Advance warning: This post contains some dated and self-promotional material, but I did want to point to an article posted recently by Matt Sollars on the CUNY News Innovation site.
For the article, Matt asked me last month to look at CUNY's not-for-profit model and make an amendments I saw fit. When he and Jeff Jarvis rolled out their "New Business Models For News" project at the Aspen FOCAS09 conference in August, the first thing that struck me was the high expectation for advertising support (something like 50% of revenues by Year 3). But the more I looked, the more I thought that the model needed to reflect the maturation of a nonprofit's membership program.
Though community-oriented journalism nonprofits such as MinnPost are a recent phenomenon, nonprofits have been doing membership campaigns for a long time. And one common experience is that big donations tend to drive smaller ones. Call it a socialization effect or whatever you like, but people often follow the example of leaders in their community. Ultimately, the membership gift chart starts looking like a pyramid, beginning with a few big gifts at the top and filling out with growing numbers of smaller gifts at the bottom.
So back to the CUNY model: I used a typical pyramid from the Hank Rosso text on fundraising as a guide to adjust the number of donors over the first three years. It bumped up the potential revenues from membership campaigns by about $200,000 for an overall budget of about $3 million.
Of course, as helpful as the CUNY models are in helping us envision new journalism enterprises, they are at best informed speculation. The more important aspect of the membership campaign is that it helps keeps nonprofits attuned to the needs of the communities they serve. In that regard, a well-executed campaign is about more than money.