How Did ELi Raise Over $80,000?

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Friday, January 4, 2019, 7:46 am
Alice Dreger, Publisher

East Lansing Info just wrapped up its year-end Sustainability Campaign, exceeding our goal of $80,000 in donations and auto-pay commitments. We are enormously grateful to everyone who participated! And because we know ELi readers love backstories and data-crunching, today we are going a little Nate Silver on you.

NewsMatch changed everything. In early 2018, ELi was accepted to the Institute for Nonprofit News, the national nonprofit organization that supports organizations like us. Being in INN allowed us to apply for NewsMatch, and we were also accepted to that program. NewsMatch gave us the opportunity to get $25,000 in matching funds if we could raise $25,000 in donations of $1,000 and smaller.

But NewsMatch did more than that for us. It also provided me weekly webinars to get solid training, months in advance, in preparation for the NewsMatch period (November 1 – December 31). It provided us with tools, tips, access to experts, and peer support. Although I’ve been fundraising for nonprofits for 20 years, NewsMatch really upped my game.

ELi’s core donors made possible the right goalpost. When I looked at our budget and how much we had in the bank plus how much we had in ongoing commitments, I could see we would need to raise not $50,000 in our year-end Sustainability Campaign for 2019, but $80,000. That meant we really needed another $15,000 in matching funds, because we know that matching funds make a huge difference in attracting donors.

So, I went to a group of committed ELi donors who I thought might be willing to be part of a $15,000 core donor match pool, and a group stepped up to help before the NewsMatch period ever began. That meant we could start the NewsMatch period with $40,000 in matching funds.

Some of the core donors want to remain anonymous, but the rest include: Ken Sperber and Val Thonger, Chris Root and David Wiley, J.R. and Molly Haywood, John Kloswick, Bert Seyfarth, Sarah Slocum, Ray Vlasin, Jamie Nelson, Jean Golden, Brian and Sally Silver (fun fact: they are Nate Silver’s parents), and Stephen Thomas.

We had a lot of different ways people could donate. That included the NewsMatch site, PayPal, Patreon, and checks. We also held one special by-invitation $100/plate fundraiser at Saddleback. For that, ELi Board Member Travis Stoliker (co-owner of Saddleback) and I split the cost of food and drink, so that ELi obtained the full donation amount.

Here’s how the donations look in terms of the numbers:

  • We raised a total of $81,680.
  • We had 575 donations come in (with some people giving more than once).
  • Donations ranged from $1 to $3,500 (with the latter being a core donor donation for our $15,000 cap-raising match).
  • All donations came from individuals except for one $1,500 donation from ASMSU.
  • Not counting the core donor match funds, the average donation was about $74.
  • Not counting the core donor match funds, the most common level of donation (the mode) was $10.
  • There were 23 donations of $500 or more, including 13 of $1,000 or more.

These numbers are all up dramatically from last year. What this tells us is that ELi’s support is now broad and deep!

Notes enclosed supported our suspicion that it’s the independent government reporting that motivates most people to donate. Examples include:

  • “You guys are the best friends democracy (and the people) ever had!”
  • “Without the information you provide, there is no way an uninvolved citizen can know what is going on in the city politically and can express their opinions on the topics.”
  • “How would we ever know what is going on in our government without ELi?”

There was one anonymous donation. Last year during our Sustainability Campaign, we had an anonymous donation of $500 come in the form of a cashier’s check. It came without any identification, just with a note thanking us for our work.

This year, someone got in touch with us anonymously (presumably the same person) to ask if a $500 anonymous match would be matched by NewsMatch. We had to tell them “no.” NewsMatch’s rules don’t allow it.

We thought this would lead perhaps to not getting a donation from this person. Instead, apparently whoever it was sent in $1,000 in the form of a money order – so she or he matched it for us! That was a real boost to our spirits. Again, it came with a nice note, simply thanking us for our work.

But it wasn’t just the big donations that lifted us. It was seeing new names, old friends, and the total going up steadily. Our Managing Editor Ann Nichols was probably shocked at how often I said, “This is going really well!” She was not used to hearing me say that during fundraising.

We look forward to getting proper thanks to everyone soon! In the meantime:

Special thanks for this huge amount of work go to Ken Sperber, ELi’s spreadsheet wizard. Ken had to manage an enormous amount of donation information for us as we worked to keep track of how much was raised, who had given, and what needed following-up when, for example, we were told to expect a check but didn’t see it come in when anticipated.

The spreadsheet ended up with thousands of data points and eight tabs and a lot of phone calling to figure out odd bits. And to make it even more exciting, smack-dab in the middle of NewsMatch, Ken’s first grandchild was born. Here you see the proud grandpapa and baby Leo. (We’ll be recruiting him as a reporter in about 16 years.)

Thank you, everybody! We look forward to bringing you the news throughout 2019.


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