Stacy Palmer

585. The Chronicle Of Philanthropy adopts nonprofit status

While the 21st century has marched on and journalistic outlets have struggled to find a way to stay alive as advertising dollars and outdated models have become unviable, many organizations have turned to nonprofit status as a way to keep the lights on. 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, created in 1988 as an offshoot of the Chronicle of Higher Education, decided earlier this year to take that same route, despite not being in danger of closing.  

Many people outside the world of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations have a kind of skewed idea about this world, says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“They don’t understand how vital the nonprofit world is. Only 5 percent of Americans thought they’d been helped by a nonprofit organization,” she said. “If most people went to college, go to a museum, were treated at a nonprofit hospital —there are all kinds of things nonprofits do that touch our lives. One out of every 11 Americans works at a nonprofit organization. Nonprofits count on our charitable contributions, they count on government funds, they count on volunteers.”  

The publication serves two purposes: “Part of our role is to equip (nonprofits) to do a terrific job. We are also watchdogs,” Palmer says. “There is not much regulation in this field. … We’re both helping nonprofits do better work, but also keeping our eye on them and making sure they learn from one another. Sometimes that means they learn from the mistakes and often scandals nonprofits are involved in.” 

There are some tough rules that nonprofits must adhere to, including an agreement to be nonpartisan if contributions to your organization are to be tax deductible.

“Most of these organizations that are springing up to be nonprofit news organizations are using that model,” Palmer says. “That means they can’t intervene in politics in any kind of way. One of the stories we have to cover is the way that the tax code does not allow you to move money around. … Somebody could try to fund an organization with an agenda. That’s why we have to vet donors carefully.” 

That makes transparency a key focal point, both of the Chronicle’s work and their watchdog efforts.

“We cover nonprofits and foundations. We have to disclose every time we are writing about one of our funders. We make sure whenever we mention any of them, we disclose to our readers they are a financial supporter,” Palmer says. “We list on our website all of our supporters. We have a code of ethics posted as well that makes it really clear none of our funders ever seen any of the information we’re writing before the reader does. They can’t interfere with what we’re doing. None of them have tried to, which is one of the things that made us really comfortable in making the switch.” 

To help other nonprofits understand and better report on the philanthropic world, the Chronicle offers a year-long fellowship program to teach journalists how to cover these organizations. One of these fellowships was with the Boulder Reporting Lab and led to a series of pieces about a community foundation in Boulder bringing in record amounts of donations after a wildfire.

“The community foundation raised more than any community foundation had ever raised to deal with a disaster,” Palmer says. This raised questions about how that happened, where the money was going, how distributions were happening.“They did a series of excellent pieces and it’s now up for an award by the Institute for Nonprofit News. I think some people think covering nonprofits is about do-gooders and isn’t real journalism. There’s plenty of real journalism to do in this field.” 

More Episodes

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

To get all the the latest news about our podcast, including guests and special events, fill out the form below to subscribe to our weekly email newsletter.