Alt-Weeklies Raise Over $6 Million for Community Nonprofits

Alt-weeklies have long been reliable authorities on their communities, so when they focus on charitable organizations, their readers respond in a big way—with avalanches of cash. More than $6 million was collectively raised for local nonprofit charities through the 2014 year-end “Give!” campaigns held by Willamette Week, Colorado Springs Independent, Monterey County Weekly and INDY Week.

As part of their Give! campaigns, the papers publish a “Give! Guide” and host an online platform where people can seamlessly donate to one or several of the vetted nonprofit organizations. Sometimes, companies match individual dollar amounts. Depending on the publication, there can also be events or prize incentives to encourage donations—ticket giveaways, ice cream parties, even a raffled-off car.

And it all works.

Willamette Week’s 2014 Give campaign raised $3,145,000 for various Portland, Ore., nonprofits. That was well above both their goal of $2.6 million and the previous year’s grand total of $2,453,083.

“We had 136 nonprofits this time,” said publisher Richard Meeker. “Just one of those had 1,000 volunteers. If you magnify that out, you begin to get a sense of the enormity of the work the nonprofit community does and the impact. The work these nonprofits do is amazing.”

Beyond the always-needed money, being in the Give! Guide brings exposure and more volunteers to the nonprofits.

“It’s really been a way for small nonprofits to establish themselves,” says Meeker. “What it does is promote a better sense of community for all of us.”

He adds that 54 percent of donors to the 2014 campaign were first-time givers. He believes many donors from previous years were introduced to a new nonprofit through Give! and now choose to donate or volunteer with the nonprofit directly.

Over at the Colorado Springs Independent, Claire Swinford is a full-time staffer dedicated to working on the paper’s Give! campaign. She says she has heard that exact sentiment from people in the community.

“Donors come in and say, ‘I never would have heard about X, Y or Z organization,’” she says. “Some of the organizations we work with have no idea how to write a press release, or how to get featured in the media. Yet, the media is dying for feel-good stories. They’re chomping at the bit. Our TV partner interviewed 36 of our (75) nonprofits.”

The Independent raised $1,576,932 in its 2014 campaign.

Swinford attributes much of that success to the individual nonprofits working to secure grantors to match donations. “We had about $400,000 of matching grants before we started,” she explains. “That’s super cool. It essentially meant we started the campaign in a good spot.”

Securing matching donations has also been key at the Monterey County Weekly in California.

It’s campaign brought in $1,347,741 for 101 nonprofits in its 2014 campaign.

Bradley Zeve, the paper’s founder and CEO, says he is proud of that number.

“It’s simply fantastic,” he says. “The average size of donation, the number of donors, the number of nonprofits, how much we raised total, the number of young donors—every indicator we followed increased. That’s very exciting.”

By “young donors” Zeve means people under the age of 35. It is a demographic Give! pays special attention to.

Swinford explains why: “Studies show young people are less likely to give back. They don’t necessarily connect giving donations with their compassion for issues. We see our role as seeding the culture of giving.”

That can be a challenge because young people often have less to give than their blue-haired elders, so the alt-weeklies encourage small donations. Starting out with $10, $20 or $50 donations can lead to larger amounts and establish a lifetime of giving.

INDY Week in North Carolina raised $151,081 in its recent campaign. That is a remarkable amount considering 2014 was only the second time the publication has held the campaign. “They are well ahead of where we [Willamette] were at that point,” says Meeker, who acquired INDY Week along with Mark Zusman in 2012.

Susan Harper, INDY publisher, says she is pleased with her publication’s results so far. “We added nine new nonprofits, that was about a third more than the first year. People were more familiar with the campaign. And we were able to give more donor incentives.”

She continues, “We’ll definitely keep it going … We know the community has big hearts, and it’s great seeing that turn into support for the nonprofits.”

April Corbin is a freelance journalist who’s previously worked at two alt-weeklies, first as web content editor for Las Vegas Weekly and more recently as a staff writer at LEO Weekly.