Nonprofit Periscope

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Posts Tagged ‘Google News

A nonprofit by any other name?

with 3 comments

Nonprofits themselves, in various forms, are centuries old, but the term “nonprofit” is a relatively young one. As a nonprofit professional, I’ve been drawn into many conversations about the need to change the name of the sector. What other sector—or industry, or 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 colleagues in the sector shun the popular alternative, “charity,” as soft, 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. But do journalists and news audiences share this vocabulary preference?
As a news consumer, I read “charity” as warm and fuzzy, but not serious, and “nonprofit” as serious, but clinical and dry. So I had a hypothesis: news stories that used the term “charity” in the headline or body, instead of “nonprofit,” would cover mostly fundraising events and features on the work of specific organizations. Stories using “nonprofit,” meanwhile, would have a greater range of topics, including the impact of the economy on specific organizations or sub-sectors,
Had I more time, a research stipend, and an assistant or two, I’d launch into a full-blown content analysis of news coverage of the nonprofit sector to find out what the real differences are between “charity” and “nonprofit” stories. For now, here’s a taste.
My method was straightforward: I did a Google News search for “nonprofit” and another for “charity” around 9 AM this morning. I logged 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 (returned about 45,000 results)
Bupa Launches its 2009 International Charity Challenge to Help a Rural Community (press release, fundraising) http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS146613+11-Sep-2009+PRN20090911
UCLA surgeon sued for benefiting from his own charity (wrongdoing; “nonprofit” x1) http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-ucla-professor10-2009sep10,0,5587956.story
Donations Needed for Children’s Charity Brainwave (press release, fundraising) http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS129332+11-Sep-2009+BW20090911
Twitter users network to raise funds for charities (fundraising, event) http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/internetlife/2009-09-09-twestival_N.htm
$500K artwork given to charity returning to owner (fundraising) http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hF6uCaStVMQbG1mbpamzRiLxsVKAD9AKNPP00
Sweet Charity: Sharon Stone, a Sizzling Do-gooder (celebrity, event; “nonprofit” x1) http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/sns-200909091653tmslizsmittr–x-a20090910sep10,0,5685315.story
Thefts jeopardize ride for charity (local crime with a nonprofit thread) http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/09/11/thefts_jeopardize_ride_for_charity/
Susan G. Komen for the Cure Receives Charity Navigator’s Coveted Four-Star Rating for Third Year in a Row (accountability, press release, recognition; “nonprofit” x1) http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS144689+10-Sep-2009+BW20090910
Dallas Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Chad Willis to Host Invitation-Only Celebrity Charity Event at His Downtown Dallas Restaurant AMPM (celebrity, event, press release; “nonprofit” x1) http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS222693+10-Sep-2009+BW20090910
4 press releases
4 fundraising
4 event
3 celebrity
“Nonprofit” news stories (returned about 40,000 results)
Tarzana nonprofit paid too much rent, audit finds (wrongdoing) http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-tarzana11-2009sep11,0,5809672.story
Communities In Schools Is Among the Most Accountable Nonprofits in the Country (press release; accountability; uses “charity” x1 aside from references to Charity Navigator) http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS181658+10-Sep-2009+PRN20090910
WDBO Local News Orlando nonprofit runs out of hope (economy) http://wdbo.com/localnews/2009/09/orlando-nonprofit-runs-out-of.html
CareFirst Replies to City’s Bid For Funds (wrongdoing, controversy) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/10/AR2009091004145.html?hpid=sec-health
Miami-Dade nonprofit provides support for children of HIV/AIDS victims (profile) http://www.miamiherald.com/news/miami-dade/beaches/story/1228005.html
Nonprofit roundup for Sept. 11, 2009 (roundup) http://www.philanthropyjournal.org/news/nonprofit-roundup-sept-11-2009
Microsoft helps found, fund open-source nonprofit (profile) http://blog.seattlepi.com/microsoft/archives/178835.asp?from=blog_last3
Destiny Foundation suspends operations (economy; “charity” x1) http://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/stories/2009/09/07/daily38.html
Slow economy sparks nonprofit collaborations (economy) http://albuquerque.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/stories/2009/09/14/story5.html?b=1252900800^2076601
3 economy
2 profile
2 wrongdoing
1 press release
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.
I also did a word search on each story to see whether the choice of words is dictated by the thesaurus; whether “charity and “nonprofit” are used interchangeably, that is. On the other hand, journalistic writing style may influence this word choice. But whatever the reason, I found that stories that came up in one search largely did not include the term from the other. Only a few charity stories used the word “nonprofit” even once.
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, you nonprofit management PhD candidates, you know you want to…

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…

Written by eclawson

September 11, 2009 at 3:42 PM

What’s the real story?

with 9 comments

This article from the Austin American-Statesman is a typical example of a recession-era theme in media coverage of nonprofits. Its headline, “Central Texas nonprofits hurting, holding on,” gets the point across. Nonprofits in central Texas are suffering the effects of the economic downturn, and somehow keeping their doors open. And they’re not alone—try a Google News search for the keywords economy hurting nonprofit, and the results number in the thousands.

But all articles about nonprofit suffering are not the same. Some, such as the one in the Austin American-Statesman, describe the suffering and valiant tenacity and stop there. That’s the story: nonprofits as victims, economy as villain, heroic struggle.

I’m not sure how the average news reader is supposed to interpret that story. Nonprofits are suffering. So? Why should we care?

The stories that stop at nonprofit suffering fail to include a critical step: these organizations provide services that affect our lives. The verbs often used to describe the recession’s impact on nonprofits—suffering, hurting, etc.—obscure what’s really going on. That is, they’re perfectly accurate…but they describe the wrong subject. When nonprofits lack the resources they need, they are less able to provide the services that people, animals, and even the environment rely on to survive. The real story isn’t about an anthropomorphized organization, whimpering in the dark in pain. It’s about a social safety net stretched so thin that the beings it once held up now fall through.

A better example of telling this story can be found in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The headline plays the theme of the earlier example: “Pa. budget impasse hurts social agencies.” Again, the victims are the social agencies, rather than those they serve. However, the body of the article makes the wounded agencies’ impact visible—for example, home-delivered meals for the elderly. And it makes that impact measurable—108,000 home-delivered meals to 665 seniors in three counties.

Reading that, one gets a glimpse of what happens when agencies such as these that contract with the state government do not get the funding they need. Fewer seniors get their meals delivered. Perhaps someone has to decide which senior citizens get removed from the delivery schedule. And then someone’s grandfather has to figure out how to get dinner when he can’t drive or walk to the grocery store. He can order in tonight—pizza places deliver, after all—but because of his carefully-managed Social Security income, that’s not an option every night.

Handling media relations in my most recent job at a national nonprofit, the most frequent question I got from journalists was “How is the economy affecting nonprofits?” And every time I heard it, I mentally railed against the question, because it missed the point. What we should be asking is not now the economy is affecting nonprofits, but how its effects on nonprofits are hurting the living things dependent on nonprofits.

What do you think? Is nonprofit suffering a story in itself? Am I missing the “real” real story?

Written by eclawson

August 25, 2009 at 12:15 PM