So you want to apply for a grant?

I bet you never thought your independent journalism career would lead you to 10-page funding applications with multiple addenda — but here we are.

I don’t need to tell you grant writing can be depleting. But I am here to tell you grant writing can get easier.

Whether grants make up a big or small part of your funding strategy, more opportunities are out there for journalism outlets of all sizes. And in Canada, nonprofit news outlets can now seek qualified donee status, which opens even more doors. I touched base with Indiegraf co-founder and CEO Erin Millar to surface the key points you need to succeed.

Think about your funding strategy

There are a lot of opportunities out there, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense to apply for all of them. Millar says there are two ways to think about grants: as part of your revenue or as seed funding.

Nonprofit media outlets that aim to have grants make up a portion of their annual revenue will want to build relationships with funders for the long haul and work to have grants renewed year after year. For other outlets, one-time grants should be considered investments for growing targeted aspects of the business (membership, audience etc), not as a source of revenue. Select your grants accordingly.

Talk to someone 

Pick up the phone and talk to a program officer, advises Millar. There’s always a decision-maker behind the screen, often assigned to assist people with exactly the questions you have.

Just because you think the grant is a perfect fit doesn’t mean you’re eligible. Or, the way you describe your work does not fit within the context of the funders theory of change (more on that later). “They don’t want to waste your time. They don’t want to waste their time. They want to help bring forward really strong applications for their funding,” says Millar.

Even if you learn you’re not eligible, you’ve made a potential contact that can prove useful down the road. If you later apply and don’t get it, they might be more inclined to give you constructive feedback. Just call.

Be up front 

Have a conversation about journalistic independence and the terms of involvement off the top, especially for funders that don’t typically support journalism.

It may be tempting to want to contort yourself to serve the needs of a funder, but ethics must always come first. “If they get cold feet about that, it’s way better to surface that before you put a bunch of energy into writing up a proposal or getting involved in a project,” Millar says.

Also, be very clear about what you would need to produce in order to fulfill the grant so there’s no surprises. This will also help you determine the actual investment required on your part.

Look at the actual costs

Beyond the time and energy it takes to get a grant out the door, keep in mind that, unfortunately, most grants do not cover basic operational costs like tech, labour and accounting. They’re most often project-focused. And while a grant may seem like a lot of money, it might not be once you account for actual costs from start to finish.

“I think there’s a risk of putting together a budget for a project, and then getting that project and then feeling like you’re even broker because you actually don’t have the full capacity to deliver on it,” Millar says.

Be cautiously ambitious in your promises so that you’re not ultimately putting a financial burden on your organization to get the grant. Make sure it serves your organization in the long run.

Articulate the impact of your work

Remember that grants are a transaction often in the form of impact for money. It may be obvious to you that your work is important and in the public interest. “But ultimately, the onus is on us to explain why journalism is a worthy impact investment of this grant,” says Millar.

This is not the same task as describing the specific things you’ll produce (known as deliverables). This is about using the power of storytelling to explain what exactly the stories you plan on producing will do for the community you’re trying to serve, Millar explains. The more narrative-driven, descriptive and evidence-based, the more you’ll capture the imagination of referees and stand out from the rest.

In doing this, use your research skills to your advantage and figure out what motivates the funder. Most nonprofits have a clearly outlined theory of change, which articulates (often in the form of a diagram) how they aim to achieve their goals. If they use specific key words, use them, too.

Expand your network 

“I think it all comes down to relationships a lot of the time,” Millar says. “Invest more time into building out your network and asking for advice.” If grants are a big part of your funding strategy, Millar recommends putting together some kind of advisory board made up of funders who can help with networking and strategy.

“Sometimes the best way to get money is to ask for advice,” Millar says. Ask yourself who your ideal funders are and ask them to help you develop your strategy before asking for money.

Final hot tip: Save your application. You can often repurpose content from previous grant applications, but only if you’ve documented your late-night efforts. Since many applications are submitted by online form, be sure to copy the text to your own records before you hit send.

For more tips on grant writing, check out this guidebook produced by the News Media Alliance. They also produce a list of grant opportunities.

In the news

Have a tip, pitch, question to ask, link to include, or opportunity you want to promote? Send it to me!

