MinnPost, the nonprofit regional news site in Minnesota, ended 2011 in the black for a second year in a row, according to its annual report published today. Its year-end surplus — a bit more than $21,000 — isn’t exactly retire-to-the-Caymans money. But in a sector where so many nonprofit news outlets are struggling to find sustainability, the four-year-old operation is demonstrating that it can support itself.
MinnPost makes money from public radio-style memberships, advertising, grants, and events, including its annual MinnRoast. CEO Joel Kramer told me he is most pleased with the growth of individual and corporate support, which now represents a majority of the revenue pie, about $815,000. Grants made up about a fifth. Altogether, MinnPost raised $1.5 million.
Kramer said he expects foundation money to shrink to 10 percent of revenue, but that’s a projection, not a goal.
“We’re happy to get all the foundation support we can get, but our long-term goal from the time we launched was to become steadily less dependent on foundations,” Kramer said. Foundation money is more volatile; the money usually comes with strings attached and an expiration date. And as MinnPost enters its fifth year in operation, it’s no longer really a startup. “Many of them are more excited about you if they see you as asking for seed money, startup money, early-stage development money,” he said.
MinnPost in 2011 also opened up the option for donors to auto-renew their membership. (Inertia is a powerful force for donor retention!) About 700 of MinnPost’s 3,300 donors are now sustaining members, he said. Individual gifts start at as little as $10 per year and go as high as $25,000 a year; the typical donor gives $100 to $150 per year, he said.
“A visit by a Minnesotan, a page view from a Minnesotan, is worth far more than us than a visit or a pageview from elsewhere.”
As far as how many people used the site versus how many supported it, Kramer said there are a few ways to slice the numbers. “It’s not meaningful to make the denominator unique visitors,” he said, because that number includes hundreds of thousands of people who land on MinnPost from a search or a link but are “not really interested in MinnPost.” Kramer’s preferred denominator is people who visit MinnPost at least twice per month, which is roughly 55,000. That means 6 percent of MinnPost users are contributing members. Kramer wants to see that rise to 10 percent.
For comparison’s sake, the site most similar to MinnPost is probably Voice of San Diego, which had its struggles in 2011. The organization laid off four people at the end of last year, saying it raised $1.1 million but spent $1.2 million. VOSD projects its revenue will fall in 2012.
And as I wrote Tuesday, the more government-and-policy-focused Texas Tribune raised $3.71 million but ended 2011 in the red. (It expects to be break-even or better by year’s end.)
Traffic to MinnPost.com grew, too. Pageviews rose 20 percent over the year before. The number Kramer prefers, though, is visits from Minnesotans: 3.7 million in 2011, versus 2.8 million the year before.
“Our advertisers and sponsors, what they’re interested in is communicating with Minnesotans. Also, our donor base overwhelmingly comes from Minnesota,” Kramer said. “So we actually believe, strategically, that a visit by a Minnesotan, a pageview from a Minnesotan, is worth far more than us than a visit or a pageview from elsewhere.”
Those figures come from Google Analytics and publicly available Quantcast data, he said. The brief and very brief presidential campaigns of Rep. Michele Bachmann and Gov. Tim Pawlenty might have given MinnPost a boost.
One goal for 2012: Improve the stickiness of the site, Kramer said. (The average MinnPost reader views two pages per visit.) MinnPost is moving from a proprietary content-management to Drupal, an open-source CMS, which will free up developers and designers to make user-facing improvements more quickly.