Archive for the 'Fundraising+nonprofit' Category

I’m guest blogging over at Free Press this week

2 September 2009

The folks over at Free Press invited Dave Westphal from USC’s Annenberg Center (until a few months ago he ran McClatchy’s Washington DC bureau – one of the best commercial news sources around) and me to join their readers in a conversation about foundation-funded journalism this week.

This is a hot issue right now in the media punditry trade. MoJo editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein’s ed note in the latest issue of the magazine takes it on directly (interesting comments there, too), and Clara’s dissection of Sheri Fink’s (foundation-funded) Katrina piece for the New York Times is an illuminating look at what it takes to do investigative reporting these days.

I think Free Press asked me to weigh in because (a) this is something nonprofit Mother Jones has been living with from day 1 back in 1975; (b) I run MoJo’s fundraising program; and (c) I’ve written earlier about the topic here, here, and here.

Dave and I will be doing a live chat on Thursday, September 3rd at 8PM Eastern Time, if you want to drop by.

Here’s my FP post:

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Clay Shirky’s “second great age of patronage,” foundations, and journalism.

19 July 2009

I’ve written about foundation funding for journalism before (in fact, it was what got me started doing this thing in the first place). But Clay Shirky’s Cato-Unbound  piece (interesting choice of publication site) arguing inter alia that we’re entering “a second great age of patronage” got me thinking again about this topic.

Shirky writes: this new patronage is

“. . .either of the ‘one rich person’ model, as with Richard Mellon Scaife’s subsidy of conservative journals, or the NPR Fund Drive model, where the small core of highly involved users makes above-market-price donations to provision a universally accessible good run for revenue but not for profit.”

Your local journalism fundraiser says it’s actually got to be both at the same time – since that is what a successful nonprofit fundraising program almost always looks like. It’s a measure of just how far the new nonprofit journalism world has to yet to go, fundraising-wise, that Clay sets up a distinction where it’s actually a continuum. Of course, there are reasons for that: mainly, the way these new projects are getting started – with (relatively) big money, and little or no membership/community base.  And since journalists tend to be lousy community organizers, this could be a problem.

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Friday dog blogging 3 July 2009

3 July 2009

First things first: the main generator/switch at MotherJones.com’s Seattle “carrier hotel” (aka server farm) failed early this morning, which resulted in a fire, which triggered the sprinkler system, which took our site (and several others) off line. No indication of when it’ll be back up; we’re actively looking at a Plan B fix (if anyone has ideas for a quick solution, let me know). Silver lining, I guess: it’s happening over a low traffic holiday weekend. P1030129

That also means no Friday cat blogging from Kevin, no frog blogging from the MoJo interns. (It also means you can’t get a look at the digital version of the new issue of Mother Jones, which has a totally kick-ass special package, “Wasted,” on the failure of the War on Drugs (so go buy a hard copy over the weekend).

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My (belated!) response to Digidave’s video on Spot.us and MoJo…

28 June 2009

I’ve been a doofus:  Dave Cohn posted a video in response to this back at the end of May, and I promised I’d get a reply back to him asap. One hardware crash and MoJo board meeting later, I’m finally able to get into a conversation with him about Spot.us, Mother Jones, non profit journalism etc. (sorry Dave!) mainly because here I am 39,000 feet in the air headed to #PDF09, and finally have some quality time to do just that (although for the sake of my seat mates, no video…).

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#PDF09 plus Pocantico: lots going on next week

27 June 2009

Headed east tomorrow to #PDF09 (plus some $raising for the Mother Ship) in New York. While the political digerati are enjoying the view from Jazz at Lincoln Center, there will be another conversation going on up the Hudson at the Pocantico Conference Center I’ll very interested in hearing more about: a meeting called by Rosie Rosenthal of the Center for Investigative Reporting and Bill Buezenburg of the Center for Public Integrity on “new models for watchdog journalism.”

First time that many of the new local news projects – MinnPost.com, VoiceofSanDiego.com, TexasWatchdog.com, etc., plus other investigative projects affiliated with university j-schools – will be sitting down together. Part of the agenda will no doubt be talking about some of the ideas Joel Kramer of MinnPost.com and Jon Sawyer from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting pulled together in this paper (link to a PDF on this page)  for another conference back in May.

You can read more about the Pocantico meeting at Ken Doctor’s Content Bridges blog (not to mention my comment on his post). Having been through an almost identical process that led to the creation of The Media Consortium – now a lively network of some 50 independent, progressive media operations  (Tracy Van Slyke is the project director for this gang) – what happens at Pocantico could be decisive in moving investigative journalism towards a more sustainable footing. Definitely worth following.

Friday Dog Day 19 June 2009: Squirrel! Plus: why money is like water.

19 June 2009

Mingus the Super Dog and I took our lunch break out the door and up past Marin Stables along Wood Lane Creek – here he is doing his best imitation of Dug (“squirrel!”) from the Pixar movie, UP! – and then over the ridge and back down again along Deer Park Creek (these out-the-door hikes being yet another reason I love this town…).

Squirrel!

Squirrel!

