Monday, September 29, 2014

Guest Post: Can a Food Charity Reject Food Industry Funding and Fundraising?

Today's guest post comes from Nourish Nova Scotia's Executive Director Margo Riebe-Butt. Nourish is a non-profit organization that supports nourishment and food literacy programs in school communities, and Margo reached out to me a little ways back to let me know how Nourish was set up from the get-go not to rely on food industry dollars and to overtly reject junk food fundraising and that it did so by way of governance. A good read for all health organizations and I've no doubt that were you to want a copy of Nourish' complete policies and procedures that Margo would be happy to oblige.

Dear Dr. Freedhoff,

It’s kind of you to understand the struggles charities face when trying to fund important programs and organizational operations through various fundraising activities, and I applaud you for calling out those that ought to know better. Charities are under constant pressure in an extremely competitive environment to get the almighty donor dollar. It appears in this day and age anything goes when it comes to bringing much needed funds—even if it runs counter to the cause. But does it have to be that way?

At Nourish Nova Scotia, we don’t believe this needs to be the case. We believe there is a different way, and we’re living that reality today. We will not accept money from Big Food!

We are people who believe that real food is the food your grandmother would recognize—minimally processed and wholesome. We are nutritionists, home economists, educators and parents who care deeply about the future of Nova Scotia. We are members of our communities who know that eating real food helps keep people, communities and our economy healthier.

At Nourish we know that well-nourished kids have better health and education outcomes. We work to support nutrition programs in schools to help achieve this. Our goal is to support the nutritional well-being of children and youth and to build their food knowledge and skills so they can feed themselves well into a healthy future. Right now we support 366 breakfast programs in Nova Scotia, and we have dreams of building on this foundational program to support school gardens, farm to school initiatives, lunch, snack and cooking skill programs. Our dreams are tempered by reality, and the reality is the need for money in order to do what we need to do.

Learning from the experiences of other agencies we realized in the early days that we could not follow the well-worn path by accepting money, partnership and sponsorship incongruent with our mission, while still remaining true to our purpose for being. We had to be brave, innovative and make bold decisions not to enter into partnerships that would compromise our integrity and more importantly, the health of those we serve. We decided to take the time to formulate an internal fund development/gift acceptance policy to guide our actions and decisions. It’s a comprehensive policy, and in the interest of brevity, I’ll share only pieces pertinent to charitable fundraising in this email.

Nourish Fund Development Policies and Procedures

Purpose of Policy
  • In order to achieve Nourish’s vision that all Nova Scotia children and youth are well nourished to live, learn and play, individual citizens as well as the public, private and corporate sectors need to be engaged. Nourish inspires support by maintaining the highest ethical standards in all its actions, demonstrating wise stewardship of its resources and employing equitable and transparent processes to this end.

  • Nourish Nova Scotia believes integrity is paramount in fulfilling its vision mission and purpose. Its intention at all times is to put the nutritional health and well-being of Nova Scotia’s children and youth first. Therefore its financial responsibilities will always be balanced against its social responsibilities. To that end, Nourish chooses its partnerships thoughtfully and carefully, in order to protect its brand and, most importantly, the children and youth that it serves.

  • The second of eight principles states:

    2. Nourish will seek to form meaningful relationships with individuals organizations and corporations that share our vision.*

    This principle is further defined:

    * Given the complexity of the food system, Nourish has made a conscious decision not to seek or enter into partnership with food industry. Exceptions to this decision may occur at some point in the future but involve only those that grow, produce, harvest and promote, what in our expert opinion constitutes real, whole-foods. Whole-foods contribute to the healthy development of children and youth and the good food environment we wish to co-create with generations of Nova Scotians. A careful and stringent review process will be followed to assess any such partnerships prior to any decision to partner.

    We also gave thought to our organizational structure, and how that effects decision making, most notably at the board level. We’ve all had experiences on boards where well-meaning volunteers bring their own fundraising ideas to the table. Board dynamics may be such that these ideas-which often run counter to the charity’s purpose, are accepted anyway. To that end we have developed a community engagement model structure that brings new volunteers and potential board members into the organization on one of four leadership teams. It is here that the bulk of the work for the organization is conceived and actualized. Volunteers have the opportunity to become orientated to the purpose and mandate of the organization over the course of a year or more, ahead of the opportunity to be nominated to the board of directors.

    We were very intentional in developing these policies and structures after we became incorporated and before we became a full-fledged charity. It was difficult to invest so much time and effort on policy development at the front-end of building a new charity. Because of our backgrounds and experiences we knew how imperative these foundational documents would be to the strength and integrity of our organization, and how these investments would serve us well down the road. If you would like more information on how our organizational structure helps to keep volunteers focused on our purpose, I would be happy to share.

    We face the same financial challenges as all of our charitable colleagues. We are proud to differentiate ourselves by taking the road less traveled and keeping the children and youth we serve at the centre of our work.

    Like you, we believe every health charity should be focused on wellness, and not fundraising by selling illness.

    In the sage words of Kermit the Frog….."It’s not easy being green.”


    Margo Riebe-Butt, RD
    Executive Director, Nourish Nova Scotia

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