SEJ Financial Policies

(Originally approved by the Board of Directors of the Society of Environmental Journalists on March 13, 1999; last revision May 4, 2019.)


A. Purpose and Principles
B. Policy on Acceptability of Income Sources
C. Policy on Fundraising by Partner Organizations for SEJ Programs
D. Policy on FEJ (Fund for Environmental Journalism) Fundraising and Grantmaking
E. Policy on Expenses
F. Financial Controls and Reporting
G. Investment Policy
H. 21st Century Fund Endowment
I. Tax Status Policy


A. Purpose and Principles

(From current practice and 7/31/10, 1/29/11 and 5/4/19 board amendments.)

These Financial Policies are intended to allow SEJ to develop the resources it needs to be a vital, stable and dynamic organization, while protecting its integrity and independence. They are guided by the following principles:

Support for SEJ's Mission: SEJ may solicit and accept donations from acceptable sources that support SEJ's mission, without regard to their opinions or positions with respect to environmental issues.

Independence and Integrity: SEJ shall retain full control over the use of all income, other than those conditions agreed to through standard grant application processes. The organization reserves the right to decline or return any donation which, in the opinion of the board or the board's designees, may conflict with these principles or otherwise damage the integrity of the organization.

Transparency and Accountability: Solicitation, review and acceptance of all donations shall be conducted in accordance with these Policies, which will be considered among the organization's governing documents and be readily available to all members of the organization and general public. These policies are binding on SEJ employees and board members in their official actions. Exceptions are allowed only if approved in advance by the Executive Committee with a report to the full Board at the next regular meeting. Throughout this document, where duties are assigned to the Executive Director, it is understood that the Executive Director may delegate such duties to other employees or to consultants and other non-employees. However, in all such cases, the Executive Director shall retain full and sole responsibility for ensuring that the delegated duties are properly carried out.

Disclosure and Recognition: SEJ values transparency. Its financial support, including anonymous donations, shall be published on the organization's website at least annually. In addition, each year's IRS Form 990, which lists donors in accordance with IRS requirements, shall be posted on


B. Policy on Acceptability of Income Sources

(From current practice, 3/14/98 finance committee draft policy, and 4/5/03, 3/20/04, 7/31/10, 1/29/11, 1/26/13 and 4/23/16 board amendments.)

1. Acceptable sources of income include:

  • Direct program revenues, including membership dues; conference registrations; sales of subscriptions and other merchandise; mailing list rentals; and similar forms of earned income as may be identified and approved by the Board.
  • Grants in any amount from charitable foundations, educational institutions and media companies, given for purposes consistent with the organization's strategic plan.
  • Grants from any independent government or government-chartered agency whose mission is primarily competitive grant-making, such as the National Science Foundation.
  • Unrestricted general support gifts or bequests up to $15,000 per calendar year from any individual or entity (other than charitable foundations, educational institutions and media companies, mentioned above) under the principles of support for SEJ’s mission, independence and integrity, as described in section A. Total support from these sources may not exceed 20% of SEJ’s approved annual budget in any given year. Prior Board approval is required for any restricted gifts and all such gifts or bequests over $15,000.

2. Restricted sources of income:

  • Gifts from non-media corporations, government agencies, and organizations, other than those allowed under section B(1.) above, are unacceptable unless explicitly approved in advance by the Board, with the following exceptions:

—Matching gifts provided by corporations or other organizations through established employer matching gifts programs;

—In-kind gifts from such corporations, agencies or organizations, including speaker time and travel, documents, admittance to facilities, local transportation to or within facilities and nearby areas, or to revenues received under section B(1.) above.

—Sponsorship of annual and regional conferences. Donations must be transparent and follow the sponsorship plan as approved by the board. Sponsorship can be used for any conference expenses and can be applied to future SEJ conferences or events. SEJ retains full editorial control of event content and speakers.

3. Right of Decline and Return:

  • SEJ reserves the right to decline or return any donation, grant, or other gift which, in the opinion of the board or the board's designees, may prove to conflict with the organization's independence or otherwise damage its integrity.


C. Policy on Fundraising by Partner Organizations for SEJ Programs

(Adopted by the SEJ board January 12, 2002; amended January 28, 2006 and May 9, 2020. Please see related Policy Regarding SEJ Endorsements, Co-Sponsorships and Partnerships for Journalism and Environmental Education Programs.)

All SEJ programs undertaken in partnership with or hosted by educational institutions, journalism organizations, news organizations and other entities (henceforth termed “partner organizations”) are managed in accordance with SEJ’s partnership guidelines on “Endorsements, Co-Sponsorships and Partnerships for Journalism and Environmental Education Programs.”

