May 25, 2011

Donors Give Big to Replace Corporate Grant Rejected by Charity

The charity Reel Grrls made a difficult decision when it opted to turn down $18,000 from a longtime corporate sponsor, the charity's executive director said this week. But the organization's leaders felt it was the right thing to do.

That feeling can only be helped by an outpouring of support from about 600 donors who gave about $22,000 in less than a week. Typically the organization gets money from just 150 donors a year.

The charity made national headlines  this month after a local representative from the cable company Comcast threatened to pull support for a summer program over a critical Twitter post about the company's hiring of Meredith Attwell Baker, a member of the Federal Communications Commission.

“The minute the story went out, we started receiving not only social-media mentions but donations,” said Malory Graham, executive director of Reel Grrls, which has five employees and an annual budget of about $330,000.

A national representative for Comcast told Reel Grrls the threat wasn't sanctioned and that its funding was never in jeopardy. But the charity decided to turn the money away because accepting it felt like a conflict of interest, Ms. Graham said.

“Our mission is to empower young people in media production, but hand-in-hand with that is media literacy and knowledge of media ownership and distribution,” she said.

Ms. Graham said the charity had received money from Comcast for three years and had good relationships with the company. The summer program hires 15 teenage girls to make films for other local nonprofits. Those films were shown on Comcast's on-demand video service in the Seattle metropolitan area.

“It was a fantastic program," Ms. Graham said. "It felt very much in mission alignment for our two organizations.”

In the past week, the threat over the Twitter post has been featured by national news organizations like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. The organization has had to increase its server capacity to handle more visits to its Web site as new donors from around the country arrived.

One woman in Tucson, Ariz., donated to the charity with a note that she would have switched from Comcast if there was another cable option in her area, Ms. Graham said.

"Us girls have to stick together," the note said.