Seven Years of Experimenting with Philanthropy for Local News

NewsMatch is built on years of creativity, experimentation and collaboration in philanthropy.

Josh Stearns
6 min readDec 26, 2019

We are days away from the end of NewsMatch 2019, which promises to be the largest fundraising campaign ever, in support of nonprofit news (go donate now!). NewsMatch is a national campaign and matching grants program which, year-after-year, has proven to be a profoundly successful way to expand giving to local news and help newsrooms develop more sustainable connections to their community.

The success of NewsMatch is built on more than half a decade of learning and experimenting with innovative philanthropy that combines newsrooms, foundations and the public to strengthen media and democracy. There are so many people who’s partnership and creativity have inspired and taught me lessons that we’ve woven into NewsMatch, and it is why we see NewsMatch as a constant space for experimentation as well.

We stand on the shoulders of many others who helped us get here, and we hope that people will build on what we’ve done too. Here are some of the experiments and ideas that have inspired and taught me lessons we’ve woven into NewsMatch over the years:


In December of 2012, the same year that #GivingTuesday was created, I launched a Twitter campaign to encourage people to give to nonprofit news and encourage others to do so by tweeting who they were donating to with the hashtag #give4news. I argued that nonprofit news needed a digital fundraising effort like public media pledge drives, and that the #give4news hashtag could work like “I voted” stickers. By encouraging people to go public with their support I hoped to encourage others to donate as well.

Also in December 2012 I was part of a team that launched the Freedom of the Press Foundation to create a new model for contributing to nonprofit investigative journalism. We didn’t have an endowment or even much of a budget, but we focused on creating technology that could make journalism more sustainable and resilient. When it launched, the Foundation featured two innovations: It emphasized collaborative fundraising over competitive grantmaking, and it tried to lower the friction of giving to news by letting people support multiple newsrooms with one donation. We modeled some of this on the Humble Bundle approach.


In 2014 I joined the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation where Molly de Aguiar was both director of communications and a program officer funding local news and information. She had created an end of year campaign and giving guide called the Jersey Give Back Guide. With a few clicks and some clever animation the website helped people find nonprofits that match their interests and provided a one-stop shop to donate to great causes around the state. On their website they wrote that the Dodge Foundation launched the Jersey Give Back Guide “to experiment with creative ways philanthropy can support the nonprofit sector and to raise awareness of the importance of year-end giving.”


In December of 2015, Molly de Aguair and I wrote a blog post — building off of a conversation with David Bornstein of the Solutions Journalism Network — called “From #GivingTuesday to #GivingNewsDay.” We wrote that “Giving Tuesday is an important hook for end of year fundraising, but it is at its heart a marketing effort designed to leverage social media and strategic partnerships to encourage a culture of giving. Nonprofit news needs just such an effort, but on Giving Tuesday journalism organizations are nearly invisible.”


In December of 2016 the Knight Foundation launched the first NewsMatch campaign with 57 of their grantees. They called NewsMatch “a call to action for everyone who believes in quality, trustworthy, in-depth journalism and the role nonprofit news organizations play in building strong communities.” Knight’s website collected links to the donation plages of all those newsrooms in one place and said they would match all donations up to $1.5 million total. (2016 was also the year that the News Revenue Hub launched to help newsrooms grow their audience and run successful membership programs.)


In 2017 Democracy Fund and MacArthur Foundation joined the Knight Foundation along with the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to build on the NewsMatch model to create a nationwide campaign for all nonprofit newsrooms who were members of the Institute for Nonprofit News. We launched, which was the first one-stop website where you could search for more than 100 nonprofit newsrooms by location or issues and give to multiple newsrooms with one donation. Jason Alcorn joined as the project coordinator and News Revenue Hub created a fundraising toolkit and training approach to ensure that NewsMatch would also help build the long-term capacity of newsrooms. NewsMatch become hosted at the Miami Foundation, which also allowed us to create mini-funds so that partner funders could create specific matches for newsrooms covering certain issues or places. We launched #GivingNewsDay as part of NewsMatch.


In 2018 NewsMatch entered its third year with 150 newsrooms participating. For the first time the program attracted corporate as well as foundation support, with a $1M donation from the Facebook Journalism Project. We also grew the number of partner funds and started working to help local newsrooms use NewsMatch to forge new relationships with local funders. More funders than ever set up local matching challenges directly with local newsrooms parallel to the NewsMatch campaign. In an effort to incentivize new donors and reoccurring monthly donors NewsMatch instituted a new set of bonuses and began matching new monthly donors at a full year’s value (so if someone signs on as a monthly donor at $10 a month in December, NewsMatch will match that at $120). Jason Alcorn was joined by Elizabeth Tillis, who helped us build a communications campaign including celebrity endorsements and press coverage of nonprofit news leaders.


We are now almost through NewsMatch 2019 with nearly 200 newsrooms participating this year. We have seen growth in nearly every part of the campaign — new corporate donors, new foundation supporters, new local and issue-focused match funds. Newsrooms have been more successful than ever in securing local matches from their community and we are seeing organizations hit their goals earlier in the campaign. Local funders who participated in NewsMatch in the past have not launched major local efforts of their own, mobilizing their peers to support local news alongside them. This year we launched an online campaign headquarters to make NewsMatch training and technical assistance easier to find, and we translated core materials into Spanish.

NewsMatch wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for so many smart people along the way who were willing to try new things, to experiment with how philanthropy works, and to share what they have learned along the way. Every year I am amazed at the clever and successful ways local newsrooms use NewsMatch to support their goals. NewsMatch creates pathways for innovation to trickle down and bubble up, to criss-cross the country and to adapt to the needs of diverse local communities. I’ve been so lucky to work on this program, and grateful for all I’ve learned along the way.

Donate at before December 31 to have your donation doubled.

Josh Stearns is the Director of the Public Square Program at Democracy Fund. Follow him on Twitter.



Josh Stearns

Senior Director, Public Square Program at the Democracy Fund. Journalism and democracy of, by and for the people. Formerly: @grdodge @freepress