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CC Guidelines for Screening Donors

(adopted by the Board of Directors March 30, 2020) 

Creative Commons takes a proactive approach to ensuring that gifts in whatever form made to the organization come from individuals, foundations, donor advised funds and corporations (collectively, potential and current “Donors”) who align with our ethics and cultural values. The “Creative Commons Guidelines for Screening Donors” documents this approach, using best practices from other organizations leading this effort and is aimed at providing an overview of the general process and principles used by Creative Commons when (1) accepting contributions valued at over $10,000 USD in a single gift during a calendar year, or (2) accepting contributions from a Donor that cumulatively makes one or more gifts valued at more than $10,000 USD in a calendar year. The document outlines:


The guidelines apply to all relationships between Donors (potential or current) and Creative Commons (CC) that involve the following types of support, among other things:

Partnerships encompass all relationships between the CC and a Donor in which CC grants the Donