A group in Montana used our foundation as fundraising bait. Here’s why.

I’ve worked at the Brainerd Foundation for more than a decade now and as communications manager I’m tasked with keeping track of the details of our communications as we enter the last four years of operations before we spend out our endowment.

My biggest project this year has been shepherding our website through a major overhaul. At its core, this project has been less about the technical details and more about aligning our site with our values. At the Brainerd Foundation, we strive to share what we’re learning. And we aim to learn from other funders, experts, and most especially, our grantees, in the hopes of increasing our impact.

We don’t have all the answers. Quite to the contrary;

We want people to know what’s working for us and also what’s difficult. And we want them to know what’s working for our grantees.

We have nothing to hide. We post our financial statements on our website in plain view, and we proudly feature each of our current grantees and how much we have given them, when, and for what work. And yes, we celebrate their successes.

And that’s what got the attention of a group that opposes the work of one of our grantees. That group learned that we have supported the work of the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC), a nonprofit that, among other things, has taken the lead in accounting for the true costs of burning coal in Montana — from climate change to the associated health effects of toxic waste byproducts.

I have to admit, when we received a forwarded copy of the anti-environmental fundraising appeal, I questioned for a moment the wisdom of our transparency. In addition to reporting a somewhat misleading grant total over several years, the letter highlighted the most recent success we had posted on our homepage. It was related to a court settlement that will force a coal plant to dispose properly of toxic coal ash in order to protect drinking water for downstream communities and groundwater for ranchers.

MEIC’s opponents are concerned about job loss, and we do appreciate the historical importance of the coal industry to many Montana communities. And yet, these same communities are fighting for clean air, land, and water. So, when I received that fundraising email, I thought, Geez, why are we putting ourselves out there to be attacked or, even worse, for our grantees’ work to be attacked?

But it didn’t take long for me to remember,

We have nothing to hide. We’re supporting good work in every column.

We support community groups, like Salmon Valley Stewardship, that are working to bring all stakeholders to the table to create local solutions that are good for the land, wildlife, and local economies.

Yes, we also support legal groups like Earthjustice and Central Oregon Landwatch, because without representation in the courts, we know there would not be sufficient enforcement of the good policies that are already in place.

And we will continue to support grassroots advocacy groups in the Northwest, like MEIC in Montana that is working to clean up dirty power plants that are using outdated technology, and accelerate the transition to clean energy. Because Montana’s blue ribbon streams and big sky are also vital to its economy.

And while sharing these successes may attract the attention of people who don’t celebrate them, we’re counting on the fact that we’ll reach more people who not only support our grantee’s work, but who share our values of courageous transparency. We hope that these people, our allies, may learn something that will inspire them to work differently or join the effort, and help make all of our work that much stronger.

We think it’s worth the risk.