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Nov. 13, 2013, 9 a.m.

Who’s giving (and getting) that nonprofit money? Some data on grantmaking to media orgs

The list of the biggest foundation funders of journalism includes a lot of familiar names.

knight-foundations-reportA new report on grantmaking in media, executed by the Foundation Center with the support of the Knight Foundation and the Wyncote Foundation, aims to answer a basic question: Who in media philanthropy is giving money to whom? And how much?

As the title — “Growth in Foundation Support for Media in the United States” — suggests, the findings point to an overall increase in grantmaking in media between 2009 and 2011. In a blog post for Knight, Eric Newton said he read the study as both a call to action and a celebration, citing embrace of digital and investment in spite of the recession as reason for congratulations, while expressing concern about the static number of grantmaking institutions, only a handful of which are responsible for the bulk of the funding.

Here are some of the highlights of the report, available in full here:

  • The terminology used is both interesting and broad. For example, media here is defined as “the means by which we communicate.” So when the authors write that “foundations are increasingly supporting media-related work,” that can mean a lot of different things far beyond news, including broadband installation and educational TV programs. This is one reason why, for example, this report finds the Newseum to be the top media grant recipient of 2009-11. (The Freedom Forum alone gave the Newseum $121.4 million. The others in the top ten are four universities, one public television station, and two public radio stations, as well as NPR and WGBH’s Educational Foundation.)
  • The biggest donors? Number 1 is The Freedom Forum, for the reason just mentioned. The rest of the top 10 is full of familiar names: Gates, Knight, MacArthur, Ford, Annenberg, Mellon, Lucas, Sloan, and Reynolds. (Disclosure: The Nieman Foundation’s probably worked with all of those at one point or another — and we’ve gotten grants from most. Knight has funded Nieman Lab directly.) Those are for all media giving. If you limit it just to journalism-related giving, you add Lilly, Lumina, McCormick, and The California Endowment to the mix.
  • The data set analyzed includes only grants of more than $10,000, excluding the small grants which, some argue, journalism nonprofits in the future will have to rely on more rather than individual, major donations. (Notably, the report also excludes individual and public donors in an effort to focus on community and private grants.)
  • Regionally, the West, South, and Northeast quadrants of the U.S. received a little less than a third of the overall media grant spending, leaving only 13.4 percent of the grants for organizations in the Midwest. The Midwest was also outstripped in grants made by the other regions, granting just $81 million in 2011 compared to $172, $206, and $229 million in the South, Northeast, and West, respectively.
  • The majority — 55 percent — of grants went to “media platforms,” which include TV, radio, mobile, print, and more. The largest share of that — 16.4 percent of the total — went to web-based media. Among platform categories, mobile funding grew the most between 2009 and 2011, with a 186.6 percent increase. Interestingly, the biggest decrease by platform was in video and film funding, with a 21.1 percent reduction in funding.
  • 28.3 percent of grants went to journalism projects. Funding for advocacy, constituent, and citizen journalism combined made up only about 1 percent of grants received, while 1.5 percent of funding went to investigative projects. From 2009 to 2011, the funding for journalism remained relatively steady, with a slight dip between 2009 and 2010 but growth overall, for a grand total of over half a billion dollars.
  • In comparison, less than 3 percent of total grants went to telecommunications infrastructure, a category that includes assistance with Internet access among other telecomm services. That was the only category to experience a decrease in funding between 2009 and 2011.
  • Meanwhile, funding for media applications and tools grew the most, by 107.8 percent between 2009 and 2011. That category included games, granting for which increased by an impressive 162.2 percent, and geographic information systems, which also more than doubled. Overwhelmingly, grants in these categories were given to institutions of higher learning, including the University of Washington, MIT, and Caltech; the top granter in this category was Knight Foundation, followed closely by Gates.
  • It’s probably worth noting that in no category did a primarily web-focused media company make the top ten grant receivers. With the exception of the Harper’s Magazine Foundation, all news outlets in those categories were broadcast organizations; funding for public broadcasting grew by $18 million between 2009 and 2011. But overall, even as grants to print and broadcast media increased, the increase in funding for strictly mobile and web-based organizations was four times greater.

Because of the new taxonomy for media granting used in the report, the authors found it difficult to compare their findings with other, previous work in the same arena. For further exploration of the data they gathered, check out the Media Impact Funders website.

POSTED     Nov. 13, 2013, 9 a.m.
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