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Trusting News: WITF’s policies on transparency in fundraising

  • Tim Lambert/WITF
WITF Capitol Bureau Chief Katie Meyer

WITF Capitol Bureau Chief Katie Meyer

(Undated) — As a public media organization, WITF’s funding structure differs quite a bit from our commercial brethren.

We rely on contributions from listeners, underwriting support from businesses, grants from foundations, and funding from both the state and federal governments. The largest piece of our financial pie (49 percent) is from community support (membership contributions, corporate support, special events, program and other support). Support from the federal government makes up about 11 percent of our budget.

While the public media business model has worked well for more than 50 years, sometimes critics raise questions over whether it can lead to a blurring of the lines between our news department and funders.

WITF has long believed in the importance of transparency when it comes to its income sources and has a specific set of policies in place to ensure the integrity of our journalism.

So as part of the Trusting News project, we want to make it as easy as possible for you to understand how we approach fundraising:

Transparency in fundraising

We aim for respectful relationships with our donors and a clear understanding among donors and others about our fundraising operations. We acknowledge the sponsors of our programming and disclose the terms on which we obtain such support.

Our public service depends on donations of all sizes from many different sources. We maintain the trust and confidence of these donors and our communities by making clear the purposes and uses for which we seek their support, making every effort to understand a donor’s intent and, after accepting a gift, working to carry out the donor’s wishes.

We inform donors about how donor records will be used. We protect personal and confidential information that we obtain during fundraising activities or through our ongoing relationships with these donors.

We rarely exchange or rent our donor lists to other organizations, and do so only to non-profit organizations whose donor policies are consistent with our own. If we change lists, we inform donors and give them an easy means to “opt out.” We do not exchange or rent donor lists to political candidates or political action committees.

We communicate directly and explicitly with donors about our editorial standards that bring rigor and integrity to our work, the legal requirements that surround our donor relationships, and the boundaries between funders and our editorial process. Within that framework, we keep donors informed about operations, welcome their suggestions and feedback, and value their role as advocates in the community.

We always disclose, on air or online as appropriate, the funders of specific programs, areas of coverage, or other activities. We acknowledge any person or organization that gives us money or other valuable consideration to broadcast specific content, as follows: We acknowledge donors that sponsor the broadcast of a program with broadcast announcements associated with the program. We also acknowledge with broadcast announcements (providing permission is given) donors that have provided substantial general support.

We acknowledge donors that support the production of specific programs in on-air announcements. We keep a list of these donors in a publicly available file. We acknowledge donors that sponsor political programming or discussions of controversial issues of public importance (other than such discussions during regular news and public affairs programs) in on-air announcements. We keep a list of these donors and additional FCC-required information about the sponsors in a public file.

We do not accept anonymous gifts for the production of specific programs.

We report the overall costs of fundraising, including personnel, consultants, special events, and related support costs. This reporting is part of our overall disclosure of revenue and expenses in our public file, and in our annual reports and 990 filings posted at

WITF's Tim Lambert talks with Vietnam War veteran Jeff Butch at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

WITF’s Tim Lambert talks with Vietnam War veteran Jeff Butch at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

Preventing undue influence:

We strive to assure that our editorial process is free from undue influence. We take care in deciding from whom we seek and accept funds and in setting boundaries with respect to those who contribute.

A large and diverse group of funders supports our work, including many individuals, businesses, governmental entities, and foundations. Most of the funding and underwriting we receive supports overall operations rather than specific programs or series. A diversity of sources, the number of contributors, and the unrestricted character of funds all reinforce the independence and integrity of our editorial process.

We give careful attention to contributions and grants that support specific programs, projects, and activities. We seek to avoid the reality and to limit the appearance of inappropriate influence. We reserve the right to refuse any donation for any reason, including, but not limited to, perceived conflicts of interest, potential audience misconception regarding a funder’s role or influence, and perceived impact on our reputation, integrity, or fundraising ability. We review the propriety of prospective funders on a case-by-case basis, using the framework outlined below.

