When COVID-19 hit Peterborough, journalists Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson saw their community was searching for information and connection. They knew that vulnerable communities would be disproportionately impacted by COVID, and that local media wouldn’t cover many of their stories.
So they launched an email newsletter.
With Indiegraf’s help, they quickly attracted more than 1,700 subscribers to the Peterborough Currents newsletter, which they produce weekly off the side of their desks. As the pandemic dragged on, and they received grateful feedback from their readers, they realized there was a need to expand Peterborough Currents into a full-fledged, permanent digital news outlet for their community.
In summer 2020, without even having launched a website, Peterborough Currents asked their readers to help make their vision a reality by becoming Founding Members. They raised more than $20,000 in a few short weeks.
This week, Peterborough Currents launched the website that their community helped them build. To celebrate their milestone, we wanted to share lessons from their successful Founding Member campaign.
How did they know when to ask their readers for money?
The first indication was that Peterborough Currents reached a sufficient number of email subscribers to drive revenue.
Not only did they have over 1,700 subscribers, but there was a clear need for their journalism. The cost of attracting each new subscriber from paid advertising was low, which indicated there was demand in Peterborough for in-depth journalism. And once subscribed, readers were very engaged. Their average email open rate was at 40 per cent and over half of their subscribers had five-star ratings on MailChimp, meaning they were highly engaged readers.
The Peterborough Currents team also circulated a survey to their subscribers before the campaign, asking whether they’d be willing to pay. The response was very positive.
All of these signals suggested that they genuinely had that community connection they needed to succeed.
How did we set a campaign goal? What did we learn?
Based on these metrics, we predicted we could convert 200 subscribers to Founding Members, an 11.5 per cent conversion rate. If each paying supporter kicked in $100 on average, Peterborough Currents would raise $20,000. So that became our campaign goal.
In the end the campaign converted 169 supporters. The actual conversion of email subscribers to Founding Members was 9.75 per cent, which is more in line with industry norms of 10 per cent.
Despite overreaching on our estimated conversion rate, Founding Members contributed more than we anticipated: an average of $128. The campaign raised $21,645 in total, exceeding our goal. By inviting Founding Members to choose from a variety of pricing choices and set their own contribution amount, Peterborough Currents readers stepped up.
How did they tell their campaign story without a website?
All Peterborough Currents had, in terms of digital presence for its newsletter, was a landing page. They worked with the Indiegraf team to evolve the landing page to invite people to contribute financially.
Through surveys and interviews with their readers, Will and Ayesha had developed an understanding of why their audience valued their work. This helped them craft campaign messaging that emphasized the quality of their writing, community connection and journalistic independence.
They were also sure to be very concrete about what their Founding Members were paying for: expanding their journalism, building a website, pursuing longer term investigations on specific topics and hiring local freelancers to diversify the voices they publish.
How did people find out about the campaign?
Will and Ayesha then worked with Indiegraf to tell their campaign story in other formats, including email and social media. Campaign emails drove more traffic to the payment page than any other source. It was important that they published strong editorial content during the campaign period so they continued to deliver value to their audience while asking for support.
Founding Members who came to the payment page from email also contributed more on average ($134) than those who came from social media ($48). This is likely because email subscribers knew and valued Will and Ayesha’s work from receiving their newsletters.
Facebook and Twitter were also important drivers, and we ensured people saw their Facebook posts by spending about $500 boosting their campaign posts.
They also held a virtual event, inviting a well-known local podcaster to host questions from readers. This event showed their readers that they were serious about being accountable and transparent to their community.
Interestingly, although people found out about the campaign almost entirely online, only 60 percent of the transactions were made via the digital payment page. The other 40 percent came via cash, cheque or email money transfer. This suggests that many people are uncomfortable with credit card security, and so it was important to provide alternative ways for people to contribute on the payment page.
What we learned for next time
For the Indiegraf team, we learned that clear communication with our partner publishers is key. Going forward, we plan to consistently have kickoff meetings and a dedicated project manager for every campaign.
The Peterborough Currents team wished that they had better anticipated some of the questions their readers would ask. They recommend preparing a FAQ document in advance.
Finally, in order to maintain momentum over a 3-4 week period via social media and email, campaigns need lots of high-quality visual assets to keep the campaign fresh.
In the news
- ProPublica is opening three new regional reporting hubs.
- These journalists are starting their own outlets rather than be laid off in newsrooms owned by hedge funds.
Have a tip, pitch, question to ask, link to include, or opportunity you want to promote? Send it to me!
And one more thing…
Here’s one creative way to make use of your local obituaries section.