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The nature of grants that fund nonprofit news organizations

In all, more foundations surveyed said they are funding nonprofit journalism — both to nonprofit media and in collaborations with commercial media — than they were five years ago. That finding is consistent with what the Foundation Center, Knight Foundation and Media Impact Funders have found elsewhere.

Change measured Increased Remained the same Decreased
The percentage of funding our foundation has given to media grants... 43% 30% 6%

Data Source: Survey conducted May 21 – July 6, 2015. Question: In the last 5 years, has the PERCENTAGE of funding your foundation has given to media grants increased, decreased, or remained about the same? (Those with no response are not shown.)

American Press Institute

In all, 43 percent of funders said the share of their overall giving going to media projects has increased in the past five years; just 6 percent said it had decreased and 30 percent said it had remained unchanged.

The number of grants, not just the overall amount of giving, has grown too. Forty one percent of funders said the number of media grants had grown during this time; just 8 percent said it had decreased; 29 percent said it was unchanged.

Change measured Increased Remained the same Decreased
The overall number of media grants we gave... 41% 29% 8%

Data Source: Survey conducted May 21 – July 6, 2015. Question: In the last 5 years, has the OVERALL NUMBER of media grants your foundation gives increased, decreased, or remained about the same? (Those with no response are not shown.)

American Press Institute

The nonprofit media outlets also report growth in foundation funding. About 4 in 10 said they have more foundations supporting them today than five years ago. Only about 1 in 10 said that said the number of foundations had declined.

Increased Remained the same Decreased
The number of foundations we received funding from... 44% 26% 12%

Data Source: Survey conducted May 20 - July 5 and October 16 - Nov. 2, 2015. Question: Over the last five years, has the number of foundations you received funding from increased, decreased or remained about the same? (Those with no response are not shown.)

American Press Institute

As a share of revenue, the numbers suggest either that some of these grants may be getting smaller or that nonprofit media outlets are expanding the scope of their revenue sources beyond foundations. In all, a fifth of nonprofit media outlets (19 percent) said the overall balance of their revenue coming from foundations has grown, while a larger number (30 percent) said it has decreased. A third (33 percent) said it is flat.

Increased Remained the same Decreased
The percentage of our nonprofit media budget from foundation grants... 19% 33% 30%

Data Source: Survey conducted May 20 - July 5 and October 16 - Nov. 2, 2015. Question: Over the last five years, has the percentage of your budget coming from foundation grants increased, decreased or remained the same? (Those with no response are not shown. )

American Press Institute

But there is something of an uneven dependence between foundations and nonprofit media outlets. Media grants are a small part of what most of these foundations do. It is a very large part of the lifeblood of nonprofit media organizations.

About half of the foundations, for instance, said they gave 10 percent or less of their funding in grants to media in the last year. Only one foundation in the survey said it awarded more than 50 percent of its overall funding to media.

Percentage of total funding going to media grants Percent of media funders
Gave no media grants this year 2%
One to 10 percent 51%
11 to 50 percent 25%
Over 50 percent 2%
Don't know/No answer 20%

Data Source: Survey conducted May 21 – July 6, 2015. Question: Approximately what percentage of your foundation’s total funding went to media grants in the last calendar year?

American Press Institute

For the nonprofit media surveyed those numbers are reversed. While 20 percent say they rely on foundation support for 10 percent or less of their revenue, twice as many (39 percent) said they depend on foundations for the majority of their finances. (In public television and radio, local stations get just some of their funds from direct foundation support. On the television side, almost all programming requires substantial foundation support, and on the radio side that is true locally as well.)

Percentage of overall budget coming from foundation grants Percent of nonprofit media
None 11%
One to 10 percent 8%
11 to 50 percent 21%
Over 50 percent 39%
Don't know/No answer 18%

Data Source: Survey conducted May 20 - July 5 and Oct. 16 - Nov. 2, 2015. Question: What percentage of your organization's overall budget approximately came from foundation grants in the last calendar year?

American Press Institute

And unlike commercial media organizations, which usually have scores of different advertisers, most nonprofit media outlets rely on only a few major donors. The majority, 66 percent, rely on fewer than 10 donors or foundations for most of their revenue.

Number of foundation donors Percent of nonprofits
None 10%
1 8%
2 to 4 36%
5 to 9 22%
10 to 15 10%
More than 15 9%
Don’t know 5%

Data Source: Survey conducted May 20 - July 5 and Oct. 16-Nov. 2, 2015. Nonprofit media who answered Question: How many different foundations did you receive funding from in the last calendar year?

American Press Institute

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