10 actions to improve financing through readers, according to three digital media outlets in Latin America

In the search to create solid and lasting sustainability models, digital media in Latin America have resorted to multiple strategies. Financing through readers is one of these that is repeated in different variants, whether donations, crowdfunding campaigns on social networks or complex membership programs.

CIPER, from Chile; Agência Pública, from Brazil; and La Antígona, from Peru, are digital media in the region that have innovative financing models through their audience that have allowed them to support themselves over time and simultaneously strengthen their bond with their readers.

These media shared 10 strategies with LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) that they consider important when seeking income under this modality.

1. Capitalize on successes

The best strategy to attract contributions from readers is good journalistic investigations, said Claudia Urquieta, community editor at CIPER. The journalist said that the media outlet has published reports that have had an impact on the Chilean public agenda and that have resulted in a significant number of new members in the media's membership program, Comunidad +CIPER.

In 2020, CIPER published a report that revealed that the Ministry of Health was reporting to the World Health Organization a higher number of deaths from COVID-19 than what they reported to Chileans every day.

“That generated an earthquake. In fact, the next day the Minister [of Health], who was already highly questioned, resigned,” Urquieta told LJR. “After that we had a couple of days in which 600 members came.”

Something similar happened more recently, after the publication of a report about the leak of audio that revealed alleged acts of corruption. In the following days, the media outlet added around 700 members to +CIPER, Urquieta said.

It is good practice for media to monitor the impact that their articles have and to communicate it to readers regularly, said Maria Martha Bruno, coordinator of Aliados, Agência Pública's reader contributions program. This helps show the audience concrete examples of what journalism is capable of doing to support democracy in a country.

“It's important to show them also the impacts that our work has in real life. So this is something that we always try to communicate as well,” Bruno said. “When we communicate this sort of impact, it resonates among our audience and it's a way to bring them on board. [...] We track the impact of our work weekly, and we all communicate it to our audience weekly as well, so they are on the same page that we are.”

2. Seek recurring contributions versus one-time donations

Both CIPER and Agência Pública offer the option of receiving one-time donations from the public, but both media agree that their main aim is recurring contributions.

“Our effort focuses above all on memberships,” Urquieta said. “Donations have a peak when something happens, just like memberships, but the difference is that a donation is one time, so it doesn't allow you to project.”

According to CIPER's 2022 income report, that year the media received more than 29 million Chilean pesos (about US $308,000) in recurring donations from COMUNIDAD +CIPER partners. That same year, unique donations from readers reached just over 10 million Chilean pesos (US $11,300).

Bruno said that recurring donations are also the business model that Agência Pública trusts most in, so their efforts are focused on attracting readers to join the Aliados program.

“Pública is also funded by other means but when it comes to the relationship with our readers, we prefer and we choose the recurrent donations, but it doesn't mean that we don't appeal to the unique donations,” she said.

This year, as part of its coverage for the 60th anniversary of the military coup in Brazil, the outlet began experimenting with placing QR codes in the headers of its newsletters calling on people who have been impacted by its journalistic work to make one-time donations. Bruno said that they do not rule out also placing these codes in some reports in future reporting.

3. Team crowdfunding

One of the biggest obstacles for young entrepreneurial journalists who decide to create a media outlet is raising resources, according to the regional journalism organization Distintas Latitudes. With this in mind, in 2021 the organization formed Coalición LATAM,, a strategy to help a group of small media outlets from several Latin American countries grow collectively.

Instagram post showing the logos of the newsrooms that make up the LATAM Coalition.

Uno de los objetivos de la Coalición LATAM, integrado por redacciones de varios países, es buscar colectivamente nuevas vías de financiamiento. (Foto: Instagram de Distintas Latitudes)

The LATAM Coalition, which according to its website took inspiration from the Media Alliance of the Red de Periodistas de a Pie, from Mexico; and the Rebel Alliance, made up of the digital media Tal Cual, Runrunes and El Pitazo, from Venezuela, seeks the exchange of experiences, the establishment of editorial alliances and the implementation of a common financial sustainability model.

This model consists of a crowdfunding campaign on Patreon in which journalists who are members of the Coalition offer content, advice or services (consulting, workshops, etc.) in exchange for donations that are distributed each month among the 10 media outlets of the Coalition.

“It is a significant support because with that amount we cover, for example, the annual payment for our website, or it also serves as petty cash to use to advertise an article on social networks,” Emma Ramos, one of the directors of Peru’s La Antígona, which is a media member of LATAM Coalition, told LJR “When photojournalists have commissions that are outside of the city or an event that we have to cover, we also use [that fund] for transportation.”

4. Run campaigns with specific goals

The media consulted agree that crowdfunding campaigns work best when there is a defined goal and a deadline to meet it. CIPER has carried out campaigns requesting specific amounts from members before a certain date, almost always within the framework of some event, such as the media outlet's anniversary, Urquieta said.

On another occasion, the Chilean media outlet called on its readers to donate to the purchase of high-end computers for its newsroom. Placing counters on the website and graphics of the fundraising progress on social networks encourages donations, the journalist added.

Similarly, last year, Agência Pública launched a campaign to add 2,000 subscribers and thus have the resources to produce “Caixa-Preta do Bolsonaro” (Bolsonaro’s Black Box), a series that investigated what was hidden behind the classification imposed by the former president Jair Bolsonaro on hundreds of documents with public information.

“These campaigns they're very effective because they raise the sense of belonging, the sense of emergency,” Bruno said. “With the campaigns that have a deadline is when we realize that they feel more involved and that they are aware that they are joining something with a specific purpose.”

La Antígona also resorted to this type of campaign at the beginning of 2023 to raise funds to purchase protective equipment for its journalists who were covering the marches against President Dina Boluarte, in which violence against journalists had been recorded. The Peruvian media used social networks to call on citizens to support them in this cause and managed to raise resources to purchase helmets and gas masks, Ramos said.

“We had seen some colleagues who had already had this type of incident, attacked by a pellet or by a police officer,” Ramos said. "Then we said that we did not want the same thing to happen with our collaborators and it is because of them that we turned to the readers, to see if they could collaborate with us, including our account number and our telephone number."

5. Appeal to emotions

The campaign for “Caixa-Preta do Bolsonaro” was designed to appeal to Brazilians' desire to regain the right to access information that Bolsonaro had restricted. For the Agência Pública team, appealing to readers' emotions is highly effective.

“They were sharing with us the desire to again have access to information, to free information, which is a basic right for healthy democracy that was partially taken away from us,” Bruno said. “One of the reasons for the success of this campaign I think was that our communication is fully directed to their feelings. We tune in to the feelings of the Pública audience.”

Establishing a warm and affectionate relationship with the subscribers or donors of a media outlet is another way of appealing to emotions that CIPER has put into practice.

“We focus a lot on building a form of communication with them that is not as serious, like the communication we have at CIPER,” Urquieta said. “We are much more affectionate. We call them if they ask something, if they have a problem and can't continue, we talk to them. We have a logic that they are part of the team, that without them there is no team.”

6. Take advantage of all communication channels

To communicate with subscribers or potential subscribers, any existing communication channel of the media outlet can be used. This includes social networks, email and telephone, but also other types of more sophisticated channels, such as virtual meetings, according to the experiences of CIPER and Agência Pública.

In addition to having a specific email for member service and a person dedicated to answering their phone calls, CIPER recently opened a WhatsApp group for members in which material is sent to share. A week after its opening, more than 200 members had joined the group, Urquieta said.

Additionally, the media outlet holds a monthly virtual meeting with its partners called Café con CIPER, in which they discuss CIPER's investigations, how they were carried out and the main findings, among other topics.

Agência Pública also talks with its donors about the “behind the scenes” of their reports through the weekly newsletter exclusively for “allies”. According to Bruno, in this newsletter the media has “a very direct one-to-one communication” with them.

“Our newsletters are a very powerful tool to reach this audience because we understand that the audience that has opted in for receiving our newsletters in their inbox,” she explained. “They are already closer to us in what we consider ‘the middle of the funnel [of attracting subscribers].’ We can have a different type of conversation.”