Funding and underwriting for news programming

We exercise close scrutiny when deciding who can fund, sponsor, or otherwise underwrite news and information programming. We are 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 on controversial matters that are the current subjects of our ongoing coverage. We do not accept funding of news and information programming from political parties and candidates for public office. We don’t accept funding that would obligate us to provide coverage of a topic that we would not have covered with general funds or that requires more extensive coverage than the topic’s value or importance warrants.

Funding and underwriting for music, arts, and cultural programs

We do not accept funds for arts and cultural programs that focus on reviews and recommendations from organizations with a direct interest in the works or performances. We occasionally consider funding from a music or cultural performing group or venue to support the presentation of performances by such groups or at such venues, depending on the answers to such questions as:

● Is the performance likely to meet our standards of quality for such material?

● Does the group or venue have broad community support and interest or is there another community-focused rationale for presenting the performance?

● Is there an appropriate reason to accept production funding from one community arts organization while declining such funding from another?

Funders and underwriters as partners in content creation

When we accept funding from an organization that will also play a role in the creation of content, we do not substitute others’ editorial judgment for our own. We assure that our presentation of content produced through partnerships with funders meets our defined editorial standards. We disclose when a funder has joined us in the creation of content we present.

Consistent editorial standards in partnerships and collaborations:

Editorial partnerships, including StateImpact Pennsylvania, Transforming Health and Keystone Crossroads, expand our capacity to serve and the perspectives we can share with our audiences. They enhance the timeliness and relevance of our programming and activities.

We engage in ongoing efforts to build connections that deepen our knowledge of the communities we serve and our awareness of potential partners for projects. We look for alignment in the motivation and goals of potential partners and collaborators and those of our own organization. We focus on principles, values, and practices and understand that differences in style or tone among our partners may contribute to our ability to serve the full community.

We maintain our defined editorial standards when partnering with other entities. We identify and articulate our principles, policies, and practices to all stakeholders in our partnerships and other collaborations. We require our partners to adhere to the same standards for any shared content, including transparency in the editorial process and the disclosure of content funders.

Our standards follow our content to other technologies and contexts. For example, hosting or facilitating a community discussion, town hall or forum requires editorial judgments using the same standards we apply in our broadcast or online activities.

We disclose our editorial partners and provide to the public a brief description of their and our roles and responsibilities. The form and frequency of these acknowledgements and disclosures will vary with the character of the relationship and the editorial content or activity that it produces.

Former WITF journalist Scott Detrow (center) stands with members of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade and the Iraqi Army in summer of 2009. He was embedded with the unit as part of our Impact of War project.

Former WITF journalist Scott Detrow (center) stands with members of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 56th Stryker Brigade and the Iraqi Army in summer of 2009. He was embedded with the unit as part of our Impact of War project.

WITF employee activities beyond their public media work:

 All WITF employees should:

Aspire to high standards of integrity and ethics in their personal lives, including dealings with friends and associates, public behavior, and use of social media.

Be alert and sensitive to conflicts of interest between personal interests (including family members) and their professional public media responsibility.

Make a distinction between communications that are part of professional public media responsibilities and all other communications.

Exercise careful judgment in engaging in partisan activities or advocacy regarding controversial issues of public importance.

For employees with direct responsibilities for news and public affairs content, including reporters, producers, and the SVP/Content and President, with whom ultimate editorial decisions reside:

Do not participate in partisan political activities and activities supporting, opposing, or espousing views on controversial issues of public importance. This includes running for elected office, contributing to candidates for office, participating in rallies, marches, and demonstrations, signing petitions, and displaying lawn signs and bumper stickers.

Do not participate in groups, including online groups, with agendas or activities that may give rise to real or perceived bias on matters of public interest or controversy.

Do not accept gifts, favors, and fees (including free travel or special treatment) from those with an agenda on matters of public importance or with whom it is important to preserve detachment and impartiality.

*The above is excerpted from WITF’s Principles and Guidelines for Organizational Ethics and Editorial Integrity.*

*If you ever have any comments, questions or concerns about a story you hear on WITF, you can reach me on Facebook, through email ( or at my desk (717-910-2907).

Support for WITF is provided by:

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Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »