Sahan Journal has received its single largest grant in its three-year history, which will be used to help the St. Paul-based nonprofit news organization expand its staffing.

The American Journalism Project, the first "venture philanthropy" organization dedicated to local news, announced the $1.2 million grant Tuesday to Sahan Journal, the first Minnesota organization to receive funding since the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit began in 2019.

Sahan Journal and three other nonprofit news organizations nationwide were awarded grants out of nearly 100 nonprofits that applied.

"It's a really exciting time for the Sahan Journal," said Executive Director Mukhtar Ibrahim. "We haven't received anything close to this."

Ibrahim, a former Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio reporter, started the news site in 2019 to cover news about Minnesota's immigrants and communities of color. He said the funding will be distributed over three years and help the organization hire five business employees, including a gifts officer to solicit large donations and a staffer to ramp up advertising revenue.

"We've never had the opportunity to build the business team, so this is a great opportunity for us to focus on that side of the organization, and eventually this will help us become sustainable," Ibrahim said.

The number of local nonprofit news organizations has grown in recent years, ranging from Sahan Journal to the Eden Prairie Local News, as for-profit newspapers shrink or close for good. Unlike for-profit news organizations that rely on ads and subscribers for revenue, nonprofit news gatherers don't have subscription paywalls and are largely supported by grants.

About 70% of Sahan Journal's revenue comes from corporate and foundation grants, Ibrahim said, with the rest coming from individual donors and some advertising. The news organization had a $1.2 million budget in 2021 and has 11 full-time employees, including five reporters. Ibrahim aims to double the budget this year and employ 10 reporters by 2024.

"The more news and information we have available for our communities, the better," he said. "As Minnesota changes and becomes more diverse, we just want to increase that accessibility to news to all communities so that we can try to make them better informed and engaged citizens."

The American Journalism Project, funded by foundations and individuals, has committed more than $30 million to 31 news organizations since it was launched three years ago. The other organizations receiving grants this week are Block Club Chicago, San José Spotlight and Spotlight PA in Pennsylvania.

"The decline of local news is contributing to the instability in our democracy," American Journalism Project CEO Sarabeth Berman said. "We believe that philanthropy has a really important role right now to help launch and sustain a new generation of news organizations."

Sahan Journal was selected because of Ibrahim's leadership and his goal to provide news to historically underserved communities in Minnesota, Berman said. She added that the nonprofit has a "huge potential for growth."

More foundations nationally are focusing on funding local journalism and other civic engagement efforts, especially as newspapers shutter, polarization rises and misinformation and disinformation spread.

"If you're a philanthropist and you care about education, you need to worry about whether or not the school board is covered," Berman said. "We think more and more philanthropy needs to see this as part of their giving priorities."