East Lansing Info is now in its second year of operations, and so I can now bring you information on our first fiscal year in terms of donations and expenditures.
History of Eli:
On April 8, 2014, East Lansing Info (ELi) filed to become a nonprofit corporation in the State of Michigan. (I founded the organization and serve as it’s board president.) On July 15, 2014, our board met for the first time and adopted bylaws, and three days later we filed with the IRS to request recognition as a 501c3 nonprofit corporation. On September 2, 2014, we received our recognition from the IRS. This recognition is important because it means your financial donations to ELi are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Because ELi brought in less than $50,000 in donations in its first fiscal year (July 1-June 30), we were required this year to file only a “postcard” version of the 990 form, the IRS-required form which discloses a non-profit organization’s mission, programs, and finances. But because we are committed to transparency, I’m providing here much more complete information on our mission, programs, and finances.
ELi’s mission and programs:
East Lansing Info (known as “ELi”) seeks to provide free, local, non-partisan news and information of the people, by the people, and for the people of East Lansing, Michigan, including reports on our local public schools, clubs, businesses, economic and governmental activities, arts events, and so forth. ELi confines itself to local news and information, and encourages audience members to consider participating in ELi as editors and reporters, essentially functioning as a community news cooperative.
Our main means of news and information distribution is a free website, eastlansinginfo.org. Audience members can also subscribe for free to our weekly email news roundup, follow us on Twitter, read our Facebook page, etc. There is never a charge to anyone for using ELi as a means of obtaining news and information.
ELi exists as a non-profit organization for charitable and educational reasons, specifically: (a) to enhance and improve the sharing of local information among members of the greater East Lansing, Michigan, area primarily through a moderated local online newspaper that is open and free to all visitors, at eastlansinginfo.org; (b) to promote communication among members of the greater East Lansing, Michigan, community, including across generations, across neighborhoods, and between permanent and temporary residents of our community; (c) to support local educational institutions, including the East Lansing Public Schools and Michigan State University, by providing paid and mentored opportunities for students to become reporters of local news and information. Note: ELi does not give scholarships; reporters who are students are paid at the same rates as non-student reporters and are required to maintain the same high standards for factual, accurate, non-editorial, nonpartisan reporting as all reporters.
In our first fiscal year, ELi accepted $30,841.62 in donations. All donations came from individuals except for one $30 donation from Saper Galleries. In our first year, we did not seek grants or corporate donations in part because we felt it important to establish our credentials and become a stable organization before we sought such assistance. The board has agreed that we may seek corporation donations if the board reviews the possible sponsor and decides the donation is unlikely to influence our reporting. We do not accept donations from those sitting in elected positions (Council or School Board) or those running for elected office.
All those careful restrictions limit who we can take money from, so it is critical for ELi’s survival that local individuals donate generously.
Our expenses for our first fiscal year totaled $25,839.80.
The bulk of our expenses, not surprisingly, has gone to paying our people. This includes paying our managing editor Ann Nichols, our technology manager Morgan Lees (Lisa Lees, our other technology manager, donates her time), and about half of our approximately 50 reporters, who are paid, if they wish to be paid, on a per-article basis. (Note: As a board member, I am not paid; in addition to contributing reporting and editing services, my spouse Aron Sousa and I are also the lead financial donors to ELi.)
Including payroll taxes, paying our people came to $21,634.48 in our first fiscal year. Payroll/withholding management is highly technical, so we paid East Lansing accountants Layton & Richardson $520 for the year to handle our payroll and tax reporting.
Other expenses included:
- $850.00 paid to the IRS for our nonprofit application
- $824.81 for computer/internet expenses, including server hosting from LiquidWeb
- $703.02 for FOIA charges, mostly for “The Mercurial Trail”
- $506.73 for promotion to reach potential readers/reporters
- $347.46 for office supplies (stationery, business cards, etc.)
- $207.40 for postage to donors and potential donors
- $169.90 for PayPal expenses
- $ 76.00 for bank charges (we use MSUFCU)
Here’s how our expenses look in a pie chart:
Note that, with the exception of money paid to the IRS for our nonprofit application, to federal payroll withholding, and to PayPal, all of this money was put into the local economy:
That means in addition to the local news and information service we provide, we are helping to keep money moving within the local economy.
More numbers worth noting: To date, ELi has published about 600 articles by about 60 different reporters. We have reached 640 page “likes” on Facebook and 404 followers on Twitter. Right now, 187 people subscribe to our free emailed weekly news round-up. Google analytics shows us that we are seeing thousands of page-views every week. We also see numerous signs, in meetings and in on-the-street and in-café conversations, of people being educated by ELi’s news service.
We have over 100 individual donors who have made it possible to do this work. If you want to become one of those donors to this high-quality local news cooperative, click here to donate online or send a check payable to “East Lansing Info” to PO Box 115, East Lansing, MI 48826.