Knight Foundation study finds uneven growth among news nonprofits

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A Knight Foundation study of 20 nonprofit news organizations found mixed success in growing income and recommended that outlets broaden revenue sources and experiment with offering new services.

Among nonprofits surveyed were the Texas Tribune, MinnPost, NJ Spotlight, VT Digger, The Lens and Grand Rapids, Mich.–based The Rapidian. The report was the third in a series.

The foundation learned that total revenue among the organizations had grown 73 percent from 2011 to 2013. But the growth of more successful organizations, such as the Texas Tribune, outweighed flat or declining revenue at five nonprofits.

“Nonprofit news organizations offer the potential to become part of the bedrock of a strong local news and information ecosystem,” the report said. “The field of nonprofit news, as illustrated by the 20 organizations profiled in this study, has continued to scale its impact and inch closer toward more sustainable business models. But progress has been uneven and for the majority of organizations in the study, sustainability is just a premise on the distant horizon.”

The report also found that ad sales, the most common source of revenue, were flat in 2013. But sponsorships — “corporations or institutions that pay to associate their brand with the content of the nonprofit news organization” — and event revenue grew. State and regionally focused sites outperformed locally focused ones, bringing in about twice the revenue.

The study’s authors advised nonprofit news organizations to set business goals, experiment with new services, move from donor to member models, and stay focused on developing infrastructure needed to grow.