Skip to Content

Quick Guide to Converting a For-profit to Nonprofit News Outlet


A note from Sue Cross, INN’s CEO & Executive Director

Chapter One

What is a nonprofit news organization?

Chapter Two

Key considerations before moving forward

Chapter Three

Get started: Plant funding seeds immediately

Chapter Four

Your community, their board: Building an independent, diverse and supportive board

Chapter Five

Assess community information needs and giving capacity

Chapter Six

Articulate your case for support: How does your nonprofit benefit society?

Chapter Seven

Decide on a path: Options for the organizational structure

Chapter Eight

Build the legal framework: Legal logistics

Chapter Nine

Build the budget: Revenue models

Chapter Ten

Make the editorial change: It’s political

Chapter Eleven

Make the mental shift: Embrace transformation

Case Studies

Growing Community Media

A longtime community publisher feels re-energized as a nonprofit.

Read the case study here.

San Antonio Report

Community members persuaded the publisher to go nonprofit so they could help.

Read the case study here.

Piedmont Journalism Foundation

Residents stepped up to save a struggling for-profit newspaper company.

Read the case study here.

About the Guide

This guide was written for the Institute for Nonprofit News by Kate Butler, a business writer and news manager, and Fraser Nelson, former vice president of business innovation at The Salt Lake Tribune. Today, Kate serves as the head of editorial product and engagement at Adweek and Fraser is the co-founder and managing director of the National Trust for Local News.

Lauren Gustus, executive editor at The Salt Lake Tribune, was a contributing advisor for the guide.

Our appreciation to the people who shared their expertise and experiences with us for this guide.

Ralph Alldredge, publisher, the Calaveras Enterprise and Sierra Lodestar,  San Andreas, California

Kim Y. Arnone, Principal, Cutting Edge Capital, Cutting Edge Counsel, Oakland, California

Rollie Atkinson, publisher, SomonaWest Publishers, Healdsburg, California, which owns The Healdsburg Tribune, The Windsor Times, Sonoma West Times & News and Cloverdale Reveille

William D. Fournier, member, Caplin & Drysdale, Washington D.C.

Cameron Holland, principal, Holland Nonprofit Law, Oakland, California

Jim Iovino, Ogden Newspapers visiting assistant professor of media innovation at West Virginia University and director of the NewStart program

Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., director and president, Piedmont Journalism Foundation

Kizzen Laki, publisher and owner, The Crestone Eagle, Crestone, Colorado

Jenna Price Mallette, chief operating officer, San Antonio Report

Robert Rivard, editor, San Antonio Report

Katherine Ann Rowlands, owner, Bay City News Service; founder, Bay City News Foundation

Other Resources

The IRS offers guidance and resources for organizations seeking nonprofit status. It also warns that it receives about 70,000 applications a year, so it can take three to six months or more to hear after you’ve submitted your application. (The coronavirus and related shutdowns and remote working slowed approval time as well.) Filling out the forms correctly helps speed the process – another reason to get experienced help. But one publisher was astounded when the local IRS office reached out to her, encouraging her and asking if she needed any help. 

Given the IRS processing time, an option is to work with a fiscal sponsor while you are waiting. A fiscal sponsor is another nonprofit that manages your nonprofit activities, usually for a fee. It allows you to fundraise, receive tax-deductible donations (via the conduit of your fiscal sponsor) and get going as a nonprofit while working through the legal and tax process. 

The INN acts as a fiscal sponsor, but you have other choices. You could decide to work with a nonprofit in your community or niche area. You can find them via the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors.



You will need bylaws to establish the operating rules for your organization, its governance, and your board structure. Resources below describe how to develop them and link to sample nonprofit bylaws. 



You may need to update policies and procedures to conform with nonprofit state and federal requirements. The IRS will want to see your conflict of interest policy, and recommends a whistleblower and document retention policy. You’ll also want policies on board member roles, gift acceptance and disclosure, and the independence of editorial from fundraising and advertising.



What would make the Conversion Guide better?

We welcome additions and suggestions to keep our guides up to date for news entrepreneurs. Please send us your suggested resources, sample policies, case studies or article suggestions.

Back to top