How to Fund a Journalism Project with Kickstarter

Ideas, examples, and advice for launching a publication, sustaining a newsroom, funding a podcast, and more.

How to Fund a Journalism Project with Kickstarter
Credit: Anxy

This is a critical time to be working on new ways to fund the media. The financial models the industry has relied on for decades have proven woefully inadequate in the digital age, and the COVID-19 pandemic is decimating local news, adding new urgency to the compounding public health and police brutality crises.

One silver lining is that readers are stepping up to keep the media they love alive, and community-supported journalism is on the rise all over the globe. In 2018, Dutch site the Correspondent raised more than one million Euros in a massively popular crowdfunding campaign. The following year, Kickstarter saw four of our most-funded journalism projects of all time: UK “slow journalism” experiment Tortoise raised half a million pounds, Luxembourg’s Reporter raised €181,000, New York City’s Gothamist raised $200,000, and Block Club Chicago raised $180,000. These are all strong examples of the support media outlets can accumulate from their communities.

Crowdfunding campaigns can have a slew of benefits for journalism, well beyond amassing much-needed funds. This type of fundraising allows you as the creator to fully tell your story, build enthusiasm for your work, make deep connections with your community, raise your profile across the industry, and gain direct access to your supporters.

Here are some best practices for accomplishing all of these goals with a Kickstarter Journalism campaign.

Frame Your Story

Most journalistic endeavors are long-term projects, but because Kickstarter is designed for project-based funding, a crucial first step is to come up with a specific project. These are some of the most common Kickstarter Journalism campaign types:

Launching a new publication

One of the easiest stories to tell with a crowdfunding campaign is the start of something new. Tortoise remains the most high-profile example of this, but you don’t need the former head of the BBC on staff to launch a new media endeavor on Kickstarter. A broad range of outlets have been brought to life here, such as Chicago’s civic journalism lab City Bureau, the writer-owned news outlet Colorado Sun, Southern politics and culture magazine Scalawag, and Western photojournalism periodical Bitterroot.

Keeping the lights on

If your organization is humming along and you’re looking to raise general operating costs, you can still frame that as a tangible campaign. This was done well by Sludge, an online outlet dedicated to investigating money in politics. Their campaign was designed to fund a specific element of their work: exposing fossil fuel lobbying efforts to kill the Green New Deal. The reporting their campaign funded also helped raise the young newsroom’s profile in the international media: a year later, Sludge partnered with the Guardian to investigate the personal finances of U.S. senators, revealing more than 50 representatives’ investments in the firms they’re tasked with regulating.

Leveling up

A Kickstarter campaign can also be the story of a big push to “level up” a newsroom or outlet. Slant’d, a magazine about Asian American identity, used their campaign to transition into a collective, revamp their memberships, and begin hosting gatherings around the country. Independent leftist outlet Current Affairs used theirs to expand all their work: producing more and more deeply reported articles and podcasts, undertaking a full website overhaul, and releasing new books and videos from their authors and producers.

Embarking on a discrete project

If your organization isn’t ready for a major overhaul, you can use a campaign to fund a discrete project within your larger work. The Texas Observer ran a campaign to launch a new housing beat, For Truth Media funded an investigative report on phosphate pollution in Florida, and the Save Journalism Project designed a Freelance Reporting Initiative to commission stories from recently laid-off reporters. This can work for physical projects as well: Nowhere, a digital outlet for travel essays, has funded several annual print compendia, collecting the site’s best pieces and immortalizing them in lovely periodicals.

Funding something episodic

Many media endeavors are naturally episodic, from magazines to podcasts. These sorts of projects fit right in with Kickstarter’s project-based model—so much so that lots of creators return to the platform again and again. Anxy magazine launched on Kickstarter, then came back four more times over the next five years to fund each new issue. The podcast “50 Feminist States” has done two campaigns, one for each season, and the creator is planning several more in the coming years.

Coordinate Your Rewards

Now that you’ve framed your campaign story, it’s time to think about how you’ll draw your community into the world of your work. Rewards are one of the things that makes Kickstarter fundraising uniquely compelling: you’re not just asking people for money, you’re making them part of your creative journey.

“Rewards” does not need to be a synonym for “swag.” Many creators who rely on merch-type rewards underestimate the cost and effort involved in fulfilling them, and in any case, T-shirts and tote bags are rarely the best way to connect with your supporters. There are so many interesting and less predictable things you can share with your backers to make them feel connected to your work, while also reinforcing the story you’re telling with your campaign. What about assembling a digital compendium of past work, opening your newsroom up for VIP tours, tapping your writers to host pitch workshops, sharing outtakes from interviews or podcasts, or mailing postcards with relevant tidbits from stories? Here are some more specific examples from recent journalism campaigns:

Digital rewards

Whether or not you’re running your campaign during a worldwide pandemic, digital rewards are an excellent way to produce a high volume of interesting things without spending half your campaign funds doing it. Music media site Pink Boot offered “oddly specific” customized playlists, video-game magazine A Profound Waste of Time offered digital wallpaper designs, African culture periodical Ìrìn Journal offered digital magazines, and podcast “The View from Somewhere” offered bonus episodes—just to name a few.

