Apply to LION’s new Sustainability 360 program

This program’s goal is to make the independent news industry more accessible for our Focus Members

May 9, 2024 by Elaine Díaz Rodríguez

Sustainability 360 post image (1)

Update: As of May 17, 2024, we have temporarily paused applications for our Sustainability 360 program.

For many independent news leaders, finding time to think beyond the day-to-day work of running a news business is difficult. And yet, it is essential to take a step back and strategically plan for organizational growth. 

We hear you, and we see you.

That’s why we’re delighted to introduce the Sustainability 360 program, an initiative designed to make the independent news industry more accessible for our Focus Members by connecting them with the most impactful support and resources that will help their businesses move toward sustainability.

In a one-year pilot, LION will provide six program participants access to experts who can provide strategic and tactical advice, consultants who can increase a team’s capacity, and conversations with other publishers working on similar challenges. We will offer our knowledge to navigate existing resources, key stakeholders, and influencers. But most importantly: We want to provide the right combination of these connections in a way that cuts through, instead of adding to, the noise.

Why we built this program

We’ve designed this program based on key insights we’ve made over the last few years of serving our members:

  • Our members regularly ask us “how” questions; while there is a hunger for learning, finding the time and resources to translate knowledge into action is a significant barrier;
  • Time-intensive, short-term, and cohort-based programs are effective for addressing immediate tactical issues, but they may not be suitable for developing and implementing medium-term goals, which often define an organization’s priorities for the year; 
  • And finally, there are more existing resources than ever for news entrepreneurs; in part, because of the many recent additions, navigating this landscape can be overwhelming and time-consuming for publishers already strapped for the only nonrenewable resource they have: their time.

Our program addresses these pain points by:

  • Providing a year’s worth of support to allow for more time and space to not only plan but execute a Success Plan (more details below)
  • Rather than topic-based programs, we are creating a smaller cohort so participants can create Success Plans based on their individualized needs (in coordination with their coaches)
  • Taking advantage of tactical and strategic advice 
  • Using LION’s staff knowledge and expertise on how to navigate the existing resources within our industry

“We recognize that the needs of each newsroom are unique,” said Sarah Gustavus Lim, LION’s director of membership. “That’s why we are testing a more holistic approach with this targeted group of members.”

The program’s ultimate goal is to help this cohort move to the “Growing” stage of LION’s Independent News Maturity Model, which is in service of our Strategic Growth Plan’s goal of helping 100 members move to the “Growing” stage of sustainability.

What program participants can expect

LION will select up to six news businesses led by Focus Members to participate in the inaugural program, which will begin on June 28, 2024, and run through June 2025.

All participants will start the program with a Sustainability Audit and be paired with a coach. Their coach will then work with them on designing a Success Plan, a practical workbook providing structure and guidance as participants set goals. Instead of doing a five-year strategic planning process or deep-diving into a litany of tactical daily tasks, the Success Plan is a tool that sits at a middle point that both helps publishers better operate day-to-day and cues up the strategic thinking to prepare them to grow.

Following that, these will be the five main program components to enable cohort members to use their Success Plan to reach the “Growing” stage:

Strategic Advice: After receiving a Sustainability Audit to establish a baseline of your business’s progress toward sustainability, you’ll be paired with a Sustainability 360 coach, who will provide ongoing strategic advice and specific recommendations and refer you to other experts for tactical advice.

Tactical Advice: Based on recommendations from your coach and other experts from LION’s curated network, you can book up to five hours of coaching time to address specific tactical challenges holding back your systems, processes, or workflows. This could include sessions on developing your newsletter audience, utilizing Google Analytics to make informed decisions, or implementing SEO best practices.

Tactical Implementation: We understand that you can’t do it all, so we’ll work with you to identify business tools and services, like human resources or bookkeeping, and subsidize those costs so you can lower expenses and focus on what matters most for your business.

