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March 17, 2009, 7:40 a.m.

MinnPost seeks “micro-sponsors” for blog at $10 and $25 a pop

Readers may never pay for news online, but perhaps they’ll micro-sponsor it.

MinnPost, the non-profit news startup in Minneapolis, has found modest success asking readers to “micro-sponsor” the site’s most popular blog with donation’s of $10 and $25 a pop. Since the appeal began a week ago, 127 people have donated a total of $2,575, which will be doubled by a matching gift from The Harnisch Foundation.

Those figures won’t bowl anyone over, but they could point toward a long-term fundraising model for non-profit news organizations that generally depend on large grants from foundations. Joel Kramer, editor and publisher of MinnPost, told me that he’s trying to reduce the 18-month-old site’s reliance on foundation support by growing revenue from readers and advertisers.

MinnPost has never turned down a donation for being too small but always asked for at least $50 from its 1,300 members. With this new fundraising drive, Kramer hopes to reach readers who may have balked at higher levels of giving. “This micro-sponsorship was partly to test a lower price point,” he said in an interview yesterday.

The appeal is focused on reporter David Brauer’s BrauBlog, which features a mix of local media news and Minnesota politics. Readers who give $10 become LowBrau micro-sponsors, while $25 is HighBrau. The Harnisch Foundation is matching up to $10,000 raised within three months.

Kramer said he chose BrauBlog for the fundraising drive because Brauer has a “dedicated, steady audience” — about 1,000 readers for an average post. However, Brauer, in the name of objectivity, requested that he not be told the names of his micro-sponsors. “Something about Caesar’s wife,” Kramer explained in a post introducing the effort last Tuesday.

Micro-sponsorship could prove to be an important test of the “1,000 true fans” concept floated by Wired’s Kevin Kelly last year: Can an enterprise be sustained on the backs of its most passionate supporters?

Kramer told me he’s also considering “micro-funding a beat” at MinnPost if the results from BrauBlog are encouraging. But the model may never be more effective or efficient than traditional fundraising focused on memberships and large donations. “The thing I keep reminding people is that it’s all experimental,” Kramer said, “and we’re going to try whatever seems promising.”

POSTED     March 17, 2009, 7:40 a.m.
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