Approved April 29, 2010 by Wisconsin Watch Board of Directors; revised Aug. 31, 2012
Policy on Financial Support
This policy seeks to reconcile the need for financial support with the values of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, the foremost of which is editorial independence. The Center fails just as surely if it loses public confidence in its integrity as if it becomes unsustainable financially. The policy acknowledges, too, that individuals and organization invest in projects that further their own goals and values, directly or indirectly. Hence, the policy is organized around three categories of financial supporters’ intentions – those who seek to support investigative journalism in general; those who seek to support investigations, operations and activities in particular areas of interest; and those who seek to support specific investigations. Furthermore, this policy includes a section outlining the rights of WCIJ’s financial supporters.
The WCIJ Board of Directors retains full authority over the Policy on Financial Support and revenue generation efforts and may reject financial support for any reason, to protect the best journalistic and business interests of the organization. The policy pertains to cash support as well as to in-kind support of the Center. The Center exercises close scrutiny when deciding who can fund, sponsor, or otherwise underwrite ongoing news coverage. The Center is especially cautious with respect to potential funders whose principal purpose or agenda is to bring about a specific political outcome or to influence public policy or public opinion on controversial matters that are the current subjects of its ongoing coverage.
Like many news organizations, the Center maintains a firewall between news coverage decisions and its sources of revenue. WCIJ’s financial supporters shall have no voice in WCIJ’s editorial decisions. All donations, sponsorships and other forms of financial support are subject to compliance with the Policy on Financial Support, including provisions for transparency, the disclosure of donors’ identities, and the prohibition on donations from political parties, elected officials, or others whose contribution may affect public perception of WCIJ’s independence. Acceptance of financial support does not constitute implied or actual endorsement of the Center’s funders or their products, services or opinions.
Support of investigative journalism in general
The Center will seek and accept gifts, grants and sponsorships from individuals and organizations in any amount for the general support of the center’s activities. WCIJ’s acceptance of support precludes any voice on the donor’s part in editorial decisions beyond the broadly stated mission of investigative journalism. We expect that most gifts and grants of this type will come from foundations, organizations and individuals concerned about the future of journalism in general and the future of investigative journalism in particular.
Support of particular areas of interest
The center will establish a limited number of funds to support investigations in specific areas of public importance, such as the environment, education, or governmental integrity. To assure that donors respond to the priorities of the Center rather than the Center responding to the agenda of others, each fund will be approved by the board of directors before any gifts are solicited and accepted.
The initial list of approved funds is: Government Integrity, Economy (includes Consumer, Immigration, Poverty), Education, Environment, Health & Welfare, Justice & Public Safety.
The Center also will accept support designated for specific areas of operations, such as the internship program (the WCIJ Education Fund), data analysis and Wisconsin InfoLink; and activities, such as training events and the annual Wisconsin Watchdog Awards reception and dinner. As described elsewhere in this policy, financial supporters shall have no voice in decisions regarding the Center’s operations and activities.
The activation of such funds shall be contingent upon development of an efficient and reliable system for tracking the receipt and expenditure of these donations.
The Center may accept contributions from individuals and organizations if they agree to the following conditions:
1. Gifts and grants are tied to a subject area defined by the Center but not to a particular project or investigation.
2. All donations of $5,000 or more will be announced at the time the gift or grant, and publicly acknowledged for at least 12 months.
Support of specific investigations
The center will consider gifts or grants to support particular investigative projects. As noted above, the Center exercises close scrutiny when deciding who can fund, sponsor, or otherwise underwrite ongoing news coverage. The Center is especially cautious with respect to potential funders whose principal purpose or agenda is to bring about a specific political outcome or to influence public policy or public opinion on controversial matters that are the current subjects of its ongoing coverage.
All project-specific grants require approval from the WCIJ board of directors and will conform to the following conditions:
1. The Center exercises editorial control of any project. The Center will cede no right of review or influence of editorial content, or of distribution of editorial content.
2. All funds are transferred to the WCIJ prior to the start of the investigation and are not refundable.
3. Financial contributions to specific projects are totally transparent and public, with the contribution being publicly acknowledged and a disclaimer specifying the nature of the relationship.
Rights of the Center’s financial supporters
Every financial supporter of the Center is entitled to a full and clear written description of the arrangement, including:
Acknowledgement of the Center’s receipt of the support.
Public recognition of the support.
Description of how the support will be used.
A statement whether the supporter has received anything of value from the Center in exchange for the support (as required by IRS).
A list of key dates and deliverables, including such items as when publicity will commence and when any required progress reports will be submitted.
Description of mutually agreed upon set of benefits, if any, for the funder. These may include such items as naming rights, sponsorship acknowledgements and free tickets to Center events.
Assurance that the Center will be held accountable for delivering on commitments made to financial supporters.
Right of first refusal for subsequent funding cycles of operations and activities that supporters currently fund, unless the Center determines that the supporter is no longer appropriate to the operation or activity; or a relationship with the supporter is no longer in the best interests of the Center.
1. Revenue generation is the work of the board, management and designated staff, consultants or volunteers. Only those who are identified by WCIJ’s management and approved by the board will be authorized to raise revenue on behalf of WCIJ. All such efforts by the board, management, staff or volunteers will strictly adhere to this policy.
2. In the spirit of transparency, WCIJ will compile a complete list of donors each fiscal year or more frequently, and make the list available for public inspection through the WCIJ website and other reports.
- WCIJ will not accept gifts from anonymous sources.
- WCIJ will not accept gifts from political parties, elected officials, or others whose contribution may affect public perception of WCIJ’s independence or reputation.
- Gifts may be in cash, in-kind services or tangible goods. If not in cash, a value will be attached to the gift.
- The list of donors will be published at least semi-annually, but may be published more frequently as directed by the board.
- WCIJ will never share donors’ personal information for the sake of advertising or other direct-mail efforts, unless the donor consents in advance.
3. All checks or credit card transactions deposited to WCIJ must be intended by the donor to be given as a gift, meeting the criteria above.
- Checks, debit or credit transactions will be made payable to WCIJ. Instructions provided to donors for gifts to WCIJ will instruct the donor to make the check payable to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (or WCIJ).
- A WCIJ Gift Deposit Form will be completed for each check, debit or credit card transaction sent to WCIJ. Where correspondence with the donor will be useful in documenting the intent to give the gift, it will accompany the Gift Deposit Form. In accordance with good donor stewardship practices and with all IRS regulations, all gifts will receive an acknowledgment in writing or by e-mail, which will be archived.
4. As technology develops, methods may be implemented to accept very small donations (micropayments through online transactions. These contributions ranging from pennies to $20 might be associated with general support, subject specific funds, or specific projects.
5. Good internal control procedures will be followed. These include:
- Restrictively endorsing checks – for deposit only – immediately upon receipt.
- Depositing checks within five days of receipt.
- Storing undeposited funds in a locked desk or safe overnight.
- Reconciling deposits with gift deposit form.
- Where credit card payments are accepted, WCIJ will obliterate the credit card number from any copies of source documents after deposit.
6. Gifts of stock, real estate or other non-cash gifts not covered elsewhere may only be accepted following specific approval by the WCIJ board.
7. WCIJ fund development practices and accounting for gifts will fulfill all Internal Revenue Service, state of Wisconsin and other relevant regulations at the state and federal level.