Phillip Smith

Uncovering a path toward sustainable journalism in Canada

Over time successful patterns are emerging

And we’re off to the races again: in the wee hours last Monday morning, The Tyee launched its third campaign asking readers to directly fund reporting projects. A bit more than a year ago, The Tyee asked readers to contribute $100,000 to put a reporter in Ottawa, and they did it. This time, the campaign is focused on raising $50,000 to cover the upcoming Canadian federal election. As of this morning – just seven days into the campaign – individuals have contributed more than $24,000.

As The Tyee’s de-facto director of technology, I’ve enjoyed the karmic benefits of being involved in these successful campaigns. I’ve also endured the occasional stressful day and sleepless night as the sole maintainer of The Tyee’s bespoke Kickstarter-esque fundraising system. (On that note, I should mention that we’re looking for a Web Wrangler to join the team and there are still a few days left to apply.)

Now in its third iteration, the fundraising system – part IndieGogo, part Patreon (though Patreon wasn’t a thing yet back in 2012 when we started) – has successfully on-ramped thousands of new Tyee financial backers, and has facilitated hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions toward award-winning reporting. There’s still lots to improve, but it’s always nice to be making incremental improvements to a model that’s already working.

Enough about that, let’s jump into some interesting stats:

By the numbers

Unlike the last effort, this campaign focuses on one-time contributions over monthly commitments. With this change in focus, we introduced some suggested one-time giving levels with associated “rewards.” Some rewards are simply karmic, others tangible, e.g., access to an upcoming workshop on investigative reporting, delivered by my colleague Tim Groves, for contributions of $100 or more.

So far what I’m seeing is:

The campaign landing page has received roughly 2000 uniques over the last week, resulting in approximately 425 gifts, for a conversion rate of roughly 21% (or basically one in five unique visitors complete a transaction). Of those that chose to give a one-time gift, the average contribution is $59.

As we’ve seen in the past, e-mail campaigns – both campaign-specific and The Tyee’s daily and weekly briefings – drove the lion’s share of gifts; almost 75% when combined. That is followed roughly by stories and display advertising on The Tyee, and then Twitter at a distant 3%. This should surprise no one that has read my blog in the pastI’m kinda’ big on e-mail

Of the contributions to date, about 10% have been completed on a mobile device (discussed earlier here). Of those, 50% were on an iPad, then iPhones, then Androids and Blackberries.

Not just British Columbia

The one data point that we’re all keeping on eye on closely during this campaign is contributions outside of British Columbia. While a focus on issues that impact BC is what The Tyee has built its reputation on these last eleven years, it’s becoming apparent that new national coverage is starting to hit home.

Outside of British Columbia, these are the top five locations that people are contributing from:

  1. Ontario
  2. Alberta
  3. Manitoba
  4. Nova Scotia
  5. Newfoundland

There’s also been some surprising support from New South Wales, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand.

In British Columbia, here’s the top ten cities reported:

  1. Vancouver
  2. Victoria
  3. Burnaby
  4. Nanaimo
  5. Surrey
  6. North Vancouver
  7. New Westminster
  8. Courtenay
  9. Campbell River
  10. West Vancouver


This time, I’m guessing that we Won’t see the “hockey stick” chart that the was experienced during the last campaign: that time almost 25% – or $25,000 – was raised in last 24 hours bringing us to the $100,000 goal.

My prediction is that the the campaign will raise roughly $5000 in the last day. That leaves roughly $20,000 to raise over the next 13 days, or roughly $1500/day. That’s by no means an easy lift.

The Tyee’s new Director of Community Development, Jeanette Ageson (featured in the campaign video), has developed a great plan with lots of surprises. She’s pulled in some whip-smart and funny minds to help out, like Sarah Berman and Steve Burgess. Just looking at the campaign calendar sketched out in the makeshift boardroom gives me confidence that the goal will be reached.

Sustainable journalism models

This is an interesting time to be working in the world of journalism in Canada. At the same time that CBC is announcing cuts across the country, we are seeing some surprising surges of support for independent reporting.

Jesse Brown’s Canadaland show recently passed their goal of reaching $10,000 a month in reader-contributed funding. The Vancouver Observer recently surpassed their goal of $50,000 to launch the “National Observer” with a focus on energy. iPolitics continues to delivery great reporting via its subscription model. And The Tyee – having already sent a reporter to Ottawa thanks to reader support – is on target to raise an additional $50,000 to beef up its election reporting.

It’s going to be a fun couple of weeks. If you haven’t contributed yet, please consider supporting The Tyee’s ongoing, award-winning reporting.


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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