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CharityChannel expanding offline

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By Todd Cohen

CharityChannel, a 10-year-old free online community with nearly 50,000 subscribers to 13 e-newsletters and more than 150 discussion groups, is moving into the conference market.

The idea, says CEO Stephen C. Nill, is to build on CharityChannel’s online content through an annual conference and regional conferences, and then to use the online community to continue the conference content and networking throughout the year.

“We say we’re an online community of nonprofit professionals,” Nill says. “We’re recognizing that we’re a conference that never sleeps. We’re performing all the functions on a 24-7 basis.”

CharityChannel also is searching for a new chief operating officer in the wake of the resignation of Michael Wyland, who hopes to launch a weekly radio show targeting both a mass-market audience of donors and volunteers, as well as a narrower audience of nonprofit professionals.

His departure after two years as paid COO is not related to the group’s expansion into the conference market, he and Nill say.

“I have nothing but respect for them,” says Wyland, who adds he wants more time to develop his radio project and write books about nonprofits.

“Being COO means you’re focusing on operations rather than content,” he says. “I found myself increasingly managing an organization rather than practicing my profession.”

Wyland – who for 12 years has been a partner at Sumption & Wyland, a Sioux Falls, S.D., consultant firm that focuses on strategic planning and organizational development for nonprofits and government agencies – says he is talking to two radio groups about producing a half-hour show focused on nonprofits both from business and consumer perspectives.

Nill, a partner at Nill & Johnston, a law firm in Orange County, Calif., says he and Wyland both hope to work together in the future.

“Michael’s interest is turning outward to the public world,” he says.

Nill, a former development officer whose law practice focuses on tax-exempt organizations and charitable giving, formed CharityChannel after having created online discussion groups for a fund-development team he had recruited to raise money for a failing California nonprofit hospital system.

“I wanted to get them steeped in the nonprofit world, and started discussion lists for them so they could start talking to their peers,” he says.

With a paid staff of four, including the COO, CharityChannel depends on advertising in its online forums and electronic newsletters for revenue, which is plowed back into operations and new products, says Nill, who works for free.

“Revenue has always exceeded expenses,” he says.

CharityChannel depends on a network of more than 100 editors, contributors to its newsletters and other volunteers. L-Soft International in Landover, Md., donates its LISTSERV email product to CharityChannel.

Building on its year-round, round-the-clock operation, Nill says, CharityChannel has scheduled its first international conference for March 9-11 in Palm Springs, Calif.

People attending and leading sessions at the conference, and at regional conferences CharityChannel also plans to hold, will be able to  stay in touch online throughout the year, Nill says.

“CharityChannel’s online experience,” he says, “is going to very closely integrate with the real-world conference you’re getting.”

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