NFOIC to Expand Collaboration with the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information in Restructuring

Submitted by NFOIC on Mon, 10/26/2020 - 1:26pm

October 26, 2020

The National Freedom of Information Coalition will combine forces with the University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information in developing new programs that foster government transparency and serve state coalitions for open government.

For the next year, the two organizations will bolster a relationship that has been in place since 2018. NFOIC is housed in the Brechner offices, and the two organizations have shared the expertise of graduate students and staff in creating white papers and reports about freedom of information issues.

The enhanced partnership is driven in part by reduced grant support and restructuring needs for NFOIC.

“Sometimes necessity drives innovation, requiring nonprofit organizations to work smarter, diversify revenues, and leverage their combined forces for long-term sustainability and impact,” said David Cuillier, NFOIC board president. “I believe we will come out of this pandemic stronger and more resilient.”

Reduced funding will require NFOIC to end on Dec. 31 its executive director position, which is held by Daniel Bevarly. Bevarly has been NFOIC's executive director since 2017 and worked as a contractor for NFOIC for three years prior. Bevarly helped bring new programs and services to NFOIC members, build relationships in and outside the FOI community, oversee NFOIC's move from the University of Missouri to the University of Florida, attract new funders, build efforts to diversify the FOI community, and increase NFOIC open government coalition members.

“Dan has done a great job elevating the organization, taking it to the next level,” Cuillier said.

The NFOIC board will work closely with Brechner Executive Director Frank LoMonte, who has extensive experience in freedom of information law and association management. Also, NFOIC will hire a full-time coalition outreach coordinator, already funded through continued grant support, and will continue to employ an administrative assistant and part-time communications specialist. For the next year, the NFOIC board will continue to explore long-term structure to enable it to remain self-sustaining as it aids state coalitions.

"The NFOIC performs an invaluable public service as the nation's hub of open-government advocacy at the state and local levels,” LoMonte said. “Powerful forces are working in statehouses around the country to take more and more essential information about critical health and safety concerns off the public record, and the vigilance of the NFOIC and its members around the country is often the public's last line of defense. The work of our two organizations is perfectly aligned and complementary, and we're committed to helping support that work so the NFOIC can achieve its mission of building a stronger grassroots advocacy network in support of transparency."  

Restructuring FAQ

Why not use a portion of the treasury to retain the executive director position?

The general operations fund was largely depleted beginning in October, leaving the organization with approximately $135,000 in reserves that can be spent on daily operations.  NFOIC will use some of these reserves to pay for the executive director position for the final three months of the 2020 calendar year, which ends Dec. 31. Instead of running the balance to zero after that, the board made the decision to preserve the remaining amount to cover basic operations expenses for the next year and position us to make a transition. We do have a grant from the Charles Koch Institute that will enable us to hire a full-time outreach coordinator for the next year, but that money is committed solely to that position, as directed by the funder, so it can’t be used for the executive director position. The executive director has been full time for the past three years, with the understanding that it was contingent on grant funding. In previous years, the position duties were contracted out part time, at times folded into a professor’s duties, or run out of a state coalition (Texas). 

Who will aid and work with state coalitions on a daily basis?

The full-time outreach coordinator, when hired in the next few weeks, will take the lead in working with coalitions daily, including sending the email newsletter, hosting monthly Zoom meetings, taking phone calls, responding to emails, providing training and assistance, etc.

Who will continue fundraising efforts?

The board president will take up fundraising and development, and ideas are being discussed for helping with that. Some funders will be approached by NFOIC and Brechner as partners (along with other potential partnerships), where it makes sense. Meetings with funders have already begun, and have been quite positive.

Who will be the external face of the organization?

The board president will be the face of the organization for external partners and the public, until a long-term structure is implemented.

Who will handle administrative tasks for the organization?

Administrative support will continue being provided through the Brechner Center and the University of Florida. Also, the volunteer board members will continue to serve the organization, including through the coalition outreach committee, diversity and inclusion committee and litigation fund committee.

Why weren’t coalitions informed of this earlier? What was the process?

The board was made aware of the financial situation in June, and met June 11 via Zoom for an update from the executive director. Board discussions continued through the summer, including an Aug. 11 Zoom meeting to explore a partnership with the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and await word on whether pending grant funding would be approved (it was not). Understanding operations funds could run out this fall, the board met Aug. 22 to take action, agreeing to eliminate the executive director position, given funds would not be available for it. The board decided Sept. 10 to continue the executive director until Dec. 31, 2020, even though this meant tapping into reserves. Questions remained for how to continue the same level of services for coalitions, in coordination with Brechner. Discussions continued with Brechner through the fall and into October to work out the administrative details and also seek approval from the host institution, the University of Florida. Once details were agreed upon, funders were immediately notified of the changes Oct. 14 and coalitions the following day at the Oct. 15 general membership meeting. Coalitions were encouraged to reach out to Board President David Cuillier if they had questions or concerns, via email (cuillier@arizona.edu) or phone (cell: 520-248-6242), and may still do so. 

What is the board going to do to situate NFOIC for long-term sustainability?

The board will be discussing during the next year an ideal structure to set NFOIC up for long-term sustainability. It could include being housed in Brechner, a coalition, a different university, or other nonprofit. It might include new diversified funding streams, or other models. We have options. Through this process we will welcome input and suggestions from state coalitions, and will advertise meetings in advance, welcome public attendance, and operate as transparently as possible.

What can state coalitions do to help?

We certainly welcome input, suggestions, and questions, as we all work hand in hand to champion government transparency. We also welcome donations, but we understand coalitions need all the money they can use for their important work. Like many times before, NFOIC will get through this, and we appreciate the strength and dedication of the coalition community.

For more information:

David Cuillier, NFOIC board president, cuillier@arizona.edu, 520-248-6242