Ukrainian show uniting citizens around reforms and activism paves the way to sustainabilityJuly 12, 2021
The endless flow of news, updates and messages offered by traditional media outlets can overwhelm citizens. Political control, clickbait headlines, propaganda and fake news create a huge gap filled by questions and misunderstanding.
In Ukraine, Toronto TV is a lifesaving buoy that offers a unique take on civic education and a platform for citizen engagement through ‘edutainment’. The organization spotlights urgent reform issues and social-political matters important to Ukrainians, all in an easy-going and user-friendly format. They encourage citizens to actively participate in the social and political life of the country.
Despite the critical role they play for Ukrainian’s and their unique approach to highlighting information, Toronto TV has suffered from a lack of sustainable funding that allows them to grow and experiment. Largely reliant on donor funding to operate, over the past year, the organization has been working to become financially sustainable by introducing experimental sources of funding and reducing their reliance on donor funding.
“When you have enough money all the time, you usually do not struggle to look for additional resources,” says Roman Vintoniv, a host at Toronto TV known as Ukraine’s Jon Stewart. “When a donor suddenly decreases funding, then you realize that you have to consolidate efforts and do something.”
Vintoniv realized that they needed to become more financially independent if they hoped to continue building civic understanding and engagement long-term. Vintoniv recalls that moment as a “shock therapy” that pushed his organization to leave their comfort zone. Instead of giving up or cutting resources, Toronto TV decided to develop new instruments and focus on financial sustainability.
With support from ENGAGE, a USAID-funded project led by Pact that works to increase citizen awareness of and engagement in civic activities, Toronto TV set out to better understand their audience and craft fundraising strategies that would appeal to them. Through numerous customer research initiatives, ENGAGE helped Toronto TV to understand the needs of their target audience. One initial finding was the organization’s YouTube subscribers were initially mostly men. After the team learned this, they expanded their content and hired new female hosts to attract more female followers.
Armed with more audience insights, in late 2019, Toronto TV integrated advertisements on its YouTube channel and launched a creator page on Patreon – a platform that provides business tools for content creators to run a subscription service. On YouTube, they utilize ads integrated directly by YouTube and paid commercials filmed by the team.
The Toronto TV team has also not been afraid to experiment with new fundraising approaches and tools. They recently sold a meme for $2,600 as an NTF – a unique proof of ownership of something such as a piece of digital art, tweet, video clip or a meme that you cannot usually hold in your hand.
Today, Vintoniv says most revenues come from paid commercials on YouTube, which makes up a significant portion of their total budget. With more than 450,000 subscribers on YouTube, the organization attracts people who are willing to pay for advertising. On Patreon, people donate because of their loyalty to the show and desire to support a favorite program. As of April, regular donations via Patreon helped Toronto TV increase their revenue on the platform to nearly $11,000 per month.
On average, during 2020 Toronto TV's revenues grew by 18% every month. In the last quarter of 2020, their total revenue was up 56% over the previous quarter. And this year, they collected 30% more in March than the previous month. Out of the 98 programs filmed during this period, 16 were made possible thanks solely to their new sources of funding. The latest issues covered in December, February and March were also produced with revenue from their fundraising.
Toronto TV is constantly in touch with their audience to keep the process going, come up with great new ideas and increase funding from its own sources. With great content, subscribers have been encouraged to donate a few dollars in support of their favorite show.
A good understanding of their audience and persistent work on updating their content rewarded Toronto TV with the fruits of their labor. With almost 2,000 patrons, they are a fixture atop the list of Ukrainian creators on Patreon.
Vintoniv and Toronto TV are leading by example. They encourage other civil society organizations and independent creators to try new approaches and tools and get in touch with the needs of their audiences. This work has not only contributed to the organization’s financial sustainability, but it has also helped further their unique take on civic education through ‘edutainment’ and engage more Ukrainians in key social and political conversations.