There is nothing a grantee can’t ask a funder

Published: 29 June 2021

Civitates convened the independent public-interest journalism organisations that it has been supporting since January 2021. In a half-day online get-together, grantees and funders met for the first time to get to know each other, exchange and start building a relationship. Peer exchanges and learnings are a vital part of Civitates’ work and as a result, Civitates aims to frequently convene its grantee partners to foster relationship-building and shared learnings.

The meeting presented the first opportunity for the cohort of journalistic organisations to come together and form its group identity. At the same time, it was a great opportunity for Civitates and its funders to get to know the grantees, their strengths and their needs. A session was dedicated to exploring what each organisation can contribute to and learn from the other cohort members.

As part of the online gathering, the grantee partners had the opportunity to quiz the funders as part of the session ‘I am a funder, ask me anything’. Civitates regularly organises such sessions where grantees and funders sit together and exchange freely. The goal is to challenge the feeling of the power dynamic that often exists in a funder-grantee relationship. In supporting journalism this is especially important as trust and credibility are at the heart of our grantees’ work.

“There is nothing a grantee can’t ask a funder. We should come back to the practice of open discussions. Also, the ‘Ask me Anything’ format works only if both sides are very open,” shares Maribel Königer, Director Communications, Journalism, and Media at ERSTE Foundation. “I enjoyed the session a lot and I would encourage the grantees to ask even more challenging questions next time and the funders to always reply openly.”

When we talk about funding, the journalistic organisations Civitates supports strive to be as independent as possible. Some stay away from advertisements, for others advertisement is a way of diversifying their income in order not to be dependent only on donors’ support. No donor will support an organisation forever, however, so diversifying income is of utmost importance for journalistic organisations. Understanding foundations’ visions and what motivates them to engage with independent public-interest journalism is crucial as this can help journalistic organisations target their future applications better. Having a fundraising strategy is another important aspect for the grantees as it is a way to ensure a certain level of sustainability through different streams of income and no bad surprises if a funder stops supporting them.

The grantees wanted to know what could make a good partnership. Openness is again key here as it is equally important to share successes and struggles. 

“Sharing success stories is not meant to justify the funding organisations have received but to help explain foundations’ boards why certain projects are important and worthy of further support,” clarifies Maribel. Knowing the challenges organisations have is an essential part of the partnership as it creates an equal turf for both funders and grantees to find creative solutions.

There is not a ready formula that will magically make a journalistic organisation successful. Still, among the organisations that Civitates’ foundation partners have seen thrive, there are common practices such as including the audience in the conversation, collaborating with other organisations, as well as willingness to learn and a long-term vision for their organisational development.

A question that stuck with Maribel was ‘Where do we want to see journalism in ten years?’.

“For me, investigative journalists are doing a great job and why should they change? What should be different or what should improve in 10 years is the context. More people should take note of the serious work journalists are doing and trust in their investigations, so that their impact can be higher. If half of the population doesn’t believe in their findings, then the whole business model is not working anymore.”

Online platforms challenge journalistic business models as they provide free but unverified information, on the one hand, and create information bubbles using algorithms, on the other hand. Both trends make it extremely difficult for journalistic organisations to reach wider audiences. At the same time, independent journalism has been brought to near extinction in some European countries. The sector shouldn’t be left alone against all these challenges. Philanthropy has a role to play in supporting journalism now more than ever when journalism needs the time and the resources to regain its acknowledgement as a vital part of European democracies.

Information about the convening

Within the framework of Funding Plus, Civitates regularly gathers its grantees to foster cooperation and cross-border networking. This was the first meeting with the grantees working for independent public-interest journalism organisations.

Due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions, the convening was held online. Thanks to our facilitators from Kumquat Consult the discussions were almost just as engaging as when in person.