Democracy Fund believes that strong local news and a vibrant public square are critical to a healthy democracy. That is why our local news strategy is focused on creating a more connected, collaborative, and sustainable future for public-interest journalism. But we recognize that we can’t do it alone, and that partnerships with other foundations are critical to rebuilding a vibrant public square.
Today we are releasing a new paper that we commissioned to help us learn about how to build effective and equitable partnerships that put local stakeholders at the center of our work to support local news. The paper, “Effective Place-Based Philanthropy: The Role and Practices of a National Funder,” is relevant to funders and nonprofits working on a range of community development and engagement efforts.
We believe that the future of local news is local. That may sound like a bland truism, but it raises important questions for a national foundation who wants to genuinely and authentically support diverse local communities to strengthen their local news ecosystem. Solutions to the crisis in local news need to respond to local context and needs. We can and should learn from what is working elsewhere, but we should also recognize there is no silver bullet and that only through deep listening and partnership can we create meaningful and lasting change.
For this reason, 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 locally driven and locally supported 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 take that role seriously and humbly.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the roles and practices of national foundations undertaking place-based work and learn from past projects. Democracy Fund commissioned Prudence Brown, a respected leader in place-based philanthropy, to provide her insights as we developed our strategy.
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. While the audience for this paper is largely other foundations, we believe that the lessons here are also useful in empowering nonprofits and grantees.
Many of the themes and considerations in this paper are applicable to other sectors well beyond journalism and media. As such, we are sharing this work with the broader field. We think this is important both for 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 to LocalNewsLab@democracyfund.org.