The ten commandments of crowdfunding for journalists, based on the successful campaigns of Brazil's A Pública

  • By
  • April 24, 2018

This article is part of the series, "Innovators in Latin American Journalism," published by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, with the help of Open Society Foundations' Program on Independent Journalism.

By Natalia Viana*, director, Agência Pública

Since 2013, Agência Pública has raised more funds through collective financing on the Catarse platform, the largest in Brazil, than any other journalistic organization. We held three campaigns, one every two years, to finance our Reportagem Pública (Public Report) project. In total, 2,429 readers supported us with R $231,167 (about US $67,000).

The figure may seem insignificant compared to international campaigns such as the one conducted by the Dutch website Der Correspondent, which raised more than 1 million Euros. But crowdfunding, like other fundraising strategies, depends on the local culture. And Brazil is a country that has little tradition of individuals donating to NGOs, and no tradition of funding for journalism. We were the first organization to raise funds for investigative journalism and, on the way, opened doors for other groups.

This will be, in fact, my first piece of advice to anyone who intends to venture into crowdfunding: study your environment. There are crowdfunding platforms in each Latin American countries. Are they doing well? What types of campaigns are succeeding – even outside the field of journalism? It is important to talk to people who have campaigned in their own country to understand what works and what does not.

Also look for the directors of these crowdfunding platforms. In our experience, it is critical to join a company that will support you as a partner, in fact, and will not let you down.

The second step will be to stop and think: do I really want to do this?

A crowding campaign requires a lot of energy. It is even more exhaustive than seeking financing in other ways, like through grants or funders. There is one simple reason: you will have to convince people who are not accustomed to paying for journalism to become donors.

But that's precisely the grace of crowdfunding. It is not just a way to raise money; it is a way to spread new ideals and invite people to be part of building something. Donors will have to feel they are part of a bigger project, a group with which they identify.

In our case, Reportagem Pública is also a call to readers to participate in our Editorial Board. Each donor receives, by email, three investigative proposals that our team wants to produce, and they vote every month. The winning story is carried out by our reporters, who also dialogue with Board members through a closed Facebook group.

So think about whether this is the model you want for your organization. There are many independent sites that prefer to work with paywalls, for example, in a scheme that is more similar to buying a newspaper on the newsstands.

You thought about it? You’re going to do it? Now think about how you're going to convince a person to share their salary with you. And think that this is almost sacred. Nobody has an obligation to give you money just because you do journalism. How will you persuade people that they will be benefitted by donating to you?

One appeal that works very well for journalism is to campaign to carry out a specific investigation because you will be able to mobilize people who are interested in that subject, even if they do not care a lot about "defending journalism." Or consider writing a book, because readers will see that their donation is actually an "early purchase" of a product that interests them.

We have always opted for "all or nothing" campaigns in which the money goes back to the donor if the goal is not met. This brings the feeling that everyone is part of the campaign and depends on everyone persuading more people to reach the goal. And that makes it all the more exciting!

Another important lesson from those campaigns is to look at them as a marathon, not a 100 yard dash. In Brazil, campaigns ideally range from 30 days to 45 days – that's a very, very long time –and you need to be prepared.

You need to have a strategy for each week, targeting different groups that might be interested, with a communication tactic every week, with different angles of the project, and use different campaign materials such as pictures and videos. A successful campaign does not go the whole time just asking for money. It explores other aspects such as rewards, support from well-known people, and focusing on the journalistic work being done and the promises of what will come.

There is still a golden rule for anyone who is going to carry out a crowdfunding campaign, which I can not help but remember: a person will only make a donation after hearing about the campaign 3 times. Therefore, it is necessary to explore different ways of getting your message out there. Do not just keep posting on Facebook. Look for websites that cover journalism to post a note, try to get interviews about the campaign on radio and TV shows, send a big mailing campaign, and of course, post ads on social networks that target people who visit your page and interact with your content.

Finally, I leave the reader with the Ten Commandments of Crowdfunding. They are mantras that, in my opinion, any organization should keep in mind at all times:

1) To convince others, you need to be convinced of the importance of your project. Be honest with yourself and believe

2) No one does a crowdfunding alone. You need to find partner organizations that will help you spread the word; involve your entire team; and get close readers, friends and colleagues who will carry the flag

3) Invite people to participate and think of ways to let readers feel part of the campaign

4) Think of good rewards that will attract people interested in receiving them

5) Be organized, develop a good strategy that varies from week to week

6) Be transparent regarding goals, intention and use of money

7) Look for various channels to publicize your campaign

8) Talk, talk, talk a lot about your project, talk all the time

9) Keep your word. Do everything you promise.

10) Celebrate every bit of support you receive. Keep yourself excited and keep everyone around you confident.


Read more:

Escola digital do Catarse, maior plataforma de financiamento coletivo do Brasil

Studies about sites La Silla Vacía (Colômbia), El Faro (El Salvador), Labo B (Mexico) e Efecto Cucuyo (Venezuela) at Sembramedia

Crowdfunded Journalism: A Small but Growing Addition to Publicly Driven Journalism, do Pew Research Center

*Natalia Vianaa journalist with 18 years of experience, is co-founder and co-director of Brazil's Agência Pública. She has covered stories of Tibetan refugees in northern India, indigenous people being massacred in Colombia and in favelas in Cancun, Mexico, human rights violations by the authoritarian regime in Angola and their relations with the Brazilian company Odebrecht. She is the author and co-author of four books on human rights violations: Planted in the Ground (Conrad, 2007), a denunciation of political assassinations in Brazil between 2003 and 2006, Jornal Movimento, a Report (Manifesto, 2010) and Habeas Corpus: Introducing the Body (Secretariat of Human Rights, 2010), on the political disappeared and the e-book The Bishop and His Sharks, on the impeachment of Fernando Lugo in Paraguay (Agência Pública, 2013). As a reporter and editor, she has won several journalism awards, including the Vladimir Herzog Human Rights Award (2005 and 2016), the Comunique-se Award (2016/2017), the Women's Trophy Press Award (2011/2013) and the Gabriel García Márquez award (2016).

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.