Nonprofits in the Media: Good News?

Course Syllabus Focus

Nonprofit Sector

Course Syllabus Institution

Indiana University
Instructor: 
Bright, Jim
Lenkowsky, Leslie
Year: 
2010

The nonprofit sector in the U.S. includes over 1.5 million organizations. Their revenues exceed $2 trillion annually and have been growing rapidly.
According to Giving USA, Americans donated more than $300 billion annually to charitable organizations, almost 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product.
Nonprofits include religious organizations, education, health, arts and culture, and social programs, professional associations, environment/animal care groups, civic action and political associations and international development agencies.
Without nonprofits, it’s hard to imagine how our communities would look, how the needy would find help, or Americans would exercise their First Amendment right to assemble peaceably and petition government to address grievances.
As Alexis deTocqueville wrote 170 years ago, you must understand America’s nonprofit associations to understand democracy. That’s even truer today.
There’s plenty of news in the nonprofit sector, mostly good and some not. Through this course we aim to help future journalists and nonprofit executives learn more about each other—and improve their abilities to work effectively with each other.
We will examine the interaction between the nonprofit sector and the media, learn how inquisitive, thorough and accurate reporting of this area can occur, and analyze media coverage of significant issues in the nonprofit sector. We will expose you to the latest ideas in philanthropy and nonprofits, including cutting-edge national research by faculty members at the IU Center on Philanthropy, and to experienced journalists and experts on the nonprofit sector.
In recent years, there have been a number of widely reported scandals and other issues that have tainted the image of nonprofit organizations, including:

  • The former chief executive of the local United Way in Charlotte, North Carolina, Gloria Pace King, was fired on Oct. 1, 2008 after reports that she created a $2.1 million pension plan for herself.
  • The Nature Conservancy was forced to overhaul its governance and procedures following revelations in The Washington Post that it was selling land to its supporters and engaging in other questionable practices.
  • The controversy surrounding the American Red Cross’ Liberty Fund for donations collected in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The Red Cross originally planned to spend almost half of the more than $600 million on blood supplies or in preparation for future attacks. Protests from the general public and policy makers led the organization to agree to spend all of the money in the fund on services benefitting victims of the attacks.

We will examine these and other episodes to learn what journalists and nonprofit executives did—and did not do—well.
The course will include:

  • Information journalists should know to cover philanthropy effectively and nonprofit executives should know to work effectively with journalists
  • Key questions journalists should be prepared to ask and nonprofit executives should expect to be asked
  • Case studies of media coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit issues
  • Discussions of public policies concerning the governance of nonprofit organizations and the different perspectives government officials and nonprofit leaders may take toward them
  • Readings: background information, timely issues, current and recent coverage
  • Guest speakers with hands-on experience reporting these issues and working in nonprofits. (Journalists, Center on Philanthropy experts and others will serve as guest speakers.)
  • Identification of key sources/resources for reporting on philanthropy and nonprofits, as well as for conveying information to the media
  • Assignments to develop skills in reporting and understanding how reporting occurs

In structuring the course, we have focused on four key functions played by the mass media in society: agenda setting, gate keeping, stewardship (social responsibility), and mobilization of the public.
Whether you choose to become a journalist, public relations professional or educator or to work for a nonprofit, this course will help you become more knowledgeable, versatile and marketable.

Blog Posts

American Democracy: Time for Intensive Care

February 15, 2017

The head of the Hewlett Foundation provides a tour d’horizon of American political dysfunction — and envisions a long and difficult therapy to bring it back to health. 

Events

Oct 05

Rip Rapson
President and CEO
The Kresge Foundation