Fundraising efforts undertaken by partner organizations to meet their financial commitments to SEJ programs are not bound by SEJ's internal policies governing the solicitation of grants and sponsorships. However, this does not constitute implied or actual endorsement by SEJ of donors or their products, services, advertising, other messaging or opinions.

Any entity wishing to be represented or to represent itself as a partner organization of SEJ, including but not limited to use of SEJ’s name or logo on materials or messages, may do so only with SEJ’s written approval.


D. Policy on FEJ (Fund for Environmental Journalism) Fundraising and Grantmaking

(As revised by the board on April 18, 2015 and May 9, 2020.)

SEJ provides grants to journalists and news organizations through its Fund for Environmental Journalism program.

SEJ accepts FEJ underwriting from varied funders (referred to hereafter as “underwriters”).

SEJ encourages unrestricted grantmaking for reporting projects on any environment-related topic. SEJ’s Executive Director has full authority to develop, purpose and accept funding to underwrite the FEJ, pursuant to due diligence and consultation as needed with the Executive Committee.

For each competitive FEJ funding cycle, SEJ appoints an editorially independent judging panel to select grantees.

All proposals and binding agreements between underwriters and SEJ, and between SEJ and FEJ grantees, strictly reinforce the editorial independence of both judges and grantees.

Grantees have full editorial control of their reporting projects, including decisions regarding production methods, publication and distribution.

Underwriters do not have the right to review FEJ grant applications, participate in FEJ judging panels or review FEJ-funded projects at any stage before publication.

Note: These statements of clarification have been added to program information pages of the Fund for Environmental Journalism to clarify policy and practice regarding editorial independence.


E. Policy on Expenses

(As revised by the board on October 17, 2008. New policy language approved by the board January 31, 2009. As revised by the board on January 26, 2019. )

1. For board members: Whenever possible, SEJ expects board members to request that their employers cover travel costs associated with board meetings, or cover the costs themselves as part of their annual donation. When such assistance is not available, SEJ will reimburse board members for most reasonable lodging and transportation costs associated with attendance at non-conference board meetings after a $100 per meeting deductible and up to a maximum of $2,400 per year per member. This cap will be based on attendance at three non-conference board meetings per year, and will be pro-rated if fewer meetings are held or attended. SEJ will not cover board member expenses related to the SEJ annual conference without prior approval, in cases of exceptional need, from the Executive Director and Executive Committee (or President).

Board members shall make every effort to minimize expenses for which they will request reimbursement, including selecting the lowest available fares and rates. Airfare should be selected based on the lowest possible fare, including one bag fee and economy class seat assignment, that permits timely arrival. Ground transportation should be selected for low cost and timeliness. Board members are encouraged to find accommodations with friends or relatives, and are required to share hotel rooms with other board members as requested or pay half the cost. Meals for board members may be paid as part of a board meeting when board business is conducted, but are otherwise not reimbursable. If the trip involves additional non-board related events or travel, the member should deduct the additional time-based costs (rental cars, hotel rooms) from the reimbursement.

First and business class travel and accommodations will not be reimbursed. Intermediate classes or seat upgrades to extended pitch seats may be eligible in certain low-cost airlines for flights over 2 hours. In situations of disability, physical impairment, or other hardship, the President (or ExComm, in the case of the President) can authorize exceptions to these rules. The organization will annually tabulate, report and include in the minutes all meeting-related costs for each board member, and any new travel reimbursement policy will be reviewed at the end of the first year after passage.

2. For SEJ staff and contractors: All reasonable and acceptable travel expenses will be paid for assigned business-related trips. Acceptable expenses include transportation, hotel, meals, and incidentals. Meal and incidental expenses (per diem) and mileage reimbursement shall be limited to the rates set by the Internal Revenue Service. Employees will be reimbursed only for actual expenses under the per diem limit. Hotels and airlines used shall be economical, clean and safe. If the trip involves additional non-work related events or travel, the employee should deduct the additional time-based costs (rental cars, hotel rooms) from the reimbursement.

First and business class travel and accommodations will not be reimbursed. Intermediate classes or seat upgrades to extended pitch seats may be eligible in certain low-cost airlines for flights over 2 hours. In situations of disability, physical impairment, or other hardship, the Executive Director (or ExComm, in the case of the Executive Director) can authorize exceptions to these rules.

3. Speakers, fellows, and other SEJ invited guests may be offered partial reimbursement of some travel expenses as specified in their invitation to participate in SEJ events or as negotiated with SEJ staff. Eligible expenses and reimbursement requests are subject to the same guidelines as listed above.

4. Reimbursement requests for SEJ staff, contractors, speakers, and board members must be filed within 60 days of the conclusion of the trip. Reimbursement requests must be submitted via the online expense form or sent to the SEJ headquarters, including receipts that show the date, location, vendor, goods/services, and the amount to be reimbursed. For cash expenses without receipts, please include a detailed list including date, location, goods/services, and amount. All expenses over $75 require a receipt, and every effort should be made to submit receipts for all expenses. Legible photos and scans are accepted. Receipts for charges made to SEJ travel cards should be uploaded or documented in the financial files.

