Decoding OrganicEye
A Different Nonprofit Model

 As organics has grown into an over $60 billion per year industry, many are profiting from the increasingly unsavory status quo (production from livestock factories, soilless fruits and vegetables grown in sterile/sealed buildings, and all too often fraudulent imports).
We now have multimillion-dollar certifiers, originally established by family farmers, certifying multibillion-dollar corporate agribusinesses and accepting funding from the USDA. Meanwhile, some nonprofits receive a high percentage of their revenue from corporations and the USDA as well. And many certifiers and nonprofits are members of, and financial contributors to, the industry’s largest corporate lobby group, the Organic Trade Association.

In the words of organic policy veteran, Will Fantle, who sits on the OrganicEye board, the messaging to the rest of us is: “Sit down, shut up, and clap louder.”

There are no stronger advocates for authentic organics than the leadership and staff at OrganicEye. But we will not deceive people by merely being organic industry cheerleaders. We won’t shut up about ethical and legal improprieties. It’s our job to ring the alarm bell and to stand with others in leveraging our research to create substantive change.

What makes OrganicEye different?

We are not private eyes. We are public eyes.
Our mission is to protect what we have all built together—the intrinsic value of an alternative food production system based on ecological stewardship, humane animal husbandry, and economic-justice for the people who produce our food.

We have a laser focus.
Our mission is to protect both the organic food label as an authentic choice for eaters in the marketplace and the ethical farmers and businesspeople who make nutritionally superior options available.

Our constituency is broad-based, ranging from young farmers just starting out to more traditional multi-generational farm families. We represent organic producers and eaters across the political spectrum and will not jeopardize our coalition by engaging in political work on unrelated issues that might act as a wedge between us. We work to protect what we all agree upon: the importance of safe and nutritionally-dense food for our families, and honesty and justice in the food system.

OrganicEye has a lean and efficient structure.
Many nonprofit organizations have fancy newsletters, impressive annual reports and/or glossy magazines, and send out countless emails. But producing materials like that costs real money—in printing, postage, and, most importantly, the staff time required to create quality content. Thus, it’s not surprising that some groups have many times the management, communications, and fundraising staff than experienced people
specializing in policy work on their stated purpose.

When you contribute to OrganicEye, we steward those funds so the vast preponderance can be applied to our mission-focused projects.
We don’t have a newsletter. Instead, we put all our members on our media list. When we send out a press release to reporters, you will receive it in real time. And news about our work, and other focused coverage of organics, is also posted on our website and
Facebook page.

Most nonprofits have a large Board of Directors, some with as many as 20 members. Frequently those are “fundraising boards.” Board members are chosen because of the major financial contributions they make or their ability to approach well-heeled friends or colleagues. A smaller core group (the Executive Committee) then commonly oversees the organization.

But it must be recognized that keeping large boards engaged and informed so they can make good discerning governance decisions requires an awful lot of staff time and expense for meetings and travel.

OrganicEye has a small board made up of seasoned professionals who know how to run this specific business and are intimately familiar with our issues (our board and management have been working together for almost 2 decades). The OrganicEye board’s number one job is overseeing the finances and ethical integrity of the way we manage this organization.

In 2023, we will be conducting a full review by accredited independent auditors (as required by Wisconsin law, where we are incorporated). Their job is to report to the Board of Directors, assuring them that the financial statements and reports to the IRS and state regulators, as prepared by management, are scrupulously accurate. We take our role as a tax-exempt public charity, mandated to deliver research and educational resources to the citizens of this country, very seriously.

We take a minimalistic approach to fundraising.
Because we have some of the most sophisticated and dedicated member-donors supporting ecological food and farming, we don’t have to do aggressive fundraising every single year to replace donors who are no longer part of our work. That means we can invest a minimum amount of staff and board time in fundraising.

In an average year, we might only mail to members once or twice in addition to our year-end fundraising appeal/annual report letter and forecast. And our mailings typically focus on some type of ActionAlert (at which point people have the option of making an additional contribution to underwrite the campaign). If we’re going to go to the expense of doing a mailing, we want to maximize our investment—it’s going to be with a purpose (not just to raise funds)!

We maintain high ethical standards.
You will never see corporate logos posted on the OrganicEye website. One of our jobs is to objectively critique corporate ethics. We can’t do that while promoting a brand that is either a friend or financial backer of our work.

Not surprisingly, many large corporate agri-businesses have a visceral dislike for our work and are not inclined to offer financial support. We act as an organic truth squad. If a business is engaged in subterfuge, having their customers know the truth is dangerous.

We do appreciate the handful of ethical and independent businesses that modestly help underwrite our work, including some of the country’s preeminent member-owned food cooperatives. But they are not contributing because they think it’s going to help their public relations and marketing efforts. They contribute because they are truly dedicated to protecting organics (which, we contend, is also good for the health of their businesses, just as it is for our farmer-members).

And we don’t publish the names of individual donors or foundations that support our work. What we do is confrontational and controversial. We don’t want our donors to be intimidated by powerful outfits that have an economic interest in undermining our mission.

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