Alt-weeklies have long been reliable authorities on their communities, so when they focus on charitable organizations, their readers respond in a big wayâ€”with avalanches of cash. More than $6 million was collectively raised for local nonprofit charities through the 2014 year-end â€œGive!â€ campaigns held by Willamette Week, Colorado Springs Independent, Monterey County Weekly and INDY Week.
As part of their Give! campaigns, the papers publish a â€œGive! Guideâ€ 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 donationsâ€”ticket giveaways, ice cream parties, even a raffled-off car.
And it all works.
Willamette Weekâ€™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 yearâ€™s grand total of $2,453,083.
â€œWe had 136 nonprofits this time,â€ said publisher Richard Meeker. â€œJust 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.â€
Beyond the always-needed money, being in the Give! Guide brings exposure and more volunteers to the nonprofits.
â€œItâ€™s really been a way for small nonprofits to establish themselves,â€ says Meeker. â€œWhat it does is promote a better sense of community for all of us.â€
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 paperâ€™s Give! campaign. She says she has heard that exact sentiment from people in the community.
â€œDonors come in and say, â€˜I never would have heard about X, Y or Z organization,â€™â€ she says. â€œSome 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. Theyâ€™re chomping at the bit. Our TV partner interviewed 36 of our (75) nonprofits.â€
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. â€œWe had about $400,000 of matching grants before we started,â€ she explains. â€œThatâ€™s super cool. It essentially meant we started the campaign in a good spot.â€
Securing matching donations has also been key at the Monterey County Weekly in California.
Itâ€™s campaign brought in $1,347,741 for 101 nonprofits in its 2014 campaign.
Bradley Zeve, the paperâ€™s founder and CEO, says he is proud of that number.
â€œItâ€™s simply fantastic,â€ he says. â€œThe average size of donation, the number of donors, the number of nonprofits, how much we raised total, the number of young donorsâ€”every indicator we followed increased. Thatâ€™s very exciting.â€
By â€œyoung donorsâ€ Zeve means people under the age of 35. It is a demographic Give! pays special attention to.
Swinford explains why: â€œStudies show young people are less likely to give back. They donâ€™t necessarily connect giving donations with their compassion for issues. We see our role as seeding the culture of giving.â€
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. â€œThey are well ahead of where we [Willamette] were at that point,â€ says Meeker, who acquired INDY Week along with Mark Zusman in 2012.
Susan Harper, INDY publisher, says she is pleased with her publicationâ€™s results so far. â€œWe 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.â€
She continues, â€œWeâ€™ll definitely keep it going … We know the community has big hearts, and itâ€™s great seeing that turn into support for the nonprofits.â€
April Corbin is a freelance journalist whoâ€™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.