Voice of San Diego is joining forces with MinnPost, another online news nonprofit, to develop tools and tactics to dramatically increase membership.

Thanks to a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, we’ll work with MinnPost in a two-stage process over the next two-plus years: First, to develop systems and adopt best practices that manage member information and facilitate major membership growth. And second, to test out and then adopt new products, services and experiences for members that will make thousands more readers want to be members rather than non-paying readers.

Support from Knight Foundation is part of its Local Media Initiative that aims to help nonprofit news organizations establish long-term sustainability. The initiative comprises various other investments in the space, including $5 million in grants to over 25 local online news organizations that have demonstrated potential for growth and the INNovation Fund, which promotes newsroom innovation.

The work in the first stage should help news organizations across the country integrate donation processors with customer data software, email systems and their website. For example, if you become a member of MinnPost or VOSD, it should be easy to notify you when it’s time to renew and give you simple ways to donate again, and you should be able to manage your membership right from the website

While VOSD and MinnPost are supported by multiple revenue streams, including major gifts, foundation grants, corporate sponsorships and advertising, both believe members are the key to long-term sustainability. Since VOSD’s launch in 2005 and MinnPost’s in 2007, both nonprofits have built a community of members that generate revenue directly and also develop into major donors, sponsors and community partners.

“Our membership is a community that provides volunteers, accountability and revenue to the organization,” VOSD’s CEO Scott Lewis said. “In the long-term, we believe we’ll need a membership of many thousands of people and managing them requires technology that we are fortunate to now be able to implement.”

”Members today donate mainly to support the cause, which is great,” said Joel Kramer, CEO and editor of MinnPost. “But we’re excited about working together with Knight’s support to develop new products, services and experiences, including customized ones, that will make thousands of people decide that being a member of MinnPost or Voice of San Diego is not just a philanthropic decision, but something that benefits them directly. We want to make membership irresistible.”

“This investment is intended to help organizations that have shown promise develop new innovations, while adding to the momentum they have already built towards further growth and sustainability,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation vice president of journalism and media innovation.

VOSD and MinnPost hope to triple membership by the end of 2016, and we both plan to provide a comprehensive guide and recommendations to other nonprofit news organizations who want to follow our lead.

For more information on the project, contact Mary Walter-Brown at Voice of San Diego or Kaeti Hinck at MinnPost.

Catherine Green was formerly the deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handled daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects.

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