FAQ on ELi Fundraising, Including about Facebook

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We hope you are enjoying some downtime this weekend! Here at ELi, our Managing Editor Emily Elliott, General Manager Jodi Spicer, and I are working hard on our 2021 Sustainability Campaign, which ends Thursday, Dec. 31, at midnight. Today, we’re bringing answers to campaign FAQs.

How come I’m not seeing ELi at Facebook? Believe us, that is not our choice. Facebook decides what you see. Not seeing ELi? That means Facebook is deciding for you that you don’t want to see ELi.

Yes, we recently encouraged many of you to change your Facebook settings to set ELi to “see first,” in the hopes the mysterious Facebook algorithm would decide to show you more of ELi’s posts. That doesn’t seem to be working, and we are hearing from other local news organizations that they’re experiencing the same post “brown-outs” at Facebook.

This is, frankly, killing us during fundraising season. So many of our readers access our work only when they happen to see it at Facebook. So, they have no idea what’s going on at ELi.

What can you do to help, besides giving now? Tell your friends and neighbors that ELi needs financial help now. Tell them in your own words, and point them here. Also encourage them to access ELi directly at our website.

How much have you raised? When we put together lump-sum contributions made since the campaign started and take new monthly donations and multiply them by 12, and include matching funds for all that, we have raised just under $99,000 towards our campaign goal of $200,000.

Are you worried?

Yes. To reach the goal, we should be at least at $140,000 by now. I am hearing from a lot of local donors that (understandably) they can’t afford to help us this year as they have in years past because their businesses are either in distress or facing tremendous uncertainty due to the pandemic.

It’s worth remembering that on a normal day nine months of the year, East Lansing has tens of thousands more people spending money locally. All of the students, faculty, and staff normally moving around every day here are just not. Big game days historically have brought a hundred thousand extra people to town; that’s a lot of money not showing up here this year. Since March, town has emptied out.

So, the pandemic has had a phenomenal economic impact on local businesses, and it is now hitting ELi, a local business that has relied on the economic well-being of many of those local businesses. It’s also been tough for us because we usually do a lot of fundraising at in-person events, and this year we can’t do any of that this year.

Are you trying something new?

We’ve been trying new things, like our Budget Brigade, our Keep ELi Running offer (which brings you NPR’s Peter Sagal’s autographed memoir for a $50 donation made via a special link), bringing an ELi Trivia Night, and sending appeals through the mail.

Tomorrow we’ll announce that we’re doing a telethon on Wednesday, Dec. 30, from noon to midnight to try to hit our goal. I am excited about the special guests we have booked for that! Read more at ELi tomorrow on that.

And yes, we’d rather be doing serious reporting than trying to creatively fundraise. But we understand some people need a lot of nudging to get why this matters and to feel like they should help fund local news reporting, including investigative reporting and community news reporting.

Are there still matching dollars available in the campaign?

Yes. We have almost exactly $3,000 left in matching funds. Right now, if you donate we will see your gift doubled. If you make a new monthly contribution, we will see that matched at the annual rate. So a new $20/month commitment turns into $480 towards our goal. Find all the ways to donate here.

We may have more matching funds available before campaign’s end, as we have seen dedicated donors in the past step up, during this crunch period, to offer more in matching funds.

Why do you need $200,000?

I explained in a recent special article about our expenses that this amount will cover our budget for 2021, so that from January through November of 2021, we can focus on bringing news instead of fundraising. About 91% of donated dollars in the last year have gone to paying local people to bring the news.

For perspective, the amount we are trying to raise to bring an entire news operation is about equal to the annual compensation package of East Lansing’s City Manager. We think we are pretty efficient when you look at our work that way, particularly when you consider three of us work full-time and we pay dozens of local people per year via ELi.

If we hit our goal, we know we can cover the activities of our local government and school board, public safety and emergencies, local businesses and arts, Parks & Rec, and provide investigative reporting on things like big development and the use of property and income taxes. We can also continue our Summer Youth Journalism Program, which trains young people in journalistic techniques and ethics – and is really aimed at helping them understand the place of factual news in citizenship and local leadership in the contemporary world.

What if we don’t raise that amount?

I will ask ELi’s Board of Directors to hold a meeting that makes hard decisions about ELi’s budget, and the team will likely feel pretty deflated. I will spend a lot of time reminding everyone this was an experiment in a world where local news is dying out, and we’ve done terrific work for this community for six years.

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