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Should nonprofit news operations pay development officers on commission?

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

marianne woodruffThere’s a fine line between philanthropy and sales.

But why?

Several times at tonight’s terrific kickoff of Portland’s new Online News Association chapter, guest speaker Mark Briggs quoted a variation on the line: "nonprofit isn’t a business model; it’s a tax status."

If that’s not a cliché yet, let’s hope it will be soon. It’s certainly true.

Nonprofit news companies are just businesses with a little extra flexibility over here and a little less over there. But as Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Toni Tabora-Roberts said after Briggs’ talk, the country’s most successful models of nonprofit local news – NPR, PBS and their affiliates – consider it unethical to compensate their "development" staff based on the size of the sponsorships they bring in.

I know bupkis about fundraising, let alone public broadcasting. But I know an assumption worth questioning when I see one.

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Nonprofiteers are capitalists, too

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Jeff Jarvis has been pooh-poohing news that’s subsidized by governments or do-gooders:

I see another danger … that not-for-profit ventures will delay or even choke off for-profit, sustainable entrepreneurship in news. I would prefer to see various of the many funders who gave funds to not-for-profit endeavors – note $5 million give to a new not-for-profit entity in the Bay area – instead had invested in for-profit companies that can build companies that support and sustain themselves rather than rely on hand-outs. That is God’s work.

Jarvis intends this as a paean to capitalism. But he’s got a weirdly non-capitalist way of thinking about nonprofits.

Jarvis’s notion that nonprofits are an anomaly in the market system — and therefore less “sustainable” — forgets the fact that nonprofits produce goods and function within the market system like anybody else.

Sometimes they produce public services for governments. Sometimes they produce warm fuzzies for rich donors.

Wherever the money comes from, a successful nonprofit has found a market for whatever it’s producing. That’s God’s work, too.