Last month during our Spring Fund Drive, we received a check in the mail with the following note:
“Please find enclosed a contribution to Real Change. While I support your mission of improving conditions for the homeless, for low-income people, for better quality open space and various other priorities, I have also been impressed by improvements in the editorial quality of the newspaper. In recent years, the articles have become better focused, better written, better edited, and thus more likely to attract the attention of a wider range of readers and thereby have more influence on the community. Please keep up the good work.”
A week after receiving this note, we got word from the International Network of Street Papers that we won its award for Best Cultural Feature (“About face: Through images and art, Rex Hohlbein is changing perceptions of homelessness,” May 27, 2015, by Aaron Burkhalter). The following week, we received eight journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northwest Excellence in Journalism Awards, including a second-place award for overall newspaper excellence and first-place awards for social issues reporting (Rianna Hidalgo) and for feature photography (Alex Garland).
The accolades and awards are affirmations that Real Change isn’t some charity street rag; it’s an outstanding community newspaper. You, our readers, already know this. But you’d be surprised how many people have never opened the paper and still brush us off because they think it’s “just a charitable homeless newspaper.”
The core of our three-person team (soon to be four) in the newsroom has a combined 49 years of journalism experience. This is substantial for any newsroom. It’s almost unheard of in North America for a street newspaper.
The single most significant reason that Real Change is able to invest resources into hiring a professional journalism team is your support.
This year, we raised $187,538 from 768 donors during our Spring Drive. This is just short of our target of $205,000, but close enough that we will be able to continue funding the growth of our work for economic, social and racial justice.
Support from individual donors is the largest and most important aspect of our funding base. Almost 60 percent of our operating budget comes from grassroots support (about 10 percent comes from grants and 30 percent from sales of the paper to vendors.) We want to keep it this way.
Individual donors like you are our most sustainable source of funding. While some individual donors lapse each year, others always come onboard, making for a much more stable source of funds than grants.
Individual donors like you are likely to be readers of the paper and to form relationships with our vendors. These cross-class relationships often lead to increased involvement in our advocacy campaigns.
Individual donors like you provide funding with no strings attached, which preserves our independence. Many institutional funders have restrictions on what they will fund and are particularly hesitant to support anything that sniffs the least bit political. We are unapologetic about the fact that real work for economic and racial justice is political.
Just this week, Mayor Ed Murray announced that as the city began cleaning up the area known as The Jungle, he would not force the 100 or so homeless individuals still living there to leave. This was a change in the position he took earlier this year when he said that the encampment in the area also known as the East Duwamish Green Belt would be completely shut down. Real Change has been a vocal critic of any policy forcing people to leave without offering them services and a place to go. Our activism clearly played an important role in the mayor’s change of heart.
We are grateful for the small victories but remain aware of how much work remains to be done. Your support means that we head into the second half of the year with the wind at our backs. So, once again, thank you. You allow us to provide the staffing to support our 300-plus homeless or formerly homeless vendors. You allow us to wage fierce advocacy campaigns. You allow us, week in and week out, to provide a top-notch newspaper. Thank you for being the bedrock of our work.