UCIMC Fiscal Policy and the Global Indymedia Network

The IMC Network and UC-IMC's Place Within It

What does "IMC" mean?

The Independent Media Center is a network of collectively run media outlets for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of the truth. We work out love for, and are inspired by, people who continue to work for a better world, despite corporate media's distortions and unwillingness to cover the efforts to free humanity. For more about the IMC and its core principles, see the Indymedia Documentation Project, from which the preceding language was taken. People use "IMC" to mean different things at different times, and this can be a potential source of confusion. Depending on context, it could mean:

  • any local IMC collective, in this case UC-IMC;
  • the Global Indymedia network collective; or
  • the entire collective of local IMC collectives, taken as a whole.

How is the IMC network organized?

There are two ways to look at the structure of the IMC network: the organizational structure and the legal/fiscal structure. So much of the workings of the IMC network on a day-to-day basis are related to the organizational structure that many IMCistas are surprised to learn that there even is a legal/fiscal structure alongside the organizational structure.

Why are there two simultaneous structures, organizational and fiscal/legal?

Here is the rationale, as given when UC-IMC first made the proposal to the IMC-Finance working group (link):

My concern is more how to balance the desire for a democratic and participatory process and the need for an efficient and legally accountable financial structure (e.g. one that can pay necessary taxes, knows how its money is being used, and is using legal accounting proceedures). I am a big fan of devolving authority and hierachy as much as possible, however, I also believe that without accountability, commons often are abused. I view our current conundrum as a manifestation of this tension between the creation of an egalitarian structure of financial decision-making and protecting the financial common though minimal, though necessary, accountability. We're all interested in seeing the Global IMC flourish. The question right now is how to balance the desires of a heterogeneous group of people and create a structure that incorporates both elements of this tension.)

What is the organizational structure?

  • Local Collectives -- Taken from the FAQ: "There are currently over one hundred and fifty Independent Media Centers around the world. Each IMC is an autonomous group that has its own mission statement, manages its own finances and makes its own decisions through its own processes." Each IMC may have a variety of projects. For example, projects at UC-IMC include the print newspaper The Public (i), a radio news segment broadcast on WEFT, and the low-power FM station WRFU. To learn more about each IMC, visit its web page.
  • The Global Indymedia Network (aka indymedia.org) -- Taken from the FAQ: "indymedia.org" is an organization composed of independent media activists from around the world who are working to coordinate international independent media projects. The indymedia.org group manages an international Indymedia page (http://www.indymedia.org) and coordinates technical and editorial policy issues that affect all IMCs that are associated with the Indymedia network.

orgstruct.jpg


This diagram isn't meant to be all-encompassing, but to give a general idea of the flow between IMC collectives, the projects associated with those collectives, and the Global Indymedia network. For example, NYC-IMC has, along with their Indymedia site, a print newspaper called the IndyPendent. UC-IMC has a series of projects along with this site.

How was this organizational structure decided on?

A considerable amount of discussion was involved in the first years of the Indymedia project. Documents about the founding of Indymedia can be found here.

What is the legal/fiscal structure, and how was it decided on?

In a nutshell -- there's more detail below -- it's like this. UC-IMC is a non-profit organization under US tax law. UC-IMC extends this non-profit status to some other organizations through a process known as fiscal sponsorship. Some of the projects allied to UC-IMC through this process are other IMC collectives (such as NYC and Michigan).

Another project allied to UC-IMC in this way is the Global Indymedia network itself.


legalstruct.jpg


Again, this diagram doesn't encompass the entire network, but is meant to show the fiscal/legal relationship between UC-IMC, other IMC collectives -- some, like NYC, fiscally allied with UC-IMC, some not -- and the Global Indymedia network.

Therefore, in the strictly legal sense -- that is, on paper -- UC-IMC serves as the fiscal/legal headquarters of the Global Indymedia Network. This important distinction -- between the organizational structure and the fiscal/legal structure -- has been a source of confusion. UC-IMC makes no claim that it is organizationally the headquarters of the Global Indymedia Network. Organizationally, we are simply one IMC collective among many.

