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Correspondent Derron Lee tells the story of the changing nature of community journalism through one independent news operation that started as a for-profit venture before making the transition to a nonprofit. The words “now a nonprofit” now appear on the front page of The Frontier, a local news site founded in 2015 by Robert Lorton.
But what does the ideal revenue model for a community-oriented, public interest newsroom look like? The Knight Foundation, a supporter of business model development in the field of nonprofit journalism, recently highlighted the approach of De Correspondent, a Netherlands-based news organization based on membership. De Correspondent has more than 56,000 members who pay about $63 a year to support its 21 full-time correspondents and 75 freelancers. It is exploring a launch in the U.S.
The big difference in De Correspondent’s approach, writes Jay Rosen, is that the organization is intentionally “optimized for trust.” Practically speaking, that looks like no ads, no targeting, freedom from the 24-hour news cycle, and “writers at the center with room to run.”
There appears to be related but different DNA in the potential appeal of the De Correspondent approach compared with, for example, public broadcasting and common nonprofit revenue models. The difference starts with basic definitions. Redefining what “membership” means will be critical to whether the De Correspondent concept succeeds.
For many nonprofits, the definition of a “member” is someone who completes a small gift. These members are often later asked to give more for recurrent special projects, “like” the group on social media platforms, and renew annually. In the case of advocacy groups, contact with public officials or speaking out on timely issues is requested. Redefining the meaning of word “member” might mean letting supporters define what they find most interesting and valuable.
While many nonprofits brag about their engagement and involvement with their donors, there are far fewer truly successful ones from the point of view of donors than one might wish to imagine. The De Correspondent approach appears to intentionally turn that relationship upside down. It has promise.