Established by the Society of Environmental Journalists Board of Directors April 2009
Guidelines regarding potential fiscal sponsorship or fiscal agent relationships:
This relationship is defined as one in which SEJ receives and manages grant funds earmarked for a specific project proposed by a third party, with a likely funder already identified, for a specific quasi-independent project of special interest to SEJ. The project is legally considered an SEJ project, but the project itself will operate more or less independently. Products created by the project may or may not become the property of SEJ.
SEJ’s executive director or board president may be signatory for fiscal sponsorship agreements, with support from four out of five members of the SEJ executive committee, or majority of full board of directors if decline is appealed, and associate director.
To gain support from SEJ, a proposed fiscal sponsorship proposal must meet the following criteria:
- advances the journalistic mission of the Society of Environmental Journalists: to advance public understanding of environmental issues by improving the quality, accuracy and viability of environmental news reporting;
- involves minimal risk to SEJ’s status with the IRS as a 501[c]3 organization and provides protection against liability to SEJ with regard to injury, property loss, libelous action or claims on SEJ insurance;
- offers a well-developed work plan under the leadership of a qualified and well-recommended individual whom SEJ can trust to fulfill all aspects of the project and relevant grantee and subcontractor relationships;
- comes to SEJ’s attention at a late stage of conversation with a likely funder acceptable to SEJ;
- provides administrative compensation to SEJ adequate and appropriate to full provision of all responsibilities in the sponsorship arrangement, at a range of 5% to 16%; and
- includes a statement by the proposing party demonstrating [a] intent to gain the approval of SEJ’s executive director of the full proposal and funding source plan before submitting any inquiries, proposals and budgets naming SEJ as potential fiscal sponsor, and [b] intent to co-sign a legally binding letter of agreement between SEJ and the project executor or principal investigator in the event a grant is made available by that mutually agreed upon funding source.
If a preliminary plan is approved by four out of five members of the SEJ executive committee including the board president, the executive director and associate director as described above, and a grant from approved funding source is offered, the fiscal sponsorship relationship can be entered into by means of a formal letter of agreement co-signed by the project director, SEJ executive director and SEJ president. The letter of agreement shall outline and assign responsibility for all deliverables of the project, including any media product, Web site, databases, and documentation, narrative, and financial reporting legally required of SEJ, as fiscal sponsor, as defined by the grantmaker’s own agreement.
The SEJ – project director agreement must include provisions necessary to satisfy CPA routines in SEJ’s annual independent audit process and for filing of SEJ’s IRS 990. This agreement shall include a mechanism for termination of the agreement and relationship. It shall also include limitations on the project director with regard to bringing in any additional partnership relationships into the project without approval by SEJ, particularly with regard to board policy for appropriate sources of funding for any and all projects operating under the auspices of SEJ.
The threshold for passing a decision on to the full board on whether or not SEJ should enter into a fiscal sponsorship relationship should not be a dollar amount but rather 1) the level of risk to SEJ (anything more than near-zero) and/or 2) potential for high quality media product/outcome that would have SEJ's name associated with it.
Approved by the Society of Environmental Journalists board of directors March 1995 and revised in July 2003
Policy Regarding SEJ Endorsements, Co-sponsorships and Partnerships for Journalism and Environmental Education Programs:
The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) is a non-partisan, non-advocacy educational organization dedicated to enhancing the quality, accuracy and visibility of environmental reporting. SEJ works to further public understanding of complex environmental issues through excellence in environmental reporting.
SEJ generally supports projects and events that foster information access and educational opportunities for environmental journalists. Examples of these might include educational conferences, courses, workshops or fellowships for journalists and journalism students.
Any specific, formal, public endorsement, co-sponsorship, or working partnership for SEJ, with regard to any specific organization, event, project or other form of educational program is subject to the principles and review process outlined in this policy.
As an organization of working journalists, SEJ maintains strict policies to protect the ethical integrity of our work and our membership.
Appropriate partners for SEJ-endorsed or co-sponsored programs generally include journalism groups, universities, university-based study centers, charitable foundations, museums and scientific research institutions.
The SEJ board authorizes the executive director to provide public endorsement of any educational opportunity for environmental journalists that meets a standard of excellence, conforms to this outline of appropriate partnerships, and serves SEJ's goals and mission.
SEJ avoids endorsements, partnerships or co-sponsored projects with organizations — including those otherwise generally considered appropriate partners for SEJ — that may be identified with special interests on environmental issues, such as corporations, government agencies, public relations firms, or environmental advocacy groups. Exceptions to this policy may be authorized by the SEJ executive committee on a case-by-case basis, at the recommendation of the executive director.
Decisions on such exceptions may be made by voice or online vote of the SEJ executive committee at any time. If the matter has anything to do with issues involving the work of a board-appointed committee or task force, including but not limited to the Freedom of Information Task Force or the Awards Committee, then the Executive Committee shall consult with the leadership of the relevant committee or task force and seek concurrence. If they do not concur, the issue will be resolved by the full SEJ Board, which has the final decision. Board-appointed committees or task forces may not make exceptions to this policy without the approval of the Executive Committee or, in case of a disagreement, the full SEJ Board. Decisions by the Executive Committee must be reported and recorded in the minutes of the next quarterly meeting of the full SEJ board.
Examples of exceptions might include SEJ's endorsement, as one of a group of co-sponsors, of an event hosted by a journalism group or university-based program, when that host might also accept and list co-sponsorship with or financial support from corporations, environmental groups or government agencies. Another example for possible exception might be for SEJ to endorse statements or otherwise participate in a freedom-of-information coalition whose members might also include advocacy groups. This type of exception would be subject to consultation guideline noted above.
This policy will be included in all new board orientation materials, posted on www.sej.org and periodically reviewed by the executive committee for possible amendment by the full board.