Posts Tagged ‘vocabulary’
Nonprofits themselves, in various forms, are centuries old, but the term “nonprofit” is relatively young. As a nonprofit professional, I’ve been drawn into countless conversations about the controversial name of the sector. What other sector—or industry, business, or brand—defines itself in a negative, especially a misleading negative? (For those of you playing along at home, nonprofits are legally permitted to have surplus revenue—profit—just not to distribute it to shareholders, as for-profits do.)
Many of my nonprofit colleagues shun the popular alternative, “charity,” as conjuring up images of kind-hearted handouts and bake sales. Today’s professionals know better—nonprofits are vital social safety nets, systems unto themselves in their communities. However, it’s not a given that journalists and news audiences share this vocabulary preference.
An excellent December 2008 post from the Nonprofit Tech Blog discusses online search trends for the two terms, with some surprising results. But aside from disasters, what topics are most commonly associated with each one?
As a news consumer, I had a hypothesis:
1. News stories that used the term “charity” in the headline or body, instead of “nonprofit,” will cover mostly fundraising events and features on the work of specific organizations, and more local stories in general. It might also return more stories from the UK, where “charity” is more common.
2. Stories using “nonprofit,” meanwhile, will have a greater range of topics, including the impact of the economy on specific organizations or sub-sectors, include national coverage, and be exclusively within the US.
Had I more time, a research stipend, and an assistant or two, I’d launch a full-blown content analysis of news coverage of the nonprofit sector to suss out the real differences between “charity” and “nonprofit” stories. But having none, I opted for my old standby: Google.
My method was straightforward: I did a Google News search for “nonprofit” and another for “charity” around 9 AM Pacific this morning. I recorded the first 10 hits from each search, assigning them topic tags (such as “fundraising” and “profile”) to describe their angles. As it turned out, the results weren’t too different from each other.
“Charity” news stories (in order returned by Google, as part of about 45,000 results)
Bupa Launches its 2009 International Charity Challenge to Help a Rural Community (press release; fundraising;)
UCLA surgeon sued for benefiting from his own charity (local; wrongdoing)
Donations Needed for Children’s Charity Brainwave (press release; fundraising)
Eva Longoria: Charity Chick (national; celebrity, event)
Twitter users network to raise funds for charities (national; fundraising, event)
$500K artwork given to charity returning to owner (local; fundraising)
Sweet Charity: Sharon Stone, a Sizzling Do-gooder (local; celebrity, event)
Thefts jeopardize ride for charity (local; crime with a nonprofit angle)
Susan G. Komen for the Cure Receives Charity Navigator’s Coveted Four-Star Rating for Third Year in a Row (press release; accountability)
Dallas Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Chad Willis to Host Invitation-Only Celebrity Charity Event at His Downtown Dallas Restaurant AMPM (press release; celebrity, event)
Topic tag totals:
- Press release- 4
- Fundraising- 4
- Event- 4
- Celebrity- 3
“Nonprofit” news stories (in order returned by Google, as part of about 40,000 results)
Tarzana nonprofit paid too much rent, audit finds (local; wrongdoing)
Nonprofits will join Nutter to mark 9/11 (local; event, volunteering)
Communities In Schools Is Among the Most Accountable Nonprofits in the Country (press release; accountability)
WDBO Local News Orlando nonprofit runs out of hope (local; economy)
CareFirst Replies to City’s Bid For Funds (local; wrongdoing)
Miami-Dade nonprofit provides support for children of HIV/AIDS victims (local; profile)
Nonprofit roundup for Sept. 11, 2009 (national; roundup)
Microsoft helps found, fund open-source nonprofit (local; profile)
Destiny Foundation suspends operations (local; economy)
Slow economy sparks nonprofit collaborations (local; economy)
Topic tag totals:
- Economy- 3
- Profile- 2
- Wrongdoing- 2
- Press release- 1
In general, the charity search returned more press releases, fundraising, and celebrity stories. The nonprofit search returned more economic impact stories, profiles, and wrongdoing stories. This was in line with my hypothesis, if only in a quick ‘n’ dirty initial search.
However, only US stories appeared in either search (possibly a function of Google knowing my geographical preferences). And local stories far outnumbered national ones in both categories. (I excluded press releases when screening for geography.)
I also did a word search on each story to see whether vocabulary is dictated by the thesaurus–whether “charity and “nonprofit” are used interchangeably. On the other hand, journalistic writing style may influence this word choice. But whatever the reason, very few stories from one search t included the term from the other.
So stories are consistent about which terms they use to describe our sector. But is this enough? Neither term describes our work accurately and meaningfully. What name, if any can accomplish this? Or is the name of the sector small peanuts next to our contributions to society?
And who will volunteer to crunch the numbers in a major content analysis? Come on, nonprofit management PhD candidates, you know you want to…