How to apply for a grant from the NJ Civic Info Consortium

New Jersey Civic Information Consortium project grantmaking guidelines

Released March 3, 2021

The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a first in the nation initiative to grow access to local news and information, is now accepting applications for its inaugural round of grant funding. The Consortium was created by the State of New Jersey in 2018 to grow access to civic information statewide and spark innovative media projects in communities lacking access to news and information.

The Consortium will consider applications from all parts of the state, but is especially interested in proposals that focus on better serving communities of color, immigrant communities and rural communities. 

The Consortium is focusing on three key areas for these initial grants, based on the following current pressing information needs of New Jerseyans: 

  • News and information that promotes community health, including information surrounding the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on our communities. 
  • Reporting and civic technology projects that make government information more accessible and hold public officials accountable. 
  • Diversifying New Jersey’s journalism pipeline, media education and journalism/storytelling training in communities that lack trusted news sources and/or where coverage is one-dimensional and doesn’t meet community needs.

Eligibility 

The state law forming the Consortium requires that groups receiving grants work in partnership with a faculty member, graduate student or program at one of the Consortium’s member universities. You do not need to have a partnership formed when applying for a grant. The Consortium can connect you with an interested faculty member, graduate student or program at a member university. The member universities are Montclair State University, Rutgers University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University and The College of New Jersey. 

Please note in your application if you have a partner or will need one. Questions about potential partnerships can be directed to the Consortium at info@njcivicinfo.org. Decisions about university partnerships are made by the member universities. Grant applicants and member universities will finalize details of a partnership. In accordance with state law, member universities have to contribute a 10-percent match of the grant. This can be in the form of administrative support, advisory services, or other in-kind support. 

The Consortium is committed to making sure grant recipients can find a university contact to talk with about a potential partnership. 

The Consortium, the member universities and the State of New Jersey will not hold any financial or ownership stake in any project and cannot exercise editorial control over any project approved and funded by the Consortium.

Grants

Grants in the first round will be capped at $35,000. A Consortium grant is meant as seed money or project funding and not as an ongoing source of funding for an organization. 

Process and deadline

Please complete the application at www.njcivicinfo.org/grants by 11:59PM eastern time on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Applications will be screened by a panel consisting of Consortium board members. This panel may contact you for follow-up information. Final decisions will be made the Consortium Board of Directors. 

You can read more below about the consortium’s vision and guiding principles for grantmaking.

Vision

New Jersey residents have access to accurate, useful, and engaging local news and information, allowing them to better participate in civic life and create thriving, healthy communities.

Guiding principles

In order to achieve this vision, the Civic Information Consortium will seek to support ideas and projects that do the following: 

Perform a public service: Public funding for media in the United States historically has focused on supporting public-service news and information that fills gaps left by commercial media. The ongoing local news crisis in New Jersey has widened these gaps and left many communities without access to important information about where they live. Our grantmaking will continue the rich legacy of public funding for media by supporting news and information that performs a public service and supports civic engagement in media-deficient communities.

Center community information needs: People need access to a variety of news and information in order to have their basic needs met, to participate in their community and civic life, and to thrive and fully realize their potential. Too often, though, local media systems fail to meet people’s information needs – such as, reporting that demonstrates a problem without offering actionable solutions, the lack of information sources in languages other than English, or disseminating news in ways that don’t actually reach those who can most benefit. The information needs of New Jersey residents are at the center of our work, and we will dedicate resources to projects that allow greater access to news and information that improve people’s lives.

Support media that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive: A media system that does not reflect and lift up the rich racial, ethnic, and class diversity of New Jersey cannot serve it adequately. This is true for both the people who make up these institutions, as well as the stories they tell and information they prioritize. The Civic Information Consortium believes it is fundamental to support a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive media system in order to create more informed and engaged communities and build a future generation of media makers that look and sound like New Jersey.

Promote media by, with, and for: It is essential that people can participate and lead in the creation of media. Listening, engagement, collaboration, and community ownership are essential priorities for the Consortium, and we will seek to support projects that democratize the journalistic and media-making process, promote equitable collaboration, center community participation and needs, and build the capacity for everyday people to shape what local news looks like.

Provide training and education: Media is something we all consume, but doing so with rampant disinformation available across platforms has promoted distrust in community institutions. And historically, the privilege of creating media has not been available to people, of all backgrounds, unless they have the resources to do so. Better understanding how media works and creating it go hand in hand. Educating people how to discern fact from fiction, responsibly consume media, and tell their own stories with impact is critical in order to strengthen news and information at the community level.

