Not all good things are free. That’s why reader revenue is a big part of sustaining the hard work of independent publishers.
We asked our team (and our network of partner publishers) to share some insights on best practices for reader revenue campaigns. Here are their tips:
Asking for money can get awkward, but it doesn’t need to be. It can be as simple as reminding your readers that their support makes your reporting possible. Most people limit their calls for support to specific revenue campaigns, taking a lot of time and effort to organize everything. Instead, we suggest simply sending out a “Support our work” email every once in a while. You can even build one into your welcome series so it sends out to any new subscriber 2 months into their subscription.
Guilt your super-readers
There’s always that one reader that devours every single story you publish yet never clicks on the support button. That’s perfectly normal — sometimes people just need an extra nudge. Build a segment out of the people with the highest open and click rates (on Mailchimp, this would be the 4- or 5-star contact ratings) and send them an email saying, “Hey, we know you love us.” If you’re using segments already, make sure to exclude current supporters!
Supporters and donors like to know where their money is going, so it’s good to build your ask around a specific goal. For example: “We need your support to hire a new democracy correspondent.” Or: “Help us hire more local artists to enliven our work.” Another good way to do this is by assigning each tier of support to a specific goal, like The Land did during its year-end campaign. These examples work because they clearly state where the money is going while simultaneously highlighting the impact for the greater community: when you support us, you support your own neighbors.
Talk about your impact
You’re not just publishing content for the sake of content. You’re providing an important service to your community by keeping people informed and holding the powerful to account. When building a revenue campaign (or a simple ask via email), highlight your impact. If you have specific examples (like this investigation, launched in response to reporting from The Discourse), include them!
If you start feeling like all the impact talk is getting repetitive, bring some new voices to the mix. In your years of local reporting, you have most likely built a bunch of solid relationships with prominent members of the community. Ask them to write a brief testimonial highlighting the importance of your work and why it matters for the greater community. Also, be sure to ask them to share and promote their own testimonial!
When asking for support, it’s always good to open up and build an emotional connection with readers. Erin Whitney, operations manager at The Independent, wrote a very frank behind-the-scenes email about the outlet’s finances for its year-end campaign. “I think it’s good to remind people that indie journalism isn’t a hobby project, it is vital and it is people’s actual livelihoods,” said Erin.
If necessary, send out an S.O.S
While we’re on the topic of being frank: sometimes the need for support is rather urgent. If you’re in such a situation, don’t be afraid to let your readers know. When the Peterborough Currents team found itself in a pickle last year, they quickly turned to their community with an S.O.S. call. This appeal is a great example to draw from: it’s honest and urgent, but it also outlines the plan for getting the outlet back on solid ground. This serves a double purpose: it lets new potential supporters know where the money is going and lets the community know that their local news outlet is in good, responsible hands.
Track, tag, resend
Sometimes newsletters get lost in the sea of emails. During revenue campaigns, try resending your emails to subscribers who didn’t open them the first time. This is especially relevant for emails with good content: personal appeals, impact explainers and testimonials.
Swag it up
Consider creating some swag for your revenue campaign every once in a while. Merch is always a good motivator for people and, if done right, it boosts awareness for your outlet — or your cause, like IndigiNews’ “Decolonize the Media” T-shirts. Swag campaigns are also a great opportunity to team up with local businesses. For their year-end campaign, The Independent got some book donations from local publishers and paired them with Indy swag. Whatever it is you decide to offer as merch (stickers, T-shirts, tote bags, etc.), be sure to check out this article with tips & tricks for a great swag campaign.
Whenever you send out a call for support, be sure to use your community of supporters — starting with your own team. Ask all your contributors (freelancers included) to share your calls on social media. Then, ask your current supporters, friends, neighbors and their dogs to share your posts. The more people see it, the more they will start asking: What is this, and why is everyone talking about it?
Make it easy
If you’re asking folks to give you money, you should make it as easy as possible to do so. Any way you can reduce barriers to donate would help: set up an easy-to-use support page and offer up different levels of support that include one-time, monthly and yearly options. If you have a big Facebook following, you can even run a Facebook fundraiser along with your regular campaign. Whatever you do, make sure to give people plenty of options to support you (Stripe, Venmo, PayPal, Google Pay) so they can select the one they’re most comfortable with.
Make it fun
It’s hardly ever that serious, so don’t forget to make things fun for your readers and yourself. There are many ways to make fundraising fun, as many of our partner publishers have taught us. One of our favorites is teaming up with local businesses like Tone Madison did last November. We love this example because it truly works for everyone: the outlet raises revenue and increases brand awareness, the business gets a big night’s worth of new customers, and readers get an opportunity to meet other locals who care about their community news outlet.
Reader revenue is a big part of the independent media movement. Raising money directly from your readers lets them be a part of what you’re building, ultimately helping keep local news in local hands.
If you’re thinking of launching a reader revenue campaign but are unsure of where to start, get in touch! The Indiegraf team can help you build the right strategy, craft the perfect messages and even set up a beautiful and easy-to-use support page (like this one). Don’t be shy, reach out now!