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The INN Index

Staffing & Capacity

The nonprofit news workforce expands 

More people are working in nonprofit journalism — a byproduct of an increased number of news outlets opening and receiving capital investment. We estimate that INN’s digital-first members (not including public broadcasting organizations) employ more than 4,500 people, including editorial and non-editorial staff. Of those, roughly two-thirds are editorial staff. The overall staffing number for core digital operations represents a 17% increase in workforce size compared to the previous year, slightly higher than 15% growth the prior year.

The median staff size for a nonprofit news outlet in our sample is more than five people (5.5 FTE), with more than two-thirds (69%) of staff performing editorial duties. Only about one in 10 staff members are devoted to revenue generation, including charitable fundraising (7% of total personnel), and generating earned revenue (4% of total personnel). Another 20% of personnel are devoted to other non-editorial activities such as administration, audience development and technology.

The staffing size of an organization is largely dictated by the age and geographic scope of the outlet’s coverage. Local outlets tend to have about four people on staff, whereas national or global organizations have a median staff size of 10, ranging from no paid staff to more than 195 FTEs. Startup outlets in their first three years of operation, unsurprisingly, will often have a lower count of staffers — usually between one to three people.

INN members can jump to our Pods benchmarks for more on staffing counts. View the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Index Report for more demographic data of the people behind nonprofit news and the most common equity and inclusion practices across the sector. 

Volunteers fuel many nonprofit news outlets

A growing number of nonprofit news organizations say volunteers play significant roles in their operations. The number of organizations getting volunteer help has edged up slightly in recent years as more local outlets have launched. Volunteers represent one way that bootstrapping outlets can operate with lean budgets and more established organizations can engage community members in their work. Volunteer burnout and churn, however, may pose challenges for managers and ongoing staff sustainability. 

Well over one-third (37%) of the organizations surveyed said volunteers play significant roles in their executive leadership, editorial assistance, and fundraising — up from 28% five years ago. (The question wording differed between these years, making for an imperfect comparison, but the data suggests there has been a measurable increase in reliance on volunteers.)

The number of local news startups that opened around the same time accounts for much of the increased reliance on a volunteer workforce. Nearly half (46%) of the more than 150 local outlets that responded to the survey said volunteers play a significant role in their organization. Sixteen organizations, half of them local, report that they have no paid executives. 

How do volunteers help a nonprofit news outlet? Six in 10 volunteers assist in editorial efforts, while 1 in 10 assist in either revenue development or executive administration. Board members often take on executive or editorial tasks that are outside their role. During data collection we encountered multiple outlets where board members were acting as unpaid executives.

Related: How a volunteer force helped launch and sustain nonprofit outlet NancyOnNorwalk 

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