questions as:

  • What are you proposing, and how does it fit with your organization’s sustainability plan?
  • What do you hope to learn from this experiment?
  • How will you know if the initiative is successful?  And how will you measure success (please provide specific objective metrics)? Where have you seen this idea work before, or is this new?
  • What resources (internal and external) do you need to conduct the initiative?  Have these resources done this type of work before? Do you need assistance in locating resources to make this a reality?
  • Please provide a line-item budget (you may provide a standard profit and loss template for this)

Q: How can I apply?

Complete the online form on the INNovation Fund page. We accept applications twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall.

Q: How can I talk further with the INN and Knight teams about the INNovation Fund?

Email us or tweet using the hashtag #INNFund.