Those creeks got me thinking about today’s report from the conservative Philanthropy Roundtable (paid for by the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation), which disputes the right of “governmental authority to regulate the activities of American philanthropists.” (h/t to @sharonschneider – you can read her stuff here). This is but the latest salvo in a spitting war ignited by a recent report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which had the audacity to suggest that foundations ought to straighten up and fly right or risk greater scrutiny from the federales. Imagine that: a watchdog organization that committed the inexcusable philanthropic faux pas of being impolite! Quel horror!

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MoJo v the IRS and what it might mean for non profit newspapers

15 June 2009

Update 15 June 09: Rich Schmalbeck (who is on the Duke law faculty, btw) emailed me his comments on my post re MoJo v. IRS. With his okay, here’s what he said:

The Technical Advice Memorandum that turned the tide in your case has almost certainly been published, though I didn’t look to verify that.  These are documents prepared by the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office, at the request of either a taxpayer or a field office of the IRS, in the context of an audit that raises difficult legal questions.  They had long been completely private, but a Freedom of Information Act suit sometime in the 1970s compelled their disclosure, but with information that might identify the taxpayer redacted.  They are typically not reviewed at the highest levels of the IRS or Treasury, and so are specifically not intended to establish precedent, but are merely supposed to resolve the issues with respect to a particular taxpayer.  But now that they are routinely published, lawyers do consult them, and do sometimes cite them, though with the understanding that a court may not accord them much weight.

I think the Mother Jones Tech Advice is helpful in this issue, but I’m not as sanguine as you seem to be in this piece that it answers all the questions the IRS might raise about a regular, full-service daily newspaper.  Mother Jones is more like Harpers, Commentary, and the like, than it is like the Chicago Tribune.  And my sense from talking with people in the industry is that while they would like to continue publication of at least some newspapers within a nonprofit framework, they would like nearly every other aspect of publication to remain the same.  And that’s where the IRS may say that the operation is not sufficiently distinguishable from an ordinary commercial enterprise to justify tax-exempt status.  But we’ll see.  In the long run, I think the IRS is going to lose on this question of exempt purpose.  But you are quite correct in thinking that no single newspaper wants to head down a road that might involve an IRS audit, followed by litigation in the Tax Court, and ultimately perhaps up to the Court of Appeals level.  So it would certainly make things easier if Congress would simply enact legislation clarifying that newspaper publication was a suitable exempt purpose, period.  But my understanding is that the bill that would do that isn’t making much progress.

A few days ago, I said I would come back to one specific item from the Duke conference a while back on non profit media, so here goes. It’s triggered by an issue raised in a paper prepped for the conference by Rich Schmalbeck, “Financing the American Newspaper in the Twenty-First Century.” Turns out that a battle royale Mother Jones went through with the Reagan-era IRS has some relevance today. It might point to a way to deal w/the IRS for newspapers and other publications looking to convert to non profit status.

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Digidave talks about Spot.us and fundraising

27 May 2009

Here’s Dave Cohn aka Digidave talking about fundraising and Spot.us. Keywords are “transparency, immediacy, and control” (for the donor, that is). Towards the end of the video (btw Dave, are you suffering from bad bed hair, or is that a hat you’ve got on?!) Dave puts a couple of questions on the table for me. I’ve got a day full of fundraising meetings (okay, that’s somehow completely if ironically appropriate), so I’ll get this up now and get a response up later today…Thanks Dave!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(BTW Dave – it’s “May-mon-ih-dees.” Maimonides. Greek for Hebrew.)

more about “Viddler.com – Conversation with Steve…“, posted with vodpod

Coming up: a conversation with Dave Cohn

17 May 2009

spotusAbout a month ago Dave Cohn of Spot.us responded to a post I’d put up here that wondered how he and his sidekick Kara were doing, and particularly whether and how they were encouraging people who donated money to a specific “pitch” to also make a donation to the organization. He wrote back to say that they’d been thinking a lot about this question in slightly different terms:

Are we a platform that puts weight on the reporters to fund themselves – assuming that most donors are one-time givers.Or are we a community site that is going to try and create a dynamic relationship with our audience and give them more than the single project. More and more – we are trying to become the second.

Good questions for anyone who’s going to push the practice of crowdfunding forward. It’s also a question we deal with all the time at Mother Jones, and so I was especially interested to see how Dave and Spot.us approach it, literally with fresh eyes.

So I asked Dave if he’d be up for talking about the fundraising end of things with me – and that’s what we’ll be doing over the next few days. Keep an eye out for it, and once it gets going, join the conversation. (PS – Dave is threatening to respond via video, which means I may be making the jump into that medium too. . . uh oh, moving pictures…)

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A big smushy kiss to Mother Jones, and thinking about success, however modest.

15 May 2009

smushykissI’ve written posts about some other organizations since I started Maimonides Ladder, so I thought this might be an okay time to say a few words about the Mother Ship, my employer. It also happens that I sent in an application today for a scholarship to attend this summer’s Stanford Publishing Course (at $3950 plus food and lodging, it’s not as if this non profit lifer has the cash to plunk down for a week down on The Farm – and MoJo definitely doesn’t, either).  As part of the application, they asked for a 1000 words describing how Mother Jones “is innovating to create, promote or deliver content for a digital future.”

Hmmm. I swallowed some happy pills (trust me, it’s not all sweetness and light, and the future is looking simultaneously thrilling and terrifying), and this is part of what I wrote (with my commenting function switching on):

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