Not only our partners, Free Press Unlimited also needs a broad financial base to continue to do its work. To this end, we have two fundraisers focused on international donors and since 2016 we also have a fundraiser for private donors (our Friends).
In 2017 it became clear again that raising funds for media projects in developing countries is not easy. For example, raising funds for the independence of Radio Dabanga is at the top of our list of priorities, but our efforts are thwarted by European migration policy. The EU wants to cooperate with the Sudanese regime, which has forced Radio Dabanga into exile, in order to contain the migration to Europe. The result: funds go to projects that prevent migration and less money is available for this life-saving radio.
Fortunately, many institutional funds and major donors are also convinced of the importance of access to independent, reliable information. In 2017, the success ratio of our international fundraising was around the same percentage as in 2016: about 40% of our applications were approved.
Local media organisations are our most important stakeholders. Together with them, we set up countless programmes that give millions of people access to independent and reliable information. In 2017 we had 100 partners in 42 countries all over the world.
In November, Free Press Unlimited again investigated how satisfied our partners are with our work. Last year we did it ourselves for the first time, after tagging along for years in research by sector organisation Partos. We found the response to that to be too low and started doing our own. The result was much better: 40% of the partners responded (instead of 17% in the Partos study). Good reason to continue down this road in 2017. This year even more partners made the effort to let us know what they think of Free Press Unlimited. No less than 66% completed our survey!
As was the case last year, the partners are mostly satisfied with our work. They are least enthusiastic about the contribution Free Press Unlimited makes to their financial sustainability; in this area, we have initiated several initiatives, which we will continue to implement in the coming years (see also Looking ahead). Most appreciation is for the relationship and the communication with Free Press Unlimited: partners say it is respectful, helpful and knowledgeable. For our support in the future, the partners have put together a top 3:
- developing a joint strategy with Free Press Unlimited
- exchanging lessons and experiences with other organisations
- strengthening the long-term planning and sustainability
Free Press Unlimited counts itself lucky with its 2,960 loyal Friends, almost 200 more than last year. These are the people who believe our work is important and therefore support us financially. But not just as donors: our Friends are very involved and are willing to share their thoughts with us.
In 2017, we welcomed another 40 Friends to our offices for a festive and informative Friends Live. Because our Friends specifically let us know how much they appreciated the partners’ stories during the 2016 edition of this event, our specialists gave three master classes this year. They told those present about the role of photography in Iraq, community radio stations in the Central African Republic and the training of female citizen journalists from Zambian slums. Once again, our Friends were very impressed by our partners – and later in the evening they were able to talk about it over drinks.
Other Dutch people also find our work worthwhile. In 2017, we received a total of € 51,208 in donations from private donors, a drop of 3.7%. We received special donations in 2017 from the Drongo Talenfestival that named us their good cause, from students in Maastricht who organised a sponsored run for Radio Dabanga and from the Amsterdam-based IT company VBVB that sponsored NetAidKits for 20 journalists. We are also very pleased with Drukbedrijf.nl, that sponsors our printing and with the cooperation with Perfect Quality Logistics that, as of 2018, will be donating the proceeds from clothing collection campaigns to Free Press Unlimited.
What more could we as an organisation wish for than reliable, collaborative partners who understand what the complex work of Free Press Unlimited is all about and are willing to finance it? We have those partners; something we are happy with and proud of. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is by far our largest donor and our strategic partner in the comprehensive No News is Bad News programme. The Ministry is also financing the impactful Russian-language News Platform. The Swedish Development Cooperation Agency Sida joined our important Syria programme for 5 years at the end of 2016. Long-term funding that makes it possible to (re)build an independent, professional news sector in a country where this is more necessary than ever. The European Union believed our pilot Mama Sosa in Zambia, in which we educated women from a slum to citizen journalist, to be so promising that it decided to also finance the follow-up project.
Our work has been supported for years by our loyal donor Humanity United (part of the Omidyar group). New stars in our donor firmament are Google’s Digital News Initiative that funds the application for our Publeaks Mobile project, and the Dioraphte Foundation. With its contribution, this foundation enables Ethiopian students to receive a good education as a professional journalist.
Dutch Postcode Lottery
One of our most loyal supporters is the Dutch Postcode Lottery – and that is mutual. Free Press Unlimited greatly appreciates the fact that two years ago, the Dutch Postcode Lottery decided to fund our organisation for another 5 years. This long-term funding gives us the time needed to build an independent, reliable news service in countries without free press or conflict areas.
