Plus: how you can help the Accelerator in 2019
 
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European Journalism Centre
 
 
Happy new year to everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of Engagement Explained, a fortnightly newsletter brought to you by the team behind the Engaged Journalism Accelerator.
 
We’re excited to be back in your inboxes with another case study and have lots to look forward to in 2019. You can read our Medium post to find out more (including details of when we will announce our latest grantees).
 
In this week’s edition, we have:
  • A look at how The Correspondent masterminded its successful crowdfunding campaign
  • Two must-read articles we’ve found
  • Our plans for 2019 — and how you can be involved
 
Thanks for reading!
 
Try this: The Correspondent’s email-focused crowdfunding campaign
 
In a nutshell
A 30-day campaign to crowdfund $2.5 million to start an English-language newsroom that draws on the same participatory style of journalism of its Dutch sister organisation.
 
Background
  • De Correspondent is a Dutch journalism platform that was founded in 2013 with the promise to be “an antidote to the daily news grind”. It was born following a fundraising campaign that raised €1.2 million from 19,000 members, a record for journalism crowdfunding at the time. It now has more than 60,000 paying members.
  • Following its success in the Netherlands, the organisation recently sought to raise $2.5 million to start The Correspondent in English. The crowdfunding campaign launched in November 2018 was billed as “building a movement for unbreaking news”.
  • After a month of campaigning, The Correspondent reached its goal of $2.5 million with 34 hours left, having signed up 45,888 founding members from more than 130 countries.
 
 
 
Baratunde Thurston in one of The Correspondent's launch videos
 
 
How did they do it?

Planning
  • Ernst-Jan Pfauth and Rob Wijnberg, the co-founders of De Correspondent, moved to the US in November 2017 and raised $1.8 million in philanthropic funding from the Omidyar Network (now Luminate) and other donors to build their own membership tool, set up a US campaign office and create videos and other promotional tools.
  • Ernst and Rob recruited ambassadors who connected with their 10 founding principles, including Hollywood producer Judd Apatow and musician Rosanne Cash, who all shared quotes, campaign messages and appeared in videos to support the campaign. No one was paid (although Baratunde Thurston later joined the team as a paid campaign strategist).
  • 10 people worked full-time on the campaign from the start of November, including an operations lead, engagement editor, operations assistant, developer, designer, and project manager. They also had support from creative partner Momkai, campaign specialists Blue State Digital, Baratunde Thurston and The Correspondent’s Dutch newsroom. They launched the campaign on 14 November 2018.
     
Execution
  • There was a daily 30-minute operations call at 9am New York time (3pm Amsterdam time) to discuss what needed to be executed that day. The team used Slack to communicate key information throughout the day and a Slack bot was also created to broadcast key metrics into a channel every four hours. WhatsApp was also used outside working hours.
  • In the first few days, The Correspondent raised more than $500,000 from over 10,000 members and by the end of the first week, they had $800,000.
  • 21,000 people had signed up to receive information about the campaign before it launched and an email strategy was created with Blue State Digital to encourage these people to become members. Emails came from ambassadors such as Baratunde, or people in the team, like operations lead Zainab Shah. As soon as people converted to members, they went onto a different list and received a different email flow with different messaging.
  • Rob and Ernst had been pursuing shows since February and had met with writers and producers on The Daily Show. On 6 December, Jay Rosen, an ambassador for The Correspondent’s expansion, appeared on The Daily Show. There were other appearances on CNN and The Young Turks as well as a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything).
  • The team checked numerous sources of data throughout the campaign. The main dashboard looked at money raised, total members and countries. MailChimp was consulted for email campaigns and another dashboard had details of the tests that were being conducted on the site (for example, buttons). Data collection is minimised as far as possible, in line with The Correspondent's seventh founding principle.
  • On the 29th day of the campaign, The Correspondent reached its funding goal of $2.5 million and activated stretch goals. By the end of day 30, it had reached $2.6 million from 45,888 members from more than 130 countries. They published a Medium post explaining the timeline for what would happen next.
 
 
 
Graphic used on Twitter by The Correspondent
 
 
What did they learn?
  • The focus of email campaigns changed over the 30 days and new elements were added. For example, moments of celebration were built in to mark the campaign passing 10,000 members and moving past $1 million and $2 million raised. This was designed to help members feel like their efforts were having an effect and to share the team’s excitement.  The open rate for these member emails was 50% and often higher.
  • The TV appearances were crucial not just to help the team reach their goal but to find a more diverse audience. Donation amounts and countries people signed up from were more varied after appearances on The Daily Show and CNN. Overall, the median donation was $30 and the mean average was $49.
  • The website did a very good job of converting people who visited (15% of people who visited went on to contribute) and improved even as traffic spiked after the TV appearances (when conversion tends to dip). This validated the team’s decision to create their own platform rather than use Kickstarter or Indiegogo and to have as much control as possible over their message and design.
  • A successful campaign makes hiring much easier. De Correspondent had 1,800 CVs sent to them when they were successful in 2013 and have received hundreds of applications for The Correspondent already. Hiring will take place over the next few months.

    An extended version of this case study can be found on the Engaged Journalism Accelerator website with other similar resources.
 
 
In their own words
 
 
Jessica Best, engagement editor, The Correspondent
 
"It looks like a 30-day crowdfunding campaign but it’s so much more than that. It was more than a year of preparation, and it’s very rarely luck."
 
How would you improve it?
"I wish we had found a way to update the whole team on what had happened over the last 24 hours in a smarter, more centralised way.”

Now try it for yourself
 
What we're reading
 
The one takeaway? Although it's from 2016, this guide has tons of best practices for involving communities in reporting and events as well as pitfalls to avoid. Bookmark it, return to it. Also worth noting that I found it in some notes from SRCCON:power, proving it's always worth going back through wash-ups of events (especially if you didn't attend) - Ben
  
The one takeaway? Ask ProPublica Illinois is a great example of how engaging with your community doesn’t have to be fancy or resource-intensive. Members of the team take turns to answer, on the website, questions readers have submitted about how journalism works, for example, how reporters find story ideas, or how they verify anonymous sources - Madalina
 
 Update from the Accelerator team 
 
  • This week is the first we’re all back in our "virtual office". We had a busy pre-Christmas period, in which we reviewed 127 applications for funding (!), eventually whittling it down to eight grantees from seven different countries. We’ll be announcing who they are towards the end of January and we can’t wait to start working with them! In the meantime, you can read Kathryn's Medium post on what you can expect from us in 2019.
  • We’ve been working on some ideas for guides for our website and, rather than do it behind the scenes, we’ve decided to open it up to you to help us decide what to publish first. Here’s the spreadsheet with some ideas – leave us a comment or reply to this email about which of them you'd like to see.
 
 
 
And finally...
 
The Engaged Journalism Accelerator is run by the European Journalism Centre and supported by the News Integrity Initiative and Civil
 
Civil are looking to pre-register newsrooms now for their official launch at the end of January 2019. Register today to receive 10,000 CVL tokens to cover your application deposit and participate in Civil governance.
 
 
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