Inside Public Integrity

Published — May 7, 2014 Updated — December 19, 2017 at 12:55 pm ET

Why we have a gift acceptance policy, and what it means for you

Center’s chief development officer explains our formalized policy on how we accept gifts


Follow the money: that’s what Center for Public Integrity journalists do every day. So when it comes to our own organization’s funding, we want to be as transparent and ethical as possible. But what does that mean, exactly, as it relates to support for the Center?

We seek to answer this question by broadly sharing a new, board-adopted gift acceptance policy. It outlines how we work with funders, the sources of our contributions and the efficient management of those important funds. It is a guide to how we hope to conduct our business, and it is a tool to evaluate how we’re doing.

Why should this matter to you?

Investigative journalism, so crucial to a functioning democracy, is priceless — but it isn’t free. Newsrooms are struggling to survive, new streams of funding are critically important, and the public demand for unbiased, yet credible news is at an all-time high. Understanding how your news is produced and funded makes a lot of sense. And if you’re not only a reader but a donor (“thank you!”), you surely care about the way we accept and manage tax deductible gifts.

The fact is, the Center for Public Integrity is funded almost solely by philanthropy. Contributions from our readers and from foundations are the lifeblood of the Center for Public Integrity, and have been for the last 25 years.

In some ways, we are just like other 501(c)(3)s based in the U.S., such as disaster relief organizations, colleges, or food banks. But in other ways, we differ completely. Our purpose is to produce investigative journalism, which means asking hard questions and holding the powerful accountable — so we are obligated to make sure we have our own house in order. To that end, we began a process a year ago of asking ourselves hard questions about accepting and managing contributions. The result: a more comprehensive, formalized gift acceptance policy.

Why now?

No particular issue, no one gift prompted us to create this policy. We have a talented team of development professionals who adhere to the Association for Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethics, and are skilled in the systems and structures most nonprofit organizations use to manage gifts. The Center meets BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability, is a Silver-level Guide Star Exchange participant, and has held a Four-Star rating from Charity Navigator for three consecutive years — a distinction received by fewer than 11 percent of rated U.S. charities.

In addition, we wanted to have our own policy that aligned tightly with our mission and made plain our intentions. We also wanted a policy that would withstand the test of time, staff transitions and the evolving sectors of journalism and philanthropyIn a process led by the Center’s Development Department, we spoke with our editorial staff, digital team, senior leadership, Board of Directors and even a funder or two. We talked with other similar organizations. We sought advice from nonprofit and journalism sector leaders and the Center’s counsel.

When in doubt, we went back to the impulse that started the Center for Public Integrity — when Chuck Lewis, a television producer at 60 Minutes, decided to start an investigative news organization that would operate without outside corporate or government influence. Thus, the Center for Public Integrity was born. What are the implications, 25 years later, when more and more people give through donor-advised funds or online crowd-funding? What about the trend of individuals giving anonymously, to avoid unwanted solicitations by mail or phone? How do we reference donations when donors ask that their names not be shared? What are the implications when more of our funds come from international sources? How do we handle gifts that come through non-standard sources, such as through financial advisers?

Ethical issues are characterized by two or more competing perspectives, both of which have merit. We want to produce fact-based, trustworthy and accountable journalism. We want to be transparent about our fundraising. And, in keeping with excellence in fundraising practice, we want to honor the wishes of donors. We’ve tried to strike that balance with this new gift acceptance policy.

There will be moments when we have a gift that challenges us in its terms or its source. When that happens, the Executive Committee of our Board of Directors will help us to determine how best to proceed.

This policy is a living document. As such, it will live on our website. It’s also a dynamic document. We’ll see how it serves you the reader, our donors and our organization as a whole, and we’ll undoubtedly adapt it along the way. Above all, please be aware that we aim to conduct our business and fundraising with as much integrity and transparency as our journalism and nothing less. I welcome your perspective.

Read more in Inside Public Integrity

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