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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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