5. No alcohol purchases shall be made or reimbursed by SEJ, except when approved by the Executive Director for SEJ events.


F. Financial Controls and Reporting

(Amended by the SEJ board July 19, 2003; January 28, 2006; and April 28, 2007.)

1. The Executive Director, in consultation with the Treasurer and Finance and Fundraising Committee, shall prepare an annual budget for the organization that provides for such programs and support services as are outlined in the current strategic plan, which shall form the basis for all SEJ spending.

2. The annual budget shall be considered and approved by the Board of Directors prior to the beginning of each fiscal year in a format created by the Executive Director and approved by the Finance and Fundraising Committee.

3. The Executive Director shall provide each board member with a quarterly balance sheet and narrative report on actual and projected income/expense and cash flow, with any significant variances from the approved budget identified and explained. The Executive Director shall provide detailed income/expense spreadsheets, cash flow spreadsheet, and all bank/investment account statements, as back up to summary narrative reports, to any board member at any time by request and at least quarterly to SEJ's Treasurer.

4. During the budget year, any significant change of income or expenditure shall be reported by the Executive Director to the Treasurer. For the purposes of this paragraph, a significant change shall be one which, in the opinion of the Treasurer, would significantly alter the annual plan of operation, or which would result in a change of more than 10 percent from the total amount of the organization's approved budget. Any such report shall be prepared by the Executive Director, in consultation with the Treasurer, and submitted by the Treasurer for review by the Board of Directors at their next regular meeting.

5. An Audit Committee, appointed by the board, shall arrange for and oversee an annual independent audit of the organization's financial statements. The Committee shall be composed of three members, at least one of whom shall be a board member other than the Treasurer, and one of whom shall be a non-board SEJ member. Committee members will serve staggered three-year terms. The chair of the committee, who will be the primary liaison between the committee and the Executive Director and the auditor, must be a board member. The Committee shall meet at times and in the manner of its choosing, but should make every effort to hold one in-person meeting per year with the Executive Director and auditor, within current budget constraints.

The Committee's work shall be guided by SEJ's Accounting Manual, and its annual duties shall include:

  • review of all new laws, regulations and best practices regarding nonprofit sector finances and audit procedures;
  • selection of an independent auditor, and determination of the auditor's compensation, in consultation with the Executive Director;
  • entrance and exit conferences with auditor, and other conversations as needed;
  • review and determination of acceptability of audit, Management Letter and any other supporting documents provided by auditor;
  • ensuring the completion of the audit by August 15 of the following year;
  • providing a written report on and copies of the finished audit, supporting documents and management's response to the full board by December 15 of the following year;
  • approval of any non-audit services to be provided to SEJ by auditor/auditing firm;
  • advising the Executive Director as needed on possible revisions to the SEJ Accounting Manual.

As part of the audit process, the Executive Director shall prepare a written response to all substantial questions, suggestions and comments offered by the auditor and Audit Committee, which shall be included in the Committee's report to the board.

The Executive Director shall also arrange to have the audit report and the Committee's report posted on SEJ's Web site in a timely manner and shall make a printed copy of the audit and Committee report available upon request.

6. The Executive Director, in consultation with the Treasurer, shall file all necessary forms with local, state and federal tax agencies.

7. The Executive Director and her designees shall have the authority to sign all checks of the organization. For all checks in amounts greater than $5,000 the Executive Director shall provide a copy, and an explanation, if the purpose of the check is not obvious, to the Treasurer within 30 days of their having been written. The check copy will include an acknowledgment and approval line, which the Treasurer shall sign and return to the Executive Director within 30 days, for filing with relevant bank statement.


G. Investment Policy

(From finance committee discussions prior to 7/98 board meeting, current practice, NCNB sample guidelines, and 7/04 board amendment.)

1. All SEJ operating funds shall be invested for maximum income consistent with the organization's cash needs and full protection of the investment principal. Examples of acceptable investments include treasury bills, certificates of deposits, and demand accounts such as checking, savings or money market accounts.

2. All SEJ endowment funds shall be invested in a manner designed for long-term growth and income. Fund management will tolerate moderate risk and strive to achieve its goals through a diversified portfolio of investments. The portfolio shall be selected by the executive director, in consultation with his/her chosen licensed investment adviser(s) and the SEJ board treasurer, and may include index mutual funds, bonds, government securities and certificates of deposit. No individual stocks or mutual funds other than index funds may be held, except any stocks donated to the organization, which must be sold within six months of receipt of the gift.