Whether it’s about people fleeing violence in Sudan, journalists in Iraq or El Salvador or girls who are likely to be married off in Nepal: thanks to those who participate in the Dutch Postcode Lottery they receive timely, life-saving information. We are also extremely pleased with the substantial increase in the annual contribution for our work to € 900,000. With this, we now also finance the Postcode Lottery Fund; in the past we submitted separate applications to the National Postcode Lottery.
Postcode Lottery Fund
62 articles, radio broadcasts and TV documentaries that you may have seen in 2017, would not have been published without the Postcode Lottery Fund for Journalists. This fund has been making special foreign reports from Dutch journalists possible since 2009. Reports for which Dutch media have less and less money. Thanks to the Postcode Lottery Fund for Journalists, journalists can still inform the Dutch public about issues such as commercial surrogacy in Georgia, the only Afghan girls’ orchestra and the effect of coal mining on the indigenous population in Colombia. The need for this type of fund is significant, as was evident from the annual increase in the number of applications. In 2015, we received 57 more applications, a year later it was 72 and in 2017 the number reached no less than 80. Also, the number of approved applications increased: in 2016, 27 journalists were able to travel, in 2017, the assessment committee approved 36 grant requests.
In-depth, critical investigative journalism abroad is even more difficult to fund. That is why we were so pleased with the extra leverage for this within the fund, for which the Postcode Lottery gave its blessing in 2016. Because all too often the proposals we receive do not meet our criteria, in 2017 we described more clearly the conditions such a production should meet. In 2017, 2 journalists began their investigation into human trafficking in Sudan and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan to Western Europe. This latest investigative journalism project has already produced the first publications.
It is not always easy to explain our work. That is why we think carefully about how we communicate with the Dutch public and our supporters. Our communications team now functions at full strength. In 2017, we gave priority to increasing brand recognition of Free Press Unlimited and involving more people in our mission. What target groups we approach – and in what way – depends on our relationship with them and the need they have for information. We always keep it as personal as possible: a handwritten card, a personal letter or invitation. Even if we can’t do it at individual level, we make different versions of mailings and match it as closely as possible with a group of recipients.
In 2017, we got almost 200 new Friends. We look for and find new donors and interested parties – mainly in our existing grassroots of Friends and followers, but also in similar organisations, media and platforms. Those who, like Free Press Unlimited, are likely to think that people deserve to know. In 2017, we therefore made conscious use of the inspiring stories about the impact of our work. We published a selection of these stories in our newspaper No News is Bad News, which we distributed during Free Press Live. Because we want to use a lot more of these kinds of stories, we trained the programme staff to identify, gather and tell them. As a communications team, we learned that we had to specifically indicate what stories we were looking for: what a programme officer takes for granted may be an eye-opener for the Dutch public. Our new evaluation method Outcome Harvesting also provides a wealth of wonderful stories that we would like to pass on more. We have now collected 59 stories, 31 of which have been published.
In 2017, we focused our social media on involving more people in the work of Free Press Unlimited. Successfully! On Twitter, the number of followers grew by more than 1,140 to 6,900; during our event on 2 November the hashtag # FPLive17 was trending topic in the Netherlands. We also made over 2,800 new friends on Facebook (totalling more than 18,000). On LinkedIn we expanded our network by nearly 200 people to over 1,000. The YouTube videos from Free Press Unlimited were viewed about as often as in 2016 (9,870 times). Only the number of visitors to our website fell sharply. But the average time that visitors spent on the website increased by 30%. In 2017, we worked hard to optimise our website and make it more user-friendly. With success: visitors found the information they were looking for faster and stayed on the website for longer. In addition, the bounce rate (people who leave the site immediately) dropped by 8% to 64%.
Contact with our supporters
We maintain contact with our (potential) supporters in several ways:
- We distributed 1,000 copies of the English-language newspaper No News is Bad News during Free Press Live and Friends Live.
- Our introductory brochure ‘People Deserve to Know’ found its way to interested parties during Free Press Live, Friends Live, events and guest lectures.
- A fact sheet explaining the work of Free Press Unlimited in numbers (ranging from 46 countries to 2.3 million listeners to Radio Dabanga) serves the same purpose: a first introduction to our organisation.
- Our new Friends brochure provides more information about how donors and volunteers can support our work.
- We placed an informative advertisement 4 times in Villamedia, the magazine of the Dutch Union for Journalists.
- Every month we send a Dutch-language e-mail newsletter to almost 3,900 subscribers and 3 times a year an English-language version to over 800 subscribers. The latter group is a mix of foreign partners, donors, alliance partners and media.