Partner rewards

Any local news outlet is well suited to work with community businesses and institutions to put together unique rewards that serve their mission. NYC news site Gothamist did this extremely well, coordinating a slew of exciting, only-in-New-York rewards like Smorgasburg Smorgasbucks, memberships to the Anthology Film Archives, and nostalgia rides on the New York Transit Museum’s vintage trains. Not only were these high-demand rewards, they reinforced Gothamist’s story: that the site is deeply embedded in the fabric of New York City.

Experience rewards

Sharing a unique experience with your backers is a lovely way to make them feel connected to your creative work. McSweeney’s made great use of this idea with their campaign, offering one-on-one story workshops with editors, walking tours and picnics with authors, tarot readings and personalized book recommendations from contributors, coffee-and-donuts get-togethers in their office, and an exclusive, backer-only summer soirée.

Custom rewards

The most important thing is to make sure your rewards reflect your campaign. Cultural magazine New Modality got a little weird, releasing a limited-edition, branded avocado, laser-etched by a well-known artist-provocateur, in the middle of their campaign. Hudson Valley newsroom The River was more serious, asking backers to sponsor an investigative project—and then join in as part of the journalistic team. The founder of Racquet Magazine offered tennis micro-lessons, intersectional erotica website Aurore offered body-positive boudoir photoshoots, and podcast network Radiotopia offered backers the privilege of hearing their own stories re-interpreted for radio.

Build Momentum

You’ve got your project described and your rewards ready to entice, so now it’s time to spread the word. A well-designed promotional plan is one of the most crucial predictors of crowdfunding success—it is, after all, how you reach your crowd. Start by making lists of everyone you know, and divide your network into three groups: your inner circle, the wider world, and your amplifiers.

Your inner circle

The highest conversion rate on Kickstarter comes through individual emails, so this is the group you’ll message earliest and the most often. Reach out to those closest to you before your campaign is live, letting them know how excited you are to invite them to be a part of the creative journey you’re about to take. Message them again as soon as your campaign is live, so they can help you have a strong, exciting launch. Keep in touch throughout the campaign to thank them for their support and make sure their enthusiasm is high.

The wider world

There are many ways to reach your larger network, but social media will likely play a central role. Sitewide, Kickstarter campaigns tend to see the most engagement through Facebook and Instagram, but in journalism, Twitter conversion is much higher. That said, it’s best to work with the platform (or platforms) you’ve already mastered—there’s no need to launch a whole new account just to promote your campaign. Wherever you post, work to keep your audience interested: Use your feeds to highlight contributors, share campaign milestones, spotlight rewards, and tell your story more deeply. Lewis Raven Wallace ran two campaigns for “The View from Somewhere,” his podcast about the myth of objectivity in journalism. He was very active on Twitter throughout both, sharing compelling threads filled with embedded articles about the ways his personal journey brought him to this work and what he’d learned along the way.


These are the folks who can signal-boost your message, helping you grow your network and your reach. Do you know someone who can advertise your magazine in theirs? Have a friend with a radio show who might talk about your project or invite you on as a guest? Which people or organizations will be willing to post about your campaign or share it in their newsletter? Some creators, like Design Museum Magazine, make this process easier by creating a central hub for their amplifiers, filled with images, sample post language, and extra information. It’s also nice to find ways to promote your signal-boosters’ work as well, offering a symbiotic creative exchange.

Live events

If you’re not running your campaign during a global pandemic, live events can be great for promotion. Pittsburgh’s digital outlet Postindustrial hosted four parties during the course of their first campaign, with admission paid in campaign donations. The women behind Dum Dum Zine also wanted to engage their community offline, so they hosted live radio programs and concerts throughout their campaign. Events like these not only bring in more money for your project, but they galvanize the supporters who will stick with you for the life of your campaign—and beyond. 

Backer updates

One final promotional avenue is backer updates. These are missives you send during the course of the campaign to keep the people who have already supported you engaged and excited. Literary magazine F(r)iction used their updates to encourage backers to spread the word about their campaign, offering exclusive rewards like handmade bookmarks to those who did. Backer updates are also an excellent way to share stretch goals once your campaign has funded. Photojournalism magazine Bitterroot developed a series of stretch goals that they shared in their backer updates, including additional coverage of different issue areas, and, eventually, a special themed issue of the magazine.

Once your project is funded, you’ll get a CSV with contact info for everyone who backed you. You now have a direct line to all these supporters who have opted in to your journey, who are excited to watch what you’re about to create come to life—and to help you keep it alive.

The advice and examples throughout this piece are just a small sampling of the myriad ways to use Kickstarter for journalism. There have been so many more experimental media projects on our platform over the past ten years, from Bellingcat, which unites citizen investigative journalists with open source tools, to Out of the Binders, a symposium to help women and gender-nonconforming writers advance their careers, to the Transphobia Project, an interactive data-visualization project uncovering anti-trans bias in reporting.

Whatever journalistic endeavor you’re dreaming up, Kickstarter can help you fund it. You can find lots more tips, tricks, and resources on our Publishing Creators Page, or start your journey here. We can’t wait to see what you’ll make.