Coming up: a conversation with Dave Cohn

17 May 2009

spotusAbout a month ago Dave Cohn of Spot.us responded to a post I’d put up here that wondered how he and his sidekick Kara were doing, and particularly whether and how they were encouraging people who donated money to a specific “pitch” to also make a donation to the organization. He wrote back to say that they’d been thinking a lot about this question in slightly different terms:

Are we a platform that puts weight on the reporters to fund themselves – assuming that most donors are one-time givers.Or are we a community site that is going to try and create a dynamic relationship with our audience and give them more than the single project. More and more – we are trying to become the second.

Good questions for anyone who’s going to push the practice of crowdfunding forward. It’s also a question we deal with all the time at Mother Jones, and so I was especially interested to see how Dave and Spot.us approach it, literally with fresh eyes.

So I asked Dave if he’d be up for talking about the fundraising end of things with me – and that’s what we’ll be doing over the next few days. Keep an eye out for it, and once it gets going, join the conversation. (PS – Dave is threatening to respond via video, which means I may be making the jump into that medium too. . . uh oh, moving pictures…)

Since our earlier exchange, Dave posted a six-month “State of the Spot” (highly recommended) that touched on this and other questions they’ve been dealing with, being a new start up in uncharted territory. They’ve funded 23 stories in 24 weeks, with more on the way. They’re learning how to manage the editorial flow. They’re encouraging reporters to spend more time blogging about the reporting process, and not just focusing on the end product. They’re figuring out where their organizing resources need to be focused. And they’re beginning to identify the kinds of stories that they’d like Spot.us to do or that more easily find a community of interest – “stories to provide new information, views, etc – not rehash what is already out there,” and that “have a concrete anchor to a geographic or ethnic community.”

Some of the questions we might ruminate over:

  • The Facts: how is Spot.us fundraising going? 23 stories in 24 weeks sounds good – any patterns to the giving? How much has Spot.us raised? Average amount per pitch? We might talk a little about the Knight grant, too – how much, how long, how it’s being used. For folks looking to get into this world it’ll be a good reality check to hear about the importance of that support (or not, if it’s not).
  • Trends: Any trends about who are the people who make the donations? Early tech or media adopters? Friends Of Dave? Friends of the reporters? Or are they more likely to be people from a particular community of interest? Am I right that someone is doing community organizing to reach out to organizations, people, other media outfits, to build communities of interest and hence funding for the pitches?
  • Measuring success: other than getting the pitches funded, how does Spot.us measure success? Any process measures Spot.us uses to evaluate how they’re doing on the $ side? (for instance, number of days it takes to fund a pitch, or average gift per pitch, things like that).
  • Spot.us as a community site: I’m really intrigued by Dave’s observation that they’re inclining more towards being a “community site” that builds strong relationships with their audience. That wasn’t where they started, right? We might talk through the experiences that are leading Spot.us toward that new definition? How is Spot.us thinking of making the pivot from pitch-oriented fundraising to mission-oriented fundraising?
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3 Responses to “Coming up: a conversation with Dave Cohn”


  1. […] of (biz models to support) journalism (aka FoJ). So I reached out to Dave Cohn at Spot.us here, here and here, because I think he’s doing something really interesting. And I’ll get back to […]


  2. […] Coming up: A Conversation with Dave Cohn This was the start of the more formal conversation between Steve and I. He laid out some questions […]


  3. […] question sparked the start of the more formal conversation between Katz and I, as he laid out some questions about Spot.Us’s approach and status. I thought I’d have […]


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