Socialize With Us

NCG Interviews Nayantara Mehta About Upcoming Program on Funding Progressive Groups: Managing the Risk

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On December 6th NCG and Alliance for Justice will present Funding Progressive Groups: Managing the Risk, a program designed for funders and social justice organizations to help them manage “sting” operations, attacks on their organization, and the potential media firestorms that follow.

To give members a better understanding of the upcoming program’s content, NCG interviewed Alliance for Justice’s Senior Counsel Nayantara Mehta.

What inspired this program?
Alliance for Justice works with nonprofits and foundations to help them understand the legal issues that come up when engaging in or supporting advocacy.

We want all nonprofits to think about advocacy, in its various forms, as another tool they can use to accomplish their missions, and we explain the laws that govern lobbying, electoral work and other advocacy activities.

But sometimes knowing the IRS rules is not enough, especially for nonprofits that work on controversial issues and are frequently the target of ideological opponents with deep pockets and wide media reach. So we put together a few programs featuring representatives from nonprofits that have received scrutiny from their opponents and the media, with the hope that those who attend would understand that there are practical strategies to have in place to protect themselves and minimize risk.

This program was originally designed for grantees, how have you adapted it for grantmakers? Why is this important?
We know that if nonprofits were scared off by some of the media attention being paid to groups like ACORN and Planned Parenthood, funders would have similar concerns.

Nonprofits need support from grantmakers to be able to carry out their missions, and we want to encourage grantmakers to continue to fund groups that may be at risk of receiving unwanted attention.

It’s also important for grantmakers to think about supporting the capacity of grantees to build strong, well-governed organizations. Grantmakers not only need to worry about criticisms of their grantees, but also possibly criticism of their own funding decisions.

We thought that grantmakers could also benefit from some of the same practical strategies that we discussed in the sessions for grantees, but with a focus on funder concerns and featuring two grantmakers who deal with these issues on a regular basis.

What topics will be addressed during the program?
Panelists will discuss their own experiences working with grantees that have been attacked, and will offer suggestions to the audience on how to protect themselves and help their grantees.

Best practices include paying attention to legal issues, but there is also an important communications and messaging component, and the panelists will discuss how important it is to be prepared. We’re planning for a thoughtful and open conversation

At the grantee-focused program on this topic, were there any unexpected learning/sharing or connections made by participants?
At a program we held in Oakland earlier this year, we heard from one panelist about the cast of characters who are behind many of the “sting operations” targeting progressive groups.

I learned about how organized and well funded these conservative activities are, which can be daunting to think about. But I and the audience also learned that although we may all work in different issue areas, we face many of the same challenges. We can all learn from each other, and plan ahead so that we and our allies can stand up for ourselves and for each other.

Why should grantmakers attend this program? What takeaways will they be able to apply to their work?
Our goal for the program is for attendees to realize that there are ways to mitigate risks when funding groups that face hostility and scrutiny. With an election year approaching, it’s especially important for nonprofits and foundations to know what they can do, and what they should avoid.

We think foundations need to look at their own vulnerabilities (such as fiscal policies and operations, grantmaking procedures, internal controls, legal rules and reporting, etc.) and think about whether they are prepared for scrutiny of their own operations.

Learning from their peers, attendees should be able to think about what possible risks they and their grantees face, and start planning to minimize those risks  – basically to not let people with hidden video camera and political agendas derail them from their important work!