No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS
What is the best way to go about this? “This,” being raising the money it takes to keep Mother Jones going strong.
That’s the million-dollar question right now. Or, actually, the $1.4 million question, because that’s how much we need to bring in from online readers by June 30, when our current budgeting cycle ends. And this is a pivotal moment.
There are a lot of ways to be gimmicky or manipulative about this—PLEASE, WE’RE DESPERATE—but I can promise you, no matter how bad things get, that’s not going to be Mother Jones’ approach. You’re reading our work because it’s about the facts
But we have been racking our brains about how we can do a better job at presenting the facts, because our fall fundraising campaign came up about $100,000 short, which is tough for a lean organization like MoJo. Back in October, we asked you how we can make a better case for our fundraising drives, and we learned so much from what you shared. The biggest thing you told us was: Explain what this is all about. Why is Mother Jones different from the other news outlets you see, and why do we ask for your support? What about advertising, subscriptions, or foundation grants? Aren’t there other ways you can pay for this journalism?
So for this end-of-year fundraising campaign that kicks off today, we’re trying to answer that question—why your donations to Mother Jones are so essential right now—and asking you to help us refine our pitch or share any other advice you have.
December is make-or-break for fundraising. Upward of 15 percent of MoJo’s total online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and some 10 percent the final two days alone. It’s when we find out whether we can keep doing the work we’re doing or have to make painful cuts to finish the year break-even.
In order to meet our end-of-year budget goal this month, we need to raise $350,000. And thanks to an incredibly generous pledge from a donor who knew financial headwinds were on the horizon, all online donations will be matched dollar for dollar until we hit that number. If you can afford to pitch in, please consider making your year-end donation today: It will be doubled and go twice as far. If you can’t afford to, you can give us a different type of gift: sharing what makes Mother Jones worth reading to you (further down in this post) and of course sharing our work or this post with people you think would like it. Word-of-mouth is so important, especially now that tech platforms have turned against journalism and we can’t trust that people will see our work on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
The sheer volume of fundraising requests folks who care about causes (and Congress) have been receiving lately is out of control—we heard that from you loud and clear. One day before the election, we noticed five emails “from” Democratic strategist James Carville about the Nevada Senate race alone in our inbox, on top of four the previous day, and 23 total that week. And the tone of many of those fundraising requests is intense: “I’m begging,” “I’m desperate,” “[Villain name here] is about to destroy [beloved thing here] unless you rush a $5 donation by midnight tonight.” Or the old “[Busy politician name] was looking over our records and saw your name missing.” Uh-huh.
At Mother Jones, as hard as it is, we’d rather live closer to the edge financially than go there. We—that is, Brian, who is responsible for this part of our budget, and Monika, who as the CEO is responsible for the whole damn thing—are hoping that giving it to you as matter-of-fact as we can will work to raise the $350,000 we need to cope with skyrocketing expenses so we can keep our journalists charging hard.
Please help us get this right and let us know what you think below. Sharing messages from readers about what makes Mother Jones valuable, in your own words, made some of the best fundraising emails we sent of late, so hearing from you really helps us connect with other people like you.
Now, the Numbers
- $18.7 million: Our budget for the current fiscal year that ends on June 30.
- 74 percent: Share that comes from donations big and small. Nothing else could keep us going. Another 16 percent comes from readers as well, in the form of subscriptions to our print magazine. 7.5 percent comes from advertising. In fairness, we could nudge that up a few points if we took some of the crappier ads out there. But we won’t.
- $1.4 million: The amount we need to raise in donations from online readers by June 30 when our current budget ends.
- $350,000—did we mention that?—is our December goal that we need to hit.
- 100 percent: The amount of your donation to Mother Jones, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, that is tax-deductible.
- 100 percent: The amount of your donation that will be matched by an incredibly generous donor when you give online by the December 31 deadline.
- Roughly 1 Yankee Stadium: What the 50,000 people who support our work each year could fill, which is pretty awesome.
- About 1 in 500: The share of people who read our journalism online who decide to donate. If every one of the 25 million people who have come to MotherJones.com so far this year had given even just a nickel, we would basically be done with our online fundraising!
- 60 percent: The share of our budget that goes to our biggest expense—paying the journalists and publishing professionals on our staff. (Many people asked what their donations support—this is the answer). Some other line items you might find surprising: Insurance to defend our work against frivolous litigation is up 15 percent, to more than $200,000 this year. The paper we print our magazine on is up more than 50 percent. Shipping is up 15 percent, and software licenses (to run our website, email servers, and such) have increased another 15 percent. And needless to say, the revenue we need to bring in to pay for all this is not going up in this tricky economic climate.