And one more thing…

Poynter’s Kristen Hare has put together a list of newsrooms in Minnesota you can support.

Apply for the June cohort of the Indie News Challenge

Have you ever wanted to start your own news outlet? Applications are now open for the June cohort of the Indie News Challenge, Indiegraf’s flagship accelerator to help independent digital media launch and grow. The deadline for applications is May 20.

With more than just newspapers across North America shuttering during COVID-19, entrepreneurship and innovation are urgently needed to fill gaps. But media ownership can’t only be for people who can code or have buckets of money — it’s for anyone who believes in the mission of journalism.

We can help you do it. Here’s how. 

What is the Indie News Challenge?

Over nine weeks, a group of journalist-entrepreneurs work together to build community news products from as early as the idea stage to attracting their first subscribers and readers. Through weekly Zoom seminars, exercises, one-on-one feedback and a community of like-minded peers, you’ll develop your idea into a prototype with early traction and a clear plan you can share with potential funders, partners and members.

Here’s how Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson, co-publishers of Peterborough Currents, described the experience: “We launched our newsletter, attracted a large audience of email subscribers, gained motivation and energy for our product, secured some funding, learned how to think strategically about our product and revenue streams and received lots of encouragement. Wow!”

Who is the Indie News Challenge for?

We are currently accepting project ideas from startup and established publishers in Canada and the United States. If you’re ready to start sharing your idea with the world, the Indie News Challenge is for you. We especially encourage BIPOC journalists and storytellers to apply. We are committed to supporting the growth of Black, Indigenous and POC-owned media.

What does the Indie News Challenge cost?

The full cost per participant is $5,000. Thanks to our funding partners, we can offer the Indie News Challenge at a subsidized fee of $500. Equity is important to us, so we never want cost to prevent people from becoming journalist-entrepreneurs. Grants are available to those for whom cost is a barrier to participation.

What is the time commitment required?

The time commitment required is approximately eight hours per week for nine weeks.

What does the program look like?

  • Seminars: Every week, we will host a 90-minute group seminar via video conference on topics including defining audience, competitive analysis, product development, value proposition and messaging, designing a campaign to test demand, analyzing data and other topics.
  • Activities: Each seminar will lead to an activity you will be asked to complete by the end of that week. Activities will include tasks like doing interviews with community members to understand their information needs or developing messaging to describe your value proposition. They may take several hours to complete.
  • One-on-one feedback: You will send us the results of your activity each week. We’ll provide one-on-one feedback in either written format or a 30-minute call.
  • Sharing learnings: You will share what you learned from the exercise with others in the cohort through Slack and our weekly calls.
  • Campaign: The exercises will build up to a small campaign to test your assumptions about demand for your product. You will invite your target audience to subscribe to a newsletter or contribute financially or whatever call-to-action makes sense for the stage of your project. This will provide an opportunity to rapidly iterate on your value proposition as well as generate data that can inform your projections about audience and revenue. We’ll provide a small grant to fund digital marketing costs and roll up our sleeves to help produce this campaign, as needed.
  • Output: You’ll capture your analysis based on each week’s exercises in a slide deck that will concisely describe the opportunity you have identified and how your new product will fill it. This output will help you produce funding proposals or present to investors, following the program.
  • Presenting your vision: Once you’ve successfully completed the program, you’ll have an opportunity to present your slide deck and vision to a wider group at an upcoming Indie News Showcase. We will invite potential funders, partners and other news entrepreneurs from our networks (and yours too, if you like) who can provide helpful feedback, make connections and contribute to your next steps.

What can you expect to accomplish during the Indie News Challenge?

Here are a few examples of how journalist-entrepreneurs advanced their projects through the Indie News Challenge.

  • IndigiNews surveyed community members on their information needs, developed their strategy and launched their website.
  • Peterborough Currents launched a weekly newsletter, grew their first 1,500 subscribers, and laid the foundation for a Founding Member campaign, which generated more than $20,000 in funding.
  • Sun Peaks Independent News saved its community news service by pivoting its print, advertising business model to digital, membership-based as local ad revenues collapsed during the first wave of COVID-19.
  • La Converse grew its newsletter subscribers, and conducted market research that contributed to a funding proposal that secured multiple grants.
  • Sask Dispatch launched a Founding Member campaign that generated over $10,000 from readers to fund their website build.
  • The Resolve launched its newsletter, grew its first 2,000 subscribers and developed a clear plan that secured seed funding.

