Mother Jones, the liberal nonprofit magazine, was one of the top recipients of foundation grants in a study published last year of 25 magazines of ideas and opinions from both sides of the political spectrum.
That research was based on grantmaking tallies from 2010 to 2015. Since then, Mother Jones has only intensified its push to bring in donor dollars. Convinced that it needed a huge increase in revenues to maintain its brand of high-quality journalism, the magazine embarked on an unprecedented fundraising campaign in 2016 with an audacious goal: securing $25 million from individuals and foundations in less than three years, by the end of 2019.
The business model that sustained newspapers and magazines for decades “is gone and it’s not coming back,” said Mother Jones publisher Steve Katz in an interview. “It is insufficient to sustain a decent free press.”
Instead of raising money for endowment, the campaign is focused on using donations to achieve five objectives for growth in quality journalism: hiring more reporters and editors, making a bigger investment in training, providing a deeper connection with readers, growing revenues for the long term, and spending more on technology. So far, more than 30 new positions have been created with campaign donations.
“We approached this as a classic capital campaign where we asked individuals and foundations for lead gifts,” Katz said. With $23.5 million raised in such gifts, “The Moment for Mother Jones,” as the campaign is called, is now poised to reach its goal less than three months from its end date. Fourteen foundations have made donations to the campaign. The MacArthur Foundation made the largest one—a $1.5 million grant for general operating support—in line with its decision last month to join other grantmakers in increasing aid for nonprofits’ administrative and overhead costs.
The magazine’s fundraising drive has also attracted several large contributions from individual donors. One donor, for example, has made multiple gifts that added up to more than $4 million to support increased reporting on politics and corruption and expanding its fellowship program for young reporters as well as other support for mid-career journalists. Craig Newmark, the founder of Craig’s List, has made a $1 million unrestricted donation to the campaign through his grantmaking foundation.
In addition, small donors are stepping up for Mother Jones. “We have 200,000 paying readers, and 50,000 make a donation every year,” Katz said. As Inside Philanthropy has reported, many nonprofit media outfits—most notably ProPublica—have raised record amounts of cash from small donors since the 2016 election.
Mother Jones began the last phase of its drive last month, with the goal of raising the final $1.5 million in smaller gifts from subscribers and others. To that end, it created a a new website for this part of the campaign and announced a $500,000 challenge that provides a dollar-for-dollar match for gifts in response to the challenge. So far, the challenge has raised $280,000, not counting the matching money.
“We were founded in 1976 and originally supported by subscribers more than ads,” said Katz. “The concept that people will support journalism they care about is still true today.”