7. Have an audience editor on the team

One of the main lessons for media who participated in Fondo Velocidad, directed by SembraMedia and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), is the advantages of having a journalist performing the role of audience editor or community editor. That is, a journalist who is in charge of managing interactions with readers and the efforts to finance the media outlet through them.

“The most important thing is that [an audience editor] has a journalistic vision, and therefore manages to understand the way in which we must tell our partners what we are doing, which are issues of public interest. A financier sometimes cannot understand that very well,” Urquieta said. “People feel calm and confident that they are talking to a CIPER journalist, who is seeing the commercial part, but who is part of a team that understands what is being worked on. We are not trying to sell you detergent.”

At CIPER, the audience editor is part of the sustainability team, made up of five people – four journalists and a designer. This team represents a third of the media outlet's total staff of 13 people.

In the case of La Antígona, which is a team of 14 employees, the directors also make up the sustainability team of the media outlet.

“Everything regarding the issue of financing is handled by the Board of Directors. We try to meet once a month to review the petty cash, expenses, income and expenses of the organization,” Ramos said.

8. Invest in social networks

When it comes to attracting subscribers to a media outlet, or maintaining existing ones, social networks are a great ally, in Urquieta's opinion. The journalist said that CIPER recently ventured into TikTok in order to reach a young audience. However, they realized that many of their existing partners were on that social network. This has led the sustainability team to consider investing in promoting content on TikTok, just as they do on other digital platforms.

“We have [paid posts] on Facebook and Instagram, which is what serves us the most, but we are also seeing that there are several people on TikTok who comment that they are interested in being a partner or that they are partners, so perhaps we are looking at the possibility of investing as well there something to see how we are doing,” she said.

Since 2022, CIPER has published videos on TikTok in which journalists talk about the main findings and relevance of their investigations, and call on the audience to join Comunidad +CIPER to make more stories possible.

9. Take advantage of live events

Although digital campaigns to attract contributions can be very effective, there is nothing like in-person events in which a newsroom can be face-to-face with its readers, Bruno said.

The journalist said that in the recent round tables and series of debates that Agência Pública carried out on the occasion of its 13th anniversary, they had a recruitment of new “allies” similar to the conversion rate that one of their newsletter campaigns had last year.

“The good one-to-one meeting is still very effective, because the conversion rate of a live event is very high,” Bruno said. “Of course an event takes more energy and more effort but [...] at the event we had a golden opportunity to talk to our subscribers, to our ‘allies,’ to do some audience research. It's a very valuable opportunity to improve our relationship with them and to get to know them better, so we can enhance the program.”

For its part, CIPER has held the el Festival +CIPER, Periodismo para la Ciudadanía (+CIPER Festival, Journalism for the Citizens), for three consecutive years. It’s an in-person event in alliance with the Journalism Research and Projects Center of Diego Portales University that seeks to bring people closer to the journalistic work of the media outlet through panels and conversations.

During the event, there are also workshops for citizens on topics related to journalism or some of the media outlet's investigations. In these workshops, Urquieta said, there is an opportunity for people to learn about the relevance of CIPER's work in their lives and therefore to consider supporting it.

“There are people who may not know you or have heard about you, but it is different to hear you talking about it, asking you things,” she said. “I also think that it is important to do it as much as possible, because as we are such a small team, we cannot go to so many things either.”

10. Pay attention to metrics, not just your gut

Media support organizations such as SembraMedia say that to increase the impact of journalistic content and build an effective sustainability model, it is essential to adopt a product mentality. And a crucial part of that mindset is attention to metrics.

Bruno said that at Agência Pública they are constantly testing and analyzing the metrics of their platforms to find better strategies for attracting “allies.” For Bruno, understanding metrics is a way of listening to her audience.

“We have to trust our gut, but we also have to hear our audience, which is something that journalists sometimes don't do quite well. We hear sources, but we don't hear the audience,” she said. “So we are enhancing tools to hear them and to understand what they want.”

Translated by Teresa Mioli
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