Q&A: Architect of San Diego news nonprofit on recruiting wealthy contributors

Lorie Hearn has built inewsource, the San Diego investigative reporting nonprofit, into a $1 million-a-year business. Although initially focusing on foundation money, she is now concentrating on attracting individual donors, especially those in the “major donor” category. In an interview, Hearn, executive director and editor of inewsource, described what she’s learned about recruiting wealthy contributors.

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What’s your secret to attracting individual donors?

We launched the Spotlight Club in September 2016. The idea was to build a strong foundation of individual support from people willing to give $1,000 a year or more. Our mantra is thank, recognize, and engage. This group receives much personal attention from me and members of the board, including a monthly newsletter that contains story highlights and information about our appearances in the community, new grants, new members, and staff news. (But) we have found that one-to-one contact is most effective. I’ve learned you can never thank people too much. We also enjoy getting into people’s homes for a salon event where we can educate people one living room at a time.


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What resonates with individual donors about the work of inewsource?

In today’s climate, where fake news is top of mind and people are feeling angry and confused about what to believe, our caliber of reporting seems to give them a sense of relief. I can’t emphasize enough the issue of transparency. In our times when everything is so muddy, people relate when you start telling them how you do your fact-checking. We do a second version of our investigations that we call “transparify,” where virtually every word of the story is hyperlinked to source material. We say, you don’t have to believe us. You can look at every document we’ve used. People love that. They really respond. Hopefully, we’ll be that much more credible, because we won’t be afraid to share everything with you.

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David Westphal is a senior fellow at the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He also is an adjunct instructor in the Studio 20 program at New York University. Previously, he was a longtime newspaper reporter and editor.

TOP IMAGE: Lorie Hearn. Courtesy photo.