What was that again?

UC-IMC makes no claim that it is organizationally the headquarters of the Global Indymedia Network. According to the consensus of the IMC-Finance working group (as documented in the next section), however, UC-IMC is -- on paper -- currently the fiscal/legal headquarters of the Global Indymedia Network. Financial donations made to the Global Indymedia network, rather than to individual IMC collectives, are sent to and disbursed by UC-IMC, as noted here on the Global Indymedia site, indymedia.org.

How was the arrangement between Global Indymedia Network and UC-IMC arrived at?

The process can be tracked by reading correspondence available on the imc-finance working group list for 2001 and 2002; follow the links for the details.

  • The possibility of fiscal sponsorship by UC-IMC was first suggested by Sascha Meinrath of UC-IMC in July, 2001 (link).
  • This was part of a larger discussion of developing the sustainability of the Indymedia movement (link).
  • It was also proposed that Global Indymedia Network pursue 501(c)3 status itself (link).
  • Discussion continued and continued.
  • The UC-IMC collective approved the offer to fiscally sponsor Global in December, 2001 (link).
  • The original fiscal sponsor, Jam for Justice, withdrew its fiscal sponsorship in February, 2002 (link).
  • The official proposal was presented to imc-finance in late February, 2002 (link) and approved in March, 2002 (link).

This arrangement does not imply that UC-IMC is in any way owner of the Global Indymedia network, or Indymedia as a whole. Nor does UC-IMC have any intention or desire to change the fundamentally autonomous nature of the IMC collectives. The autonomous media collective is the cornerstone of the IMC movement.

How do IMC collectives handle their finances?

There is no standard IMC model for handling finances, and such decisions are left to the local collectives.

In the US, there are advantages to the tactic of either

  • registering with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a non-profit organization, or
  • fiscally allying with another organization already recognized as a non-profit.

If the IRS agrees that you are a non-profit organization, it grants you something called 501(c)3 status. The benefits of gaining this status include:

  • Donations to that IMC collective, up to a certain limit, can be deducted from your income at tax time.
  • Bequests to the IMC collective, with certain restrictions, are exempt from the estate tax.
  • The collective itself is exempt from paying some taxes, such as sales taxes on media supplies and equipment.

If you fiscally ally with a 501(c)3, then the same benefits also apply. The process of allying with a 501(c)3 is called "fiscal sponsorship." This should not be interpreted to mean the 501(c)3 organization somehow owns the organizations fiscally allied with it in this way. Such ownership of one IMC collective by another would be against the autonomous spirit of Indymedia.

When did the UC-IMC become a 501(c)3 organization?

UC-IMC has been a 501(c)3 organization since June, 2001. The process of registering as a 501(c)3 organization involved, among other things, the writing of bylaws, the election of officers, and interacting with the IRS.

Does this mean that UCIMC has a President?

On paper only. The first act of the organization officers was to disempower themselves and devolve decisionmaking to the UC-IMC consensus process. This is a legally binding process; the board can't make decisions against the UC-IMC consensus.

Will UC-IMC hold this fiscal/legal position permanently?

UC-IMC does not intend to hold the fiscal sponsorship of Global Indymedia Network permanently, nor should it. We actively encourage working toward other solutions:

  • That other US IMC collectives gain 501(c)3 status independent of UC-IMC and allow the fiscal sponsorship of Global to rotate among them; or
  • That Global Indymedia Network become a 501(c)3 itself.

Does UC-IMC have a fee for hosting the funds of fiscal allies?

Yes. This is not unique to UC-IMC; it's a standard operating procedure for 501(c)3 organizations. We know of no 501(c)3 offering such a service for free. The fees are on a sliding scale negotiated up front with the organization seeking to ally financially with UC-IMC, and range from 5% upward. Money raised by this fee currently covers only part of the expense of bookkeeping, auditing, and filing costs involved and was not used as a source of funding for purchase of the UC-IMC collective's building. In effect UC-IMC is currently subsidizing the accounting out of our general operating funds.

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