Effective Place-Based Philanthropy

Prudence Brown
October 17, 2017

Democracy Fund believes that strong local news and a vibrant public square are critical to a healthy democracy. Today, local news is struggling in communities across America. Newsrooms, facing dwindling advertising revenue and diminishing trust, have been forced to shrink, or in many places, disappear altogether. While there are bold experiments to rebuild newsroom capacity in some regions, these experiments are unevenly distributed and precarious. The Democracy Fund local news strategy is focused on creating a more connected, collaborative, and sustainable future for public-interest journalism.

Because local news must be responsive to and reflective of the local communities it serves, we have designed our local news strategy around deep partnerships with local funders, journalists, and communities. We want Democracy Fund to be a catalyst for expanding local efforts to create robust news ecosystems. We recognize that in pursuing place-based philanthropy to strengthen local news, we are guests in other’s communities. We can’t do this work alone.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the roles and practices of national foundations undertaking place-based work. Democracy Fund commissioned Prudence Brown, a respected leader in place-based philanthropy, to provide her insights as we design a new program to support and strengthen local journalism and civic engagement.

Drawing significantly from recent literature and Brown’s own experience and observations, this paper is organized around key questions that national funders can consider as they develop new place-based partnerships. After each question, Brown provides a brief discussion and concrete suggestions for decision-making and action.

Many of the themes and considerations in this paper are applicable to funders in other sectors. As such, we are sharing this work with the broader field. We think this is important both for the sake of transparency and accountability, and because we hope others can learn alongside us. This paper is just the start of our learning journey. We welcome any comments about lessons learned from other national-local partnerships.

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