15 Exercise: Being a Media Nonprofit



Learn more about the real-life logistics of being a media nonprofit.

One of the most common questions students have about nonprofit models is how they are different from a for-profit company. In both cases, an organization needs to make more in revenue than it spends. However, there are differences in that:

  • The organization’s mission and purpose are more important than profit.
  • Ownership and leadership are different. (Unlike a business, no private person can own a nonprofit–they are led by a board of trustees or board of directors.)
  • Any excess income at a nonprofit is not distributed to shareholders or owners, but rather reinvested in the organization’s operation.
  • When a nonprofit is a 501(c)(3), it may be exempt from certain taxes and it may also offer its donors the opportunity to make tax-deductible donations.
  • A 501(c)(3) can’t attempt to influence legislation or political campaigns.

The Balance does a great job of answering the question “How Is a Nonprofit Different from a For-Profit Business?”[1]

To learn more, read the IRS’ requirements[2] in order for an organization to be tax-exempt as a 501(c)(3).  

Then, pick a nonprofit news organization. Locate its 990, a public form nonprofits must file annually.  (Guidestar[3] is one place to search for 990s.)

What does the organization’s 990 tell you about their annual revenue and expenditures?

For Instructors

Bring a media nonprofit founder into your class.

Have students interview them and complete a profile of the nonprofit explaining their revenue sources and budget.

Thanks to the community of practice teaching Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship for these exercise suggestions. 

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  1. Joanne Fritz, "How is a Nonprofit Different from a For-Profit Business," The Balance, April 3, 2017, https://www.thebalance.com/how-is-a-nonprofit-different-from-for-profit-business-2502472.
  2. "Exemption Requirements Section 501(c)(3) Organizations," IRS.gov, https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/exemption-requirements-section-501c3-organizations.
  3. Guidestar, http://www.guidestar.org/search.


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Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Copyright © 2017 by Edited by Michelle Ferrier & Elizabeth Mays is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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