Bottom line: Because we seek to represent the public good, and the rights of technology users from all backgrounds, we always act independently from the sources of our funding. That means that donors do not set or influence our agenda or our positions. We believe this is critical not just for EFF, but for our donors, too.
As a non-profit that depends on donations for our operations, we are acutely aware of the questions of influence and association that come with financial ties to individuals, companies, foundations, and other groups. Here are the norms EFF has used for years to both protect our independent voice and raise the funds necessary for us to do our work:
Our strategy is to seek and maintain a diversity of income sources: we avoid being dependent on a single organization, corporation, community, or type of organization for our work. (You can see this diversity of funding sources in our financial reports.) We also primarily direct donors to contribute to our general funds, not to specific work. When we have permitted donors to earmark funds for a particular project or goal, we have not and will not take instructions on how to conduct that project or reach that goal. We also do not expect program staff to fundraise for their own projects or salaries, giving them insulation from the influence of donors in their decision-making. We never endorse products or companies as a result of donated support.
Our donors make all our work possible and we are thankful to them for their support, and we believe that EFF’s power and voice come from the fact that we are fiercely independent of any donor influence. We will not accept funding or other support that undermines our long history of standing up for users and creators. We make our funding decisions on a case-by-case basis, with the final word coming from the Executive Director in co-operation with the Development team.
For reasons of privacy, we keep offers of support that we reject as confidential as we do offers that we do accept.
Asset Donations Policy
Asset donations are an important part of philanthropic giving. EFF has a long history of accepting donations from all sorts of fundraisers, and in all sorts of forms, from stocks to cars, and even occasionally computer hardware (if we actually need it). For donations that are not originally in U.S. dollars (except in-kind donations like hardware), EFF has a policy to immediately (or as soon as practicable) turn them into dollars so that we can use them to further our mission. We may also decline such donations, consistent with EFF’s general donations policy above.
Since we have EFF supporters who are founders, investors and early employees of startups, our policy allows for them to donate these securities to EFF, and for EFF to responsibly sell the securities. Under this policy, EFF may accept donations in the form of stocks, options, bonds or other securities, including private equity and restricted securities, and hold those securities until sale.
Cryptocurrency donations are one of the ways that many people choose to give to support digital rights, and are also one of the ways that some supporters choose to raise funds for us. We gladly receive those funds but, as with all donations, we quickly put them to use protecting everyone's rights.
In 2011, shortly after Bitcoin entered the scene, EFF was supportive about the potential for privacy and censorship resistance, but grew cautious about accepting Bitcoin, returning some previously donated Bitcoins to the community. We restarted taking Bitcoin in 2013, explaining that we would be cashing out the coins and “using this money to support our impact litigation, advocacy, and technical projects that defend individual privacy, combat government surveillance, support free expression, and promote innovation.” The early cryptocurrency community showed its support. Since then EFF has continued to accept donations in the form of cryptocurrencies, following our policy to accept all sorts of assets.
Turning Asset Donation into Protecting Your Rights
When EFF receives any of these donations, EFF does not intend to be an investor or speculator on the future potential of the donated asset.
Instead, EFF will cash out donated assets, generally within three business days of the first reasonable opportunity to sell on a public exchange. EFF’s own endowment investments are separately managed according to the EFF investment policy, with the guidance of a third-party investment manager.
This policy allows us to focus our energy on doing our work protecting rights online. It also ensures that we don’t have a financial stake in the outcome of any issue we may address. It reinforces that our advocacy is based upon standing up for the public interest, and not influenced by concern about the financial implications for EFF. Similarly this policy of selling assets quickly ensures that we have no financial interest in whether a particular company does well or the value of a cryptocurrency grows or takes a dip.
Sometimes, in unusual circumstances, we may need to delay the sale of an asset beyond the three-business-day target. As part of considering whether to delay the sale of a donated asset, EFF will endeavor to ensure that our decision to hold will not result in EFF appearing to take program positions based upon our financial interests, or appears to endorse coins, products or companies.
Updated May 2022 to include EFF's Asset Donation Policy.