What else do Indie News Challenge publishers get?

Participating in the Indie News Challenge also gets you ongoing access to the Indiegraf community, where you can learn and connect with other Indiegraf publishers via our Slack workspace and virtual events.

Projects that successfully complete the Indie News Challenge qualify for discounts on Indie Tech, Indiegraf’s powerful, beautiful and cost-effective CMS, and Indie Engine, analytics and digital marketing services designed for small publishers. Projects may also qualify for funding from Indie Capital following completion of the program.

More questions? 

Fantastic — that’s what we’re here for. Drop CEO and co-founder Erin Millar a line here

APPLY HERE BY MAY 20.

How Afros In Tha City collaborated with The Sprawl to amplify its journalism

In the summer of 2020, Calgary joined thousands of cities worldwide in protesting police brutality and racial inequality. This global movement naturally made headlines daily, and I couldn’t help but notice that almost every piece of local coverage I read was written by a white reporter. It was then that the gap in Alberta’s media landscape became obvious to me. I knew we needed a change.

Within a matter of weeks, I connected with a group of Black Calgarians who also agreed it was time for something different in the local media landscape. It was time for us to be able to share our own stories without them being filtered through the lens of a white editor. It was time for a hyper-local, tropeless, stereotype free platform where the breadth of the Black experience could be explored with nuance. It was time for Black voices to be amplified.

We launched Afros In Tha City Media in October 2020, and in just five months, we went from being 100 per cent volunteer-run to having an established membership program and paid writers.

The success of Afros In Tha City can be largely attributed to the partnerships we established early on, including one with The Sprawl, a local, independent news organization.

The Sprawl and Afros In Tha City are both focused on local, crowdfunded, slow journalism. And while on paper Afros In Tha City could be seen as a competing platform for The Sprawl, we chose collaboration over competition, resulting in incredible success for our new media collective.

What a partnership can look like

The Sprawl was one of the first organizations to make a financial investment in Afros In Tha City Media. However, our partnership grew into a dynamic collaboration complete with mentorship, events and ongoing support.

Mentorship 

Any new media organization can benefit greatly from mentorship, and our team was no exception. We had no idea how to launch a media publication. (Real talk though: does anyone?) Not only that, but our team of writers did not include one technically-trained journalist. The Afros In Tha City team is made up of art and sociology students, as well as public relations professionals. Needless to say, having someone within the industry to provide training and support to us was crucial.

In the early days of Afros In Tha City Media, The Sprawl provided our team with interview tips, feedback on story creation and support with identity development. The Sprawl also supported us in developing our membership program.

Events

Events can be a great mutually-beneficial collaboration tool. For a small, up-and-coming publication like Afros In Tha City, a single event provided significant exposure. For The Sprawl — an established publication — an event with us gave them the opportunity to engage their audience with unique content.

In February, The Sprawl hosted a panel with Afros In Tha City to discuss Black futures. The event sold out with an incredible amount of engagement. Approximately 30 new members signed on to the monthly membership program. 

Amplifying

The Sprawl amplified our message by writing a feature on Afros In Tha City, sharing our content and helping promote our membership program.

Supporting BIPOC media

Canadian newsrooms are not the most diverse spaces, but this has led to the rise of new media outlets run by racialized people. The time to start decolonizing news is now, and as news entrepreneurs — or even just people who consume media — we all have power to amplify the messages of those who have been historically silenced.

Collaboration is a great way for existing publications to support the rise of BIPOC media. While not every outlet has the ability to provide financial support or mentorship to new publications, amplifying underrepresented voices is a simple collaboration tool that can enrich Canada’s media landscape.

In the news

Have a tip, pitch, question to ask, link to include, or opportunity you want to promote? Send it to me!

And one more thing… 

Canadian publishers: help J-Source by completing the Canada Press Freedom Project questionnaire.

Indiegraf wins new CJF-Facebook Journalism Project Digital News Innovation Award

Indiegraf, a platform for independent publishers and journalists, is the inaugural recipient of the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF)-Facebook Journalism Project Digital News Innovation Award.

The award celebrates initiatives that power journalism’s future by recognizing news organizations that advance the quality of digital journalism.

‘We had no idea how fast Indiegraf would take off when we launched early in the pandemic, but it’s now very clear that entrepreneurial journalists are eager to collaborate to fill gaps in community news,” says Erin Millar, CEO and co-founder of Indiegraf. “This award, and acknowledgment from our industry, is so encouraging.”

Since launching in spring 2020, Indiegraf has helped 34 news outlets across North America grow their audience and revenue. Indiegraf helps journalist-entrepreneurs launch digital news outlets and drive revenue from readers to empower homegrown journalism.

“Even in a strong field of contenders, sometimes there’s one application that stands out from the rest,” says jury chair Susan Harada, associate professor of journalism at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication. “For the jury, it was Indiegraf. Its work — powered by a public-spirited desire to provide meaningful local journalism to Canadians — is underpinned by the foundational belief that journalism exists for the greater good.”

This new award promotes the work of Canadian startups, local and national news outlets, as well as supports new initiatives and projects. Innovation can come in a wide range, including new formats for audiences, new storytelling techniques, data-driven storytelling, new digital products produced by the newsroom, community involvement in story development or partnerships and team approaches to reporting and producing stories.

The award will be recognized at the CJF Awards virtual ceremony on June 9 at 7 p.m. ET. Sign up to watch the free online event and view the sponsorship opportunities.

Here’s how to use keyword research for news

Imagine this for a moment: you’re laying on the couch with your spouse, and they ask you if your toe, which is looking a little weird these days, is alright. You say, “yeah, babe, it’s fine.” But secretly, you’re consulting Dr. Google, wondering if you should maybe call the clinic tomorrow.

Everybody lies. It’s natural — we find ways to tell white lies every day. It’s called social desirability bias, a social science theory that says we tend to answer questions based on the chance they will be viewed favourably by others. We overreport “good behaviour” and underreport seemingly bad or undesirable behaviour — how many sexual partners, how much money we make or how long it took our kids to use the potty.

But why would we lie to Google? Search engines can help us answer the questions we’re asking, but don’t want the world to know. 

Google can tell us a lot more about what people really want to know than most crowdsourcing avenues. 

Read more: Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a *must* read on this topic. Strongly recommend it.


THE 101 

Using search for research

When beginning your research, start with an idea. Is there a topic you want to explore a little more? Did an editor ask you to check if there’s any interest in a topic? Basic income was trending on Twitter — is there a broader interest in search? We can take that topic (basic income in Canada) and perform keyword research.

In marketing, keyword research is usually one of the first steps in a strategy — you want to find out:

  • What keywords do I rank for vs. my competitors?
  • What keywords will convert customers?
  • What do people search to find my product? 

In a newsroom, keyword research answers a lot of these questions, but with a different lens:

  • What are other publications writing on this topic? Can we write a more engaging story? 
  • What underreported story ideas could bring in a new audience? (New readers to add to the top of our audience funnel or become paying subscribers.) 
  • What would I search to find my story?
  • What has my publication already written on this?

In order to effectively use search to help our content, we must first understand why people search.

Regardless of where they end up, people search based on a particular intent.

  1. Transactional: The searcher is actively looking to spend money. This could be anything from buying a cheap camera to a New York Times subscription. They want a conversion (buy a camera) at the end of the search journey.
  2. Local: The searcher wants to find something within the area — whether that’s a hip new coffee shop, somewhere to get their hair done or maybe that late-night burrito after one too many quarantine beers. “Near me” is a common phrase added to the query. 
  3. Navigational: These people are lazy and put “Facebook” into the search bar and then click the link in the search results. Don’t worry. I do it, too.

These intents, while useful to know, are not so relevant to journalism. The informational intent is the need most journalism falls into.

  1. Informational: The user wants to fill in a knowledge gap about a topic. They often search with the five W’s: who, what, when, where, why and how. 

Read more: 3 steps to better content by using audience understanding

Now that we know about search intent, we can use this to perform research that will inform our content strategy.

Read the rest of WTF is SEO? here.


In the news

And one more thing… 

You can register now for RISE, the inaugural Canadian conference for racialized journalists. 

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