3. Full discretion, consistent with the principles above, is delegated to the Executive Director in consultation with the Treasurer and Finance and Fundraising Committee to determine the mix of assets, selection of securities and timing of transactions unless otherwise determined by the Board.

4. All investment portfolios and results shall be reviewed monthly by the Executive Director, quarterly by the Treasurer and at least annually by the Finance and Fundraising Committee.


H. 21st Century Fund Endowment

(Adopted January 24, 2004, amended 3/20/2004 and 7/31/2010.)

1. Purpose

The 21st Century Fund is SEJ's general endowment. The purpose of the Fund is to secure the organization's future by providing a vital layer of protection from the uncertainties of year-to-year fundraising for the operating budget. The Fund's proceeds will be used to help fund core operations (including staff and program costs) as well as special projects deemed by the board to be of great importance to SEJ.

2. Fundraising

a. Acceptable sources of Funds: The 21st Century Fund accepts gifts from individuals. Such donations are governed by the appropriate sections of Purposes and Principles and Acceptability of Income Sources (Sections A & B, above).

b. Control of Fund: SEJ shall retain full control over the use of income from the 21st Century Fund. The organization will accept no conditions or restrictions, express or implied, on any donations to this fund. This principle shall be included in all written and verbal solicitations, and/or acknowledgements, and shall be acknowledged in writing by all donors of $10,000 or more.

c. Balance and Diversity of Donors: So as not to be, or appear to be, overly dependent on donations from any particular sector or type of individuals beyond the journalism community, SEJ shall strive to raise at least 25% of its 21st Century Fund from SEJ members, founding and other former board members and other journalism leaders, and to raise the remainder from a broad array of individual donors beyond the journalism community.

d. Review and Approval Process: Solicitation and review of prospective donations of $10,000 or more, including review of any unsolicited donations of such size, is carried out by the Development and Fundraising subcommittee of the board’s Finance Committee, in concert with the Executive Director and other appropriate staff members. The board may also authorize others outside the organization to solicit such funds on its behalf, provided that such persons work in concert with and are subject to the authority of the Finance Committee. No donations of $10,000 or more may be accepted through any other channels or processes.

Prospective donations of $10,000 or more must be approved by a majority of the Development and Fundraising subcommittee. As ex-officio members of the subcommittee, the SEJ Treasurer and President each have veto power over any prospective gift to the 21st Century Fund.

As with all SEJ income, donations of $10,000 or more are subject to the review of the full Board, and the Board reserves the right to reject or return any that may conflict with the organization's independence or otherwise damage its integrity.

3. Management, Investment & Spending

(Existing language — from revision approved by board 7.03. Amended by the board January 13, 2007.)

a. Management: The 21st Century Fund shall be managed and reported to the Board and Independent Auditor by the Executive Director with reference to two internal bookkeeping accounts: "21st Century—Donor" (funds contributed by individual and institutional donors) and "21st Century—Internal" (funds transferred from SEJ's operating budget by action of the Board). These funds may be co-mingled in a single investment account, provided that strict accounting records are kept and reported, to identify dollars considered to be within each category.

The "21st Century—Donor" account is a permanently-restricted account. Donations deposited in this account may not be transferred to another SEJ account. Only the interest, dividends and/or realized capital gains from this account may be used by the organization.

The "21st Century—Internal" account is a board-restricted account. Interest, dividends, and/or capital gains from this account may be used by the organization. In addition, by action of the Board, assets transferred into this account may be drawn upon to help pay for endowment fundraising-related expenses, or returned to SEJ's general operating accounts.

b. Investment: Assets in the 21st Century Fund shall be prudently invested to balance growth with protection of the principal of the underlying assets, consistent with the policies stated in section F, Investment Policy, above.

c. Dissolution: Should SEJ ever cease to exist, the Board at the time of dissolution shall donate the assets of the 21st Century Fund to another journalism education organization or academic institution in support of programs to improve the quality, accuracy and visibility of environmental reporting.


I. Tax Status Policy

(From SEJ attorney Gail Ross, memo 3/26/93.)

1. To preserve the organization's 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, the Board through its strategic plan shall ensure that the organization is operated exclusively for qualified exempt purposes, including charitable and educational purposes, and that no more than an insubstantial portion of the organization's activities are devoted to the furtherance of non-exempt purposes. Examples of non-exempt purposes might include a members-only job bank or health insurance program, or other activities that result solely in a private benefit without serving an overriding public interest.

2. No part of the organization's activities may constitute intervention or participation in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office. No substantial part of the organization's activities may consist of political, lobbying or non-exempt purposes as defined in paragraph I(1.) above.

3. The organization shall offer no guidance to donors about the deductibility of their gifts other than to inform them that SEJ is a 501(c)(3) organization, gifts to which may be tax deductible under U.S. tax laws.