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Most funders think donations to news organizations meet their objectives

In the end, do funders think their underwriting of media is accomplishing what they want?

More than half of foundations said they consider their media grantmaking a success; generally accomplishing their objectives, and a few exceeding them. Very few report falling short of their objectives. However, about 35 percent did not answer the question, skipping it or replying “don’t know.”

We also asked about both nonprofit media organizations and commercial ones if they had ever participated in a partnership with a nonprofit and consequently chose not to partner with them in the future.

It has happened. But it is not common.

Among nonprofit news outlets, just three outlets said they had subsequently decided not to work with a funder again. When we asked why, one said the level of funding was not sufficient to finance the work. Another said a transparency issue with the funder’s revenue source led them to their decision. A third said the funder “expressed frustration that we didn’t allow them to shape our coverage.”

Among commercial news outlets, we asked whether they had ever worked with either a funder or a nonprofit media outlet and decided not to do it again. Even here, where the money or the partnership is not a primary element of the publishing model, regret is uncommon. In all, 15 (about 20%) said they had decided not to work with a given partner again in the future.

Just three outlets said they had subsequently decided not to work with a funder again.

Of the 15, about half said “the partnership was more trouble than it was worth” or the level of communication and consultation was too involved. But four cited differing motivations, deciding the nonprofit’s advocacy on an issue constituted more of a conflict of interest than they were comfortable with. One cited what it looked like in the public eye specifically: The affiliation with them was too controversial.

Finally, have either nonprofit or commercial partners had to defend themselves against criticism because of partnering with funders? It is not a frequent experience, though it does happen. Some 23 nonprofits surveyed said they had to defend themselves against criticism because of a funding source, fairly evenly split among those who said it had happened just “once or twice” and those who said “it happened several times.”

On the commercial side, just four outlets in the study said they faced criticism because of funding or a collaboration with a nonprofit.

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