‘How I successfully crowdfund my journalism’

Danielle batist delivering constructive journalism workshop, photo by tom lawson
Danielle Batist delivering a constructive journalism workshop. Credit: Tom Lawson.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published March 19, 2015 by Sarah Hartley, cofounder and editor of Contributoria, a crowdfunded community where users decide which stories get written.

Danielle Batist is an independent journalist who is one of the most consistently successful writers on Contributoria.com in terms of securing backing for her work – funding at least one article a month for the past year, mostly two. In fact she’s managed to fund 22 articles in nine months via the site. I was interested to hear how she does it and to share her experience for the benefit of other writers looking to crowdfund their work on the independent journalism network.(Disclosure: I am editor/co-founder.) Here’s what we discussed during an interview today.

The main tools she uses are an email newsletter, her blog and social media. The email newsletter she uses to keep people informed about her Contributoria work is a specially selected list of people who have chosen to receive the conversations about the crowdfunding site, rather than her more general newsletter.

When she first started with Contributoria, Danielle told her general newsletter subscribers what she was doing and asked those interested to sign up to this new one. It’s not the biggest subscription list, approx. 150 people, but all the members are particularly interested in this activity.

I wanted to make sure that I was giving people something that they wanted to receive, especially if I am knocking on their door every month. You can have hundreds and hundreds of subscribers but then not many people will open it. I always check the click and open rates for the newsletters. If you’ve ever done any marketing, and many journalists haven’t, but that is a skill set you need for any sort of crowdfunding. I have really high engagement – 70-80% who open the emails – because I only send them out to a group I know who want it.It’s not so much about numbers as quality. The main point I think is consistency. I have dates in the calendar every month and stick to them.

The email cycle begins at the start of every month with Danielle outlining what she has recently had published thanks to the subscribers’ efforts, as well as outlining what’s coming up that she is looking for support with.

And the information about the support required is very detailed. She estimates that helping people (to help her) takes at least a couple of hours every month.

“You have to make it very clear, with some people you have to actually ring them up and talk them through the process.”

On the financial side of things, the emails are very specific about what money is required and what the money is being used for.

For example, if it is about travel I try to explain about it and what I do. For non-journalists, they don’t necessarily know how it works and you have to point out that if you’re travelling to New Orleans or Chile you’re going to need the first couple of thousand pounds just for flights and then there’s food and getting back before you start with the time.

This diagram I saw at a crowdfunding event in Norway last week shows the typical journey of a crowdfunder – friends and family first, then friends of friends, and then a need to get out into the world.

As with all crowdfunding activity and, shown the diagram above, Danielle’s first port of call is with family and friends but it is her approach to the wider potential of community of interest around her articles which I find particularly inspiring.

A photo from a story about the Homeless World Cup in Chile published in the November 2014 issue of Contributoria. Credit: Danielle Batist.
A photo from a story about the Homeless World Cup in Chile published in the November 2014 issue of Contributoria. Credit: Danielle Batist.

Take her coverage of the Homeless World Cup, a story she’s been covering for ten years for a multitude of publications. Knowing the topic so well meant Danielle had knowledge about many people already involved and interested in the subject – volunteers, referees and organisations etc. They were not the same people who’d sign up to back her work (or even usually read in English).

She was able to target the organisations she was writing about – sometimes simply urging them to tweet to their own followers – as well as a wide net of individuals and groups she knew would be interested in the subject whether or not they would be interested in getting involved in her other endeavours.

In addition to pitching one-off topics, Danielle has also been funding an entire series on Contributoria. She told me that her ‘someone I met’ feature had been something of an experiment to see if people would be interested in reading whatever she came up with each month, rather than her spelling out exactly what they should expect in return for their support.

I have also been promoting the series on my website, which some people have told me they first found it and started supporting: http://daniellebatist.com/someone-i-met. Some months I get creative about where I promote my proposals: at the bottom of my email signature, in newsletters to ‘fans’, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other places.

Finally, just in case you think this all sounds rather exhausting, here’s what Danielle had to say about the pressures of crowdfunding versus traditional pitching.

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Sarah Hartley
Sarah is editor and cofounder of Contributoria.com, a crowdfunding magazine and part of Guardian Media Group.

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