Other than the education I receive from my classes at Brandeis, I have learned a great deal from talking with Prof. Charles Chester from International Environmental Policy courses. We mostly talked about how environmental advocacy and NGO groups function around the world. But coming to work at National Consumers League, I realized the experience is very much the same for similar organizations in different fields. It does not matter what industry you work in, as long as the organization is trying to mobilize politicians, the way of work is very similar.
One thing we discussed was how these organizations are inefficient. He explained that for many organizations, the staff have to spend a lot of resources finding funding for the activities and for the organization itself to survive. So the time and money that are supposed to go to doing activities to support the cause actually go to paying people to apply for other grants that hopefully will pay for those activities. The problem is worsened if there are many third parties organization in between the original donor and the organization which actually does the practical work, as along the way there will just be more “leaking buckets,” as my professor said it. So by the time the money reaches the actual work, it will be a fraction of what the original amount of money. And that is certainly a waste.
Now, fortunately, National Consumers League is not the type of origination that does grassroots work. And other than traditional donations, where our sponsors just donate a certain amount to the organization, we have a project-based system for donors who want to give for a specific project that we run. We also have a department of two people specializing in opening networks and working with sponsors to get more grants. This funding system and the size of the sponsor relation department, in my opinion, give donors the confidence that their money, to the maximum degree possible, is not being used for the wrong purpose.
At Brandeis, I also had the pleasure of talking to my business-savvy upperclassman. We argue about how organizations are inefficient in a different way: how they are swayed by the power of the money from their donors. He argues that most organizations receive their money from for-profit business and thus are incredibly restricted in what and how they can support their agenda. Given that I am in a consumer-rights industry right now, this is particularly relevant. Business and consumers are not always the best harmony when it comes to benefits. I have experienced this struggle when I first worked on my project to identify and promote brands of products are child-labour free. Of course, I was discouraged with the concern that advertising (while I merely consider it educating and informing customers) certain brands would have the organization be at odds with other potential sponsors. It was incredibly dampening as I don’t see how we can be informing people while being influenced by those who give us the money we need to survive as an organization. Luckily, my doubt was slightly mitigated after I learned that our director once wrote a blog advocating for the limitation on soda drink sales in restaurants due to its being linked with diabetes–and some of those brands are actually our sponsors. The NCL, while taking precautions when giving out criticisms of certain brands, is still an independent entity that informs and advocates for what it believes in.
Of course, I cannot say it is or can be the same for every organization out there to operate with some kind of independency or with the maximum efficiency possible, nor can I say the NCL is the ideal model that every organization should follow. But I do believe for now we have the balance needed to carry out our work.