Phillip Smith

Getting to 1.1.0

$60,000 from 600 supporters and growing

I received an e-mail a couple of days after my last post on “Getting to 1.0.0” from a colleague at a progressive publication in the US:

Would you please give a short overview of what The Tyee has done to promote this campaign? $10k in 2 days has raised a few eyebrows around here.

I responded that I’d get back to him just as soon as I was out of the thick of it…

It’s been two weeks since that e-mail and the campaign has just pushed past the midway point toward its goal, having raised more than $60,000 toward the $100,000 goal with the support of almost 600 individuals.

There are just five days left in the campaign and more than $30,000 to be raised in that time, so there is still a long way to go to meet the goal. However, for almost a week straight, the campaign managed to grow by $5,000 a day. This past Monday, there was a surprising spike of new supporters that committed almost $10,000 in just 24 hours. “Crowd funding” (isn’t it really just fundraising?) is a marvel to witness when it’s working.

To answer my colleague’s question about promotion: I wish I could say that there was a secret.

The campaign, to date, has relied on very little more than feature stories on The Tyee, like this one and this one, and direct e-mails to the individuals that subscribe to The Tyee’s various mailing lists, as well as the requisite social media posts on Facebook & Twitter and in-house advertising for the campaign running consistently across the site. The most important ingredient, from my perspective, is a message that resonates with people enough to compel them to take action.

On slower days, small incentives were introduced to help reach the day’s target, for example a signed copy of Lawrence Martin’s book Harperland. The biggest surges of support, however, consistently come from The Tyee’s own e-mail campaigns to its supporters, as well as e-mail campaigns by the civil-society groups that are supporting The Tyee’s bid to bring more independent reporting to the national conversation. Some efforts, like the “Canada’s Emperors Wearing No Clothes!” feature story and mailing performed less impressively, which might speak to the resonance of the campaign’s generally more earnest messaging.

The Tyee's national campaign fundraising widget

Maybe I’m just a geek, but I also think there’s some magical effect that the live-updating campaign-progress widget has a on supporters psychologically. This was a big part of the many, many fundraising campaigns (at least two a week, if I remember correctly) that we undertook during the Nader 2008 presidential campaign that resulted in more than $1,000,000 in online donations, and which seem to have become the standard on most of the crowd-funding sites out there. What I do know for sure is that the widget has a profound physiological impact on those of us working on this campaign: we’re glued to it almost all day every day.

I also guess that the relatively smooth contribution process plays a small role. Embedding the payment form right into the campaign page – something I was against at first – seems to be working well (though I have nothing to test it against). And developing the site to work really well on phones and tablets has probably helped to secure the significant number of contributions from mobile devices that have come in.


There has been some media coverage too (here, here, and here), but not as much as I would have thought, given the story here of an award-winning online news site, now ten years old, that continues to remain paywall free and to connect with readers in such a significant way that, when asked, those readers will commit tens of thousands of dollars in recurring contributions to see that same reporting cover more national issues. I can’t help but think there’s a significant story or lesson there (Mathew Ingram? Mark Coddington? Bueller?).

Yesterday, as the campaign headed into it’s final week, a larger promotional push was undertaken: a initiative to try to reach out to those people who don’t already know about The Tyee’s reporting, specifically target individuals who live in eastern Canada. The initiative asks current supporters, as well as those who haven’t committed yet, to “friendraise” for a chance to win a weekend getaway in Tofino, BC. For each friend raised, the person recruiting them earns five ballots in the draw – those are pretty good odds, and they don’t even have to become a contributor to participate (though, their friends do). It’s still to early to know how this promotion will perform, but the hope is that it will help reach outside The Tyee’s current audience.

If you want to support The Tyee and bring more diverse, fact-driven reporting to Canada’s national conversation, you can do so here:


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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