- $0: What we charge to read our journalism online. Keeping our reporting free for everyone has always been central to Mother Jones’ mission because we don’t believe quality information—or other public services—should only be available for those who can afford it. For 46 years now, enough readers have pitched in so anyone who wants to read our reporting is able to. (We’re also keeping the cost of our print magazine the same because we know many readers are financially pinched right now. That means—hint hint—that a MoJo gift subscription is an amazing and frugal gift!)
- As many as you have: Other questions about our budget and how this all works? Let us know.
The Nonprofit and Namesake
When a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes us different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because “in absolutely every way” is essentially the answer.
Investigating the “great unelected power wielders of our time” is how co-founder Adam Hochschild described Mother Jones’ reason for existence when we got started as a nonprofit magazine back in 1976. It was the aftermath of Watergate, and there were lots of important stories that the big outlets were not going after. (That much hasn’t changed!) But the small group of journalists who got together to try to fix this knew that the old ways of paying for news would never support the kind of fierce journalism that was needed.
Advertising revenue was the main source of revenue for magazines back then, and car manufacturers and tobacco companies were among the biggest spenders. One of Mother Jones’ first investigations was about how automakers calculated that it was cheaper to pay settlements for deaths and injuries than to fix fatal design flaws in cars like the now-infamous Ford Pinto. Another was about how tobacco companies were trying to snuff out anti-smoking efforts. Need we say more?
The truth, then and now, is that corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.
The only investors who won’t let independent, investigative journalism down are the people who actually care about its future—you. That’s the bet MoJo’s founders made, and 46 years later, we are still here. Kind of incredible, given all the glitzy launches and spectacular failures of news organizations in those intervening decades.
In practice, being a nonprofit means we can invest time and effort into big, underreported stories that are hard to do if you need to maximize clicks or look out for skittish advertisers. It gives us the independence to call it like we see it. (If you’d like to understand the other business models for news out there, check out “News Is Just Like Waste Management,” “Pop Goes the Digital Media Bubble,” or “They Love Shiny Things.”)
And our name? Mary Harris Jones, known as “Mother Jones,” was a badass labor organizer in the early 1900s. She lived at a moment when giant corporations reigned supreme, women couldn’t vote, lynchings were routine, and the US government massacred its own people. But like changemakers through the ages, she did not accept things as they were. She did not accept the role assigned to an older, penniless, immigrant woman, and she did not accept that a modern economy required children to work 12-hour days in the mills.
She was known, in many corner offices of the day, as “the most dangerous woman in America,” and creating “the most dangerous magazine in America” is what we have always aspired to do. As Upton Sinclair, another hellraiser, recognized, in the words of Jones’ biographer, “Stories were Mother Jones’ weapons.”
Stories. The beauty of being supported by readers is that we’re not locked into anyone else’s idea of what’s news. We can go after the stories that most need going after, and we can connect the dots to lift up underreported stories, and look at the systemic forces and failures behind the headlines, and advance change.
Sometimes we get asked what our top three editorial priorities are, and one way to answer that is: democracy, democracy, and democracy. Everything else flows from this. Climate sanity won’t prevail, racial and economic justice won’t advance, people’s right to control their own bodies and marry whom they love won’t be safe, if we can’t protect and expand democracy.
So that’s our primary focus—investigating the forces working against democracy and highlighting the people working to expand it. That includes:
- Voting rights and voter suppression, election integrity and the Big Lie—everything about the attack on free and fair elections and how to protect them.
- Dark money and political corruption—for example, investigating how Steve Bannon helped craft Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign in conjunction with a fugitive Chinese billionaire. A recording of Bannon that our reporter Dan Friedman got a hold of was even played (twice!) in the January 6 hearings.
- Disinformation and propaganda: In 2016, it was foreign troll farms seeding our social feeds with propaganda. Now the lies are homegrown and for profit. Our reporters, especially disinformation reporter Ali Breland, have been digging into who is spreading disinformation and how Big Tech is making it possible.
- Extremism and political violence: Hateful rhetoric leads to real-life violence, as we saw in the Capitol attack and a string of mass shootings motivated by hate and conspiracies. Mother Jones has been investigating those who foster the hate, and those who profit from it.
