ProPublica, the non-profit investigative journalism outfit that launched in 2008 with a substantial gift from Herbert and Marion Sandler, is seeking to widen its revenue stream in more ways than one. Five years after its launch, it is diversifying its funding model and expects to raise more than two-thirds of its revenue from sources beyond the Sandler Foundation over the next few years.
Since its inception, ProPublica has been the beneficiary of Sandler funds since they first committed $10 million a year at the outset. But the Sandlers haven't been without their controversies, which has caused ProPublica to become guilty-by-association in some conservative quarters and a liberal punching bag by some conservative pundits (and proven that neither liberals nor conservatives have the high ground when it comes to financial impropriety).
Is ProPublica's new business model a reaction to the criticism or just good business sense? It's probably a little of both. In its recent announcement, Editor-in-Chief Stephen Engelberg and Managing Editor Robin Fields described the change very matter-of-factly.
"Recently, ProPublica has worked to create a more diverse funding model, seeking earned income and raising money from thousands of individual donors as well as family and institutional foundations.... We have no doubt that the next five years will bring new challenges. More people will get their news from mobile devices and tablets. New kinds of websites will be developed and proliferate. The business of journalism will evolve unpredictably."
This "earned income" comes primarily from sources such as web ads from select organizations, and the individual donations are beginning to come in through sources such as crowdfunding platforms like the Kickstarter campaign. For its part, ProPublica seems to have a proactive and forward-thinking approach to funding — something one might expect from such a dynamic organization.
In addition to the ongoing Sandler gifts, ProPublica also has been the recipient of gifts from George Soros's Open Society Foundations, the Knight Foundation (see Knight Foundation: Grants for Journalism and the Arts), the MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Ford Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation, among others.
Will this new revenue model prove to be the holy grail of funding for ProPublica? Time will tell. But it definitely seems to have the chops, so perhaps other non-profit news gathering organizations should stand up and take notice of ProPublica's approach to acquiring funding.