Strengthen networks and infrastructure: No single outlet or project alone will be able to wholesale improve access to local news and information around New Jersey. Many conditions are required to create more informed communities and sustainable local media across the state; one of those is the ability to build and strengthen the overall ecosystem of how people access news and information. Efforts that build capacity, promote learning and cross-sector collaboration, and provide essential services are necessary to support those performing the essential functions of journalism and media-making. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who is eligible to apply for funding?

The Civic Information Consortium provides grants for initiatives to benefit the State’s civic life and meet the evolving information needs of New Jersey’s communities. All grantees must have evidence of a collaboration between at least one member of the faculty or graduate student of a consortium member university and at least one local community organization, media organization, or technology-based organization. 

Funding can only be provided to nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) status. If your organization does not have 501(c)(3) status, then the partner university can act as the fiscal agent.

Do I have to have a university partner to initially pitch a project?

You do not need a university partner to apply for a grant from the Consortium, but you will need one to receive a grant If you do not have a university partner we will work to connect you with an interested faculty member or graduate student at one of the five member universities. The universities make their own decisions on whether or not to work with a project. 

What role does the university partner play?

The role of the university partner is up to you and your university partner to develop. The role can be one of an advisor or consulting resource that you can tap for advice and guidance. The role could be one of a more hands on manager or resource to provide strategic direction. The role can also be to provide administrative support. Preferably we would like to see the university partner’s role be more than administrative support to include some sort of advisory role, but the specific role is to be determined by you and the partner. 

Under the state law creating the Consortium, university partners provide a 10 percent match towards the project. This can be additional funding or an in-kind contribution. This match can come in the form of back office support, research, staffing, student support or more. This can also be in the form of time provided by a faculty member or graduate student. This can be determined between the grantee and the university partner. 

When will I hear back from you about the status of my application? 

The deadline to apply is 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, March 31. The review process will start after the application due date and we hope to make decisions later this spring. We may reach out to you during the review process with any questions. 

Who should fill out the application? Do you need one application per project?

The application should be completed by the project manager or leader, ideally a member of the project team who is the best point of contact. Applications should be limited to one per project.

What is the grant period? 

The grant period is for up to one year of application approval, and projects should be completed during this time period. Grantees are expected to be in communication with the Consortium to provide updates on their activities and anticipated timeline. The Consortium will work with grantees to develop a timeline for updates during the grant period. 

Will I have to file a report after the grant period ends?

Yes, you will need to submit a report to the Consortium after the grant period ends. The Consortium will work with grantees to determine appropriate documentation for your project. 

How will I reference the source of this money in any publication?

To name how your grant is funded, you can say something along the lines of: “This project is funded by a grant from the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, an independent nonprofit organization that received public funding to support quality local journalism, promising media startups and other efforts meant to better inform people.”

How detailed of a budget do you need?

We’d like to know how you plan on spending the grant, but we understand there may be unexpected costs. So include what you anticipate the money being spent on, which could include how the money will be split among project partners, staffing, payment of freelancers or community members, events, and any overhead costs.

What can I use the money for?

The money can be used for project costs such as back office support, research, staffing, student support, etc. We don’t need to know the exact details, but we need an estimated budget and how the money is shared with partners.

What if we need more than the maximum amount allowed to do our project?

Unfortunately, at this time we can’t provide additional funding to projects beyond their grant. We know these initial grants may not be able to cover everything you intend to do, so we encourage you to be intentional about how you are budgeting for this project. We’ll have future opportunities to apply for grants, and we’d encourage those who received initial funding to continue to apply for more funding at that time.

What if we don’t spend all the money?

Money awarded by the Civic Information Consortium should be used to support the project you apply for. If you haven’t spent all the funds awarded, we’ll work with you to extend the timeline of your project or find other ways that the funds can be used to achieve the outcomes of your project.

How should the money be split between entities? Does it have to be split in any certain ways?

Nope! That’ll have to be determined by the collaborators on the project. 

What paperwork will you need from me to disburse the grant?

Proof of IRS nonprofit status or that you intend to use the collaborating university as the fiscal agent.

What if our project runs into problems after it starts and we need to change its focus?

Things change, and we will work with grantees in case any major shifts in focus occur. We are investing in your project and project partners, so we’re confident that you’ll be able to do amazing work, even if it looks a little different from what you originally pitched.

Does state money mean state control?

No. While we receive public funding, we are an independent nonprofit overseen by a board of directors. The state law creating the Consortium specifically states that the State of New Jersey, the Consortium and the member universities do not have editorial control or any ownership stake in any project funded. 

What if you haven’t answered my question in these FAQs?

Let us know! We know we haven’t anticipated everything. Email info@njcivicinfo.org. You can also join one of our upcoming informational sessions with Consortium board members. Click here to learn more and RSVP.

The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that funds initiatives to benefit the State’s civic life and meet the evolving information needs of New Jersey’s communities. Questions? Contact the Consortium via email at info@njcivicinfo.org.