- The fight for climate sanity: We’re at an inflection point where both climate disaster and climate solutions become more tangible every day. Mother Jones has made this one of our top priorities for decades, and in the year ahead we’ll dig deep on the massive project to decarbonize our world.
- From the Supreme Court to local school boards, there’s a movement to halt progress on racial justice because “racism is over.” But our reporters are not falling for it—they’re exposing injustices so people can take action.
- What really works to make communities safer: We’re in a wave of fearmongering about crime. But behind the headlines, where are the people working to actually advance justice and protect communities? Our reporters are going deep and bringing back some surprisingly inspiring stories.
- The right of people to make personal and intimate decisions is under attack—and those attacks are often coordinated and financed by hidden forces that our journalists can expose.
- Some of the biggest stories for us, now and always, involve corporate players trying to hijack the economic and our political process. This cover package, six months in the making, exposed how secretive hedge funds are wrecking companies, destroying jobs, and getting rich doing it.
Of course, ultimately the world does not fit neatly into buckets like that—and our beats, reporters, and specialists are meant to collaborate and overlap, because that’s where the hardest-hitting journalism often exists: Looking at the whole tree, not just bad apples here and there. And, importantly, to lift up not just injustices but also work to fix them and advance solutions—because there is so much hope to be found, if you know where to look.
But enough from us—the truth is, you, the community of readers who help fund our work, often say it best. Here’s how one reader recently put it when we asked how best to make the case for support:
“Reach out to folks who read the New York Times, Washington Post, and Guardian and impress upon them how MoJo supplements the reports from those other organizations. I subscribe to and read them and find MoJo’s focus on social justice to be unique. MoJo identifies and gives voice to the people adversely impacted by the lies/misinformation. It’s important to follow the news, but it’s vital to understand the impact of the news on people. Other news organizations feed the mind. MoJo supports the heart and soul of America.”
One more, and we hope you’ll share your message like these below:
“Why I support your work? Mother Jones focuses on the problems of today, while connecting them to the bad decisions, or good, of the past. It holds no punches, it dives deep into the facts of the story, and most importantly, your journalists are timely in delivering the story weeks, sometimes months ahead of others. This is your strength, and this is what you need to advertise to your readers and future readers. We make better decisions, vote for better candidates when we have the knowledge ahead of time, and not just whatever is the popular news cycle of the day/week.”
And while we’re sharing, we’ll finish with a great video from our digital producer, Sam Van Pykeren, talking about why he loves working here and some of his favorite projects from the last year:
Here’s what another reader told us: “The cause is righteous and does not need sky-is-falling rhetoric. You folks do great work.”
But when we’re asking you to support that work, we do need to crank up the urgency. Because there is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t support our work, we won’t be here. So we have to do the best job we possibly can at explaining why we need you, and why we need you right now.
On the right now part: First, journalism is in another wave of retrenchment—not a day goes by without a news organization announcing layoffs or even shutting down. It has to do with advertising budgets, which are the first thing to go when companies try to save money, but also with the enormous power of platforms—Facebook and Twitter in particular—to control what news people see.
But second, and more important: Right now democracy actually has a fighting chance. I know there have been times in the last few years when many of you (and us too) feared that that was no longer true. But the midterm elections—when the deck seemed so stacked in favor of election deniers, conspiracy theorists, bullies, and liars, and when, against tall odds, so many people came out and said “enough is enough”—were inspiring. What’s important now is that people who care about democracy don’t stop pushing, because sanity only won by a razor-thin margin. And it’s important, too, that journalists don’t stop digging for the truth and exposing wrongdoing—but with all the pressure on media, that’s already starting to happen. At Mother Jones, it won’t, I can promise you that.
It’s been an incredibly challenging several years for all of us, and we truly can’t express how grateful we are for you and the entire Mother Jones community. Processing the news with you all, hearing from you, learning about what MoJo means to you, just having an outlet to write about the world, is such a gift.
And we could really use your help in shaping how we ask you to support our work, because we can’t afford to get this wrong given how tight our budgets are. Our dream scenario is growing our base of nearly 6,000 readers who support MoJo with monthly donations so we rely less on make-or-break campaigns like we are this month, but those gifts are typically hard-won. We’d really love to hear from you on this all.
Please let us know: How can we best go about raising the $1.4 million we budgeted for online readers this year—and at least that much again next year? What makes Mother Jones unique, and valuable, to you? If you’ve supported our work in the past, what convinced you? Is there a story that changed something—in you or your community? If you can afford to pitch in but never have, we’d love to know why not. What questions or ideas do you have about our work?