Community: We’ll bring together all of the program participants so you can share experiences and knowledge, discuss diverse ideas, and find new opportunities for networking and professional growth.

Wayfinding Support: We also recognize the importance of having someone who can help you understand how this industry works and how to access resources efficiently. While we work to make these resources more accessible for our entire membership, as part of this program, you’ll have direct access to our staff to answer your questions about how to best navigate existing resources, key stakeholders, and influencers.

We’ll be measuring key indicators of each stage and updating the Audit you received at the beginning of the program to determine your business’s progress toward the “Growing” stage.

As for the time commitment, we anticipate you will spend up to 10 hours a month implementing the Success Plan you develop with your coach. It’s critical to us that this program adds value to your organization — not take away precious time from you running it — and you’ll work with your coach to ensure that’s the case.

Apply by June 3 at 5 p.m. ET

Who’s eligible to participate

You’re eligible to participate in this program if you are a Focus Member. We created our Focus Member criteria based on our experience listening to and coaching BIPOC and LGBTQIA+–led news businesses on the challenges they face as well as entrepreneurship and small business research (including this Pivot Fund study) that tells us founders and leaders with these identities face the greatest institutional barriers to success.

Focus Member organizations are:

  • In the following sustainability stages: Building or Maintaining and
  • Currently led by someone who identifies as: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Latine, or Person of Color, and/or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, or as a member of broader gender and sexually diverse communities

*We’re using BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ as shorthand for the above.

We define “led by” as someone who is currently in at least one of the following roles in an organization: CEO/Executive Director, Founder, Publisher, Editor, Chief Operating Officer, or Chief Financial Officer.

We will identify Focus Members, including their stage of sustainability, based on data we’re gathering through your initial Sustainability Audit and most recent membership application. However, we’re also asking for your self-assessed stage of sustainability in the application for this program, and we will take this into account while reviewing your application.

If you’re unsure whether you qualify as a Focus Member, contact our associate director of coaching, Elaine Diaz, at [email protected].

How to apply

If you are a Focus Member, you should apply! Applications are open now through June 3 at 5 p.m. ET. We will select up to 10 finalists for an interview by June 7 and evaluate applicants based on their alignment with the program, bandwidth, and capacity to execute their Success Plan. We’ll also consider applicants’ willingness to share what they have learned from their experience to inform how we iterate on this offering in the future. Your insights, feedback, and experiences will play a crucial role in shaping and refining the program to better meet the needs of future participants.

Sign up to attend our info session on May 22 at 4 p.m. ET

Additional FAQ

  • Is there funding allocated for this program?
    • While LION has historically given direct dollars to our members through our programming, being a funder is not our long-term strategy. Instead, we want to focus on lowering the cost of doing business and removing barriers to access. That’s why we will cover the costs of strategic and tactical consulting and business tools and services while members are in this program. Including LION’s staff time, this is an investment of approximately $20,000 in each organization.
  • Can more than one person from an organization participate in the program?
    • Yes, and we strongly encourage you to open this opportunity to other team members. We’ve heard in the past that having two people in the coaching calls has proved beneficial for the organization’s ability to compare notes and execute tasks. We will cap program calls at two people in senior leadership positions from each organization.
  • What goals will be included in a Success Plan?
    • This workbook will help you set your medium-term goals. There are long-term goals (I want to scale my news business to serve three communities), short-term goals (I want to earn $10,000 in advertising sales next month), and then there are medium-term goals, which are often annual goals that set your priorities for the year. They represent a significant step toward your long-term goals and should be something you can point your efforts toward for the year and refer to in times of decision or doubt.
  • Do I need to be a LION member to apply?
    • Yes. If you’re not a LION member yet, you can apply here.
  • How can I get more information about this program?
    • You can sign up to attend our info session on May 22 at 4 p.m. ET. We will cover the program objectives, eligibility criteria, application process, and timeline. Our team will be available to answer your questions. You can also contact our associate director of coaching, Elaine Díaz, at [email protected].

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