Advertising in a Sustainable Not-for-Profit Model

Posted on 18. Aug, 2009 by in Not-For-Profit, Revenue

We’ve been getting a lot of great feedback to our models, both online and out in Aspen, since we made them public yesterday. Some of the best comments have come from Jim Barnett, who questioned some of the results in our not-for-profit model both in the comments and later in a piece on theNieman Lab site.

He asks whether our model for the growth of advertising revenues–to 49% of all revenues by year three from 18% in year one–is possible or desirable at a lean not-for-profit new organization. First, to determine whether such growth is possible we looked to Joel Kramer, CEO at MinnPost.com. Kramer told David Westphal in a piece at OJR in October that he hopes 70% of MinnPost’s revenues will come from advertising by 2011.

Here’s the paragraph from the OJR piece:

Q. What was your hope, what is your hope on the mix of advertising and contributed revenue?

A. When we started we said our hope was, by 2011, 70 percent advertising, 30 percent membership. Right now it’s running about 50-50, maybe a little higher on the membership side. It’s pure guesswork because it’s a new model. The key is to get to a sustainable model by 2011. There are a lot of reasons to become optimistic, but the advertising side really needs to get better.

Kramer has since been hard at work developing display ad business (MinnPost was charging a $15 cpm earlier this summer) and new advertising units, including a Twitter-like service that he thinks could be a new form of classifieds for local news.

Our model only has 49% of revenues coming from advertising in the third year. Still, it’s a fair point to wonder whether not-for-profits should join the scramble for advertising and sponsorships when for-profits are having such a hard time of it themselves. Kramer himself comments on Barnett’s post to say our model appears to overestimate potential advertising and underestimate membership revenues. He also does a good job of answering Barnett on the pressures such a lean organization faces in separating business from editorial.

Again, we’d love to play that scenario out in our Google doc to see if those differences amount to a wash. (The New Business Models for News Project has been funded by the Knight Foundation.)

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