Gift Acceptance Policy

The work of the Heartland Health Research Alliance (HHRA) is supported by tax-deductible donations. Subject to the provisions of this Gift Acceptance Policy, HHRA accepts gifts and grants from outside of HHRA from charitable foundations, private individuals, and companies.

In addition, HHRA competes for and accepts funding from government research agencies.

Alignment with HHRA Mission and Goals

HHRA accepts funds from donors who are aligned with HHRA’s mission of advancing public health and environmental quality through independent research on farming and food systems, technology, and policy.

As part of the process for making a gift, donors are asked to affirm compliance with the provisions of this HHRA Gift Acceptance Policy.

HHRA staff will screen all gifts over $1,000 to confirm alignment with HHRA’s mission and goals. When staff identifies a potential concern, the Executive Director will communicate with the donor and make a determination whether the donor meets the gift policy requirements. At the discretion of the ED, the Board will be asked to provide input prior to making a final determination.

Existing Donors In the event the Executive Director determines that an existing donor may not be adhering to this Gift Acceptance Policy, they will inform the Board’s Executive Committee and assess the need for action to clarify requirements and/or bring a donor into compliance with the Policy.

Assuring Scientific Independence

HHRA will not accept any gifts or grants that are awarded on the condition that the donor be permitted to control or influence the conduct of ongoing research or how research data are compiled, analyzed, and reported.

Project proposals and award documents may specify general topics, the type of project being funded (e.g. biomonitoring, cohort studies), and the amounts of funding dedicated to certain activities (clinical research, lab testing, graduate fellowships, extramural research). However, once a gift is accepted, donors will have no ongoing role in directing how donated funds are spent, how research and other activities are carried out, and how or when results are communicated and disseminated.

HHRA will share the results of its work, regardless of whether the results support, refute, or fail to answer the hypotheses tested or the issues addressed. Openness in sharing all results, expected and unexpected, is essential in advancing science.

How the Gift Acceptance Policy Will Be Implemented

Gifts can be made in three ways. Each is described on the funding portal on the HHRA website. Donors can:

  • Make a gift via PayPal or credit card,
  • Mail a check made out to HHRA to the Brookfield, Wisconsin business office (address on website), or
    Contact the ED in the event of a gift in stock or other type of gift.

Donors are offered the choice of directing their gift to: (1) general support, (2) research, or (3) communications, outreach, and education.

Each donor is asked to provide their name, address, email, and phone number. There is a checkbox asking the donor if they would like to make their gift recurring. A second checkbox asks if the donor will increase the donation to cover processing fees. The third checkbox provides a donor the option to make their gift anonymously.

Prior to entering payment information, a donor will be asked to check a box that affirms the donor agrees to abide by the HHRA Gift Acceptance Policy.

Each donor is asked to provide their name, address, email, and phone number. When donations in excess of $1,000 are made via a check or a special arrangement, the ED will share a full copy of this gift acceptance policy with the donor and confirm in writing the donor’s willingness to abide by its provisions.

Acceptance of Anonymous Gifts and Grants

Some donors prefer to keep their philanthropic activities private to the degree allowed by law. HHRA honors such requests as long as the donor agrees to comply with the terms of this Policy and permits HHRA to disclose the existence of an anonymous gift and the gift amount and time period.

As needed in routine reports and on the HHRA website, the source of such gifts will be described in a general way that has been discussed with and approved by the donor (e.g. “This gift is provided by a family-run foundation in the Midwest supporting work on agriculture’s impacts on the environment”).

All gifts from for-profit corporations will be disclosed.

Gifts, Grants, and Research Partnerships with Companies

For-profit corporate funding currently plays a significant and growing role in many aspects of food and fiber system innovation. Such funding often accounts for a sizable share of the extramural funding supporting academic research and education projects focused on agricultural chemicals, animal drugs, food quality, and how farming systems and inputs impact the environment and public health. This is especially true in the land-grant system of agricultural colleges and universities.

HHRA will pursue and accept funding from private, for-profit companies who agree to adhere to this Policy. HHRA will also welcome, and when appropriate, accept opportunities to participate in jointly sponsored research projects receiving private sector support, provided adherence is assured to all applicable provisions in this Policy.

This Gift Acceptance Policy was approved by the Heartland Health Research Alliance Board of Directors on February 10, 2022. The degree to which this policy supports attainment of HHRA’s mission and priorities will be monitored to determine the need for reforms or clarification.

Frequently Asked Questions About HHRA’s Gift Acceptance Policy

Click on any of the questions below to open up the answer.

HHRA is mindful of skepticism associated with public-health research sponsored by for-profit companies and corporations. Concern is especially acute in the case of projects in which a for-profit corporate donor: (a) retains the ability to influence the conduct of the science, and when and how research outcomes are reported publicly, and (b) stands to benefit or potentially lose something of value (e.g. money, a marketing advantage, intellectual property) as a result of the outcome of a specific research project or program.

Some foundations and trusts are organized as not-for-profit corporations and are not associated with the same problems and skepticism.

Yes, several. For-profit corporate funding often comes with conditions. Some grant documents specify details of experimental design, identify data that can be gathered and questions addressed, while also specifically ruling out the collection of other information and certain analytical activities. 

Corporate grant provisions often require that preliminary results must be shared first, and privately, with for-profit corporate sponsors. Sometimes contracts assure sponsors a chance to review publications before submission. In other cases, intellectual property provisions are included that limit what scientists can do with new research data and insights. 

HHRA will not accept such conditions.

Studies show that for-profit corporate funding does sometimes impact the outcome of research and how it is reported and used. A key goal of HHRA’s Gift Acceptance Policy, coupled with our commitment to transparency and accountability, is avoiding any such preconditions, perceptions, and concerns.

People, foundations, and companies donate funding for research on issues and challenges they care about. Through their donations, they have a direct impact on the topics that scientists have an opportunity to work on and address. But once funding is disbursed, donor involvement should come to an end and donors should exercise no ongoing control over how research is conducted and/or how results are communicated. HHRA’s policy is designed to assure this outcome.

The task of assuring that HHRA supports high-quality, rigorous science can best be assured through full and open adherence to conflict of interest and funding disclosures, peer-review, and engagement with the scientific and other communities interested in HHRA’s work.

Over time the quality, balance, and impact of our science will determine whether questions and concerns over bias or objectivity become an impediment in our work. If such concerns arise, HHRA will revisit this and other relevant policies and make needed adjustments promptly.

For three primary reasons. First, corporations have both resources and motivation to invest in independent public-health research, and many are aligned with the goals of HHRA and willing to abide by HHRA’s gift policy.

Second, individuals and companies engaged in the food and agricultural sectors have specialized knowledge about the causes of problems that arise as a result of farming system choices and related public policies and priorities. They also often have unique insights into how farmers can lighten agriculture’s environmental footprint and/or pursue options to improve food safety and food nutritional quality.

Third, farmers and ranchers, corporate officials, technical specialists working for companies, salespeople, and support personnel doing business along farm-to-consumer value chains will make future decisions to embrace or resist change. Cooperative work with HHRA and routine exchange of information will hopefully deepen their understanding of public health benefits attainable through farming system innovation. Likewise, their involvement in our work will sharpen our understanding of hurdles slowing down the adoption of new systems and technology known to improve public health outcomes and enhance environmental quality.

Over time the quality, balance, and impact of our science will determine whether questions and concerns over bias or objectivity become an impediment in our work. If such concerns arise, HHRA will revisit this and other relevant policies and make needed adjustments promptly.

Yes, as long as donors are willing to adhere to HHRA’s Gift Acceptance Policy.

Yes. A Board member, Robin Greenwald, is a partner at Weitz & Luxenberg and has been involved with pesticide litigation brought by the firm, and most recently, cases focused on Roundup herbicide and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The HHRA Executive Director Charles Benbrook has worked for many years as an expert witness in cases involving pesticide use, regulation, and impacts. He continues to serve as an expert witness in cases involving glyphosate-based herbicides, chlorpyrifos, soil fumigants, and paraquat.

When an individual associated with HHRA chooses to participate in litigation, whether for plaintiffs or the defense, such participation must be disclosed to the Board, acknowledged on the HHRA website, and accurately disclosed in peer-reviewed papers.

HHRA regards engagement in regulatory processes and judicial proceedings an additional and important way that HHRA’s research, expertise, and insights can promote positive public health and policy outcomes.

Litigation can trigger discernible changes, for better and for worse, in the public-health outcomes arising from farm production systems and the way food is processed and manufactured. Through our work and the sharing of knowledge, HHRA strives to tip the scales toward positive outcomes in government, the private sector, and sometimes in judicial proceedings.

The Congress and government regulatory agencies are sometimes unable to resolve controversies over how to address chemical exposures and other workplace risks. As a result, litigation is sometimes pursued to clarify what current laws call for and to determine whether for-profit corporations bear responsibility when certain products are linked to adverse health or environmental outcomes.

In litigation, society benefits from the participation of vetted experts who are able to provide expert testimony to help judges and jury members understand factual and scientific issues. Court proceedings assure that each side has a fair chance to make their case.

Every statement of fact and opinion shared by an expert with a judge or jury is first vetted by the court to assure the data and opinions are based on accepted scientific methods and valid and relevant data. And when presented at trial, all facts and opinions are open to direct challenge by the opposing side. There is no hiding place for those offering cherry-picked data, bogus methods and inappropriate statistical tests, and opinions not supported by substantial and credible evidence.

The court-supervised back and forth between experts working on behalf of plaintiffs and defense is the judicial-process equivalent of peer review. The process is rigorous and detail oriented. It plays a valuable role in helping judges and juries make often difficult decisions as they weigh the facts of a case, the soundness of the expert testimony, and whether the evidence presented during a trial is sufficient to sustain the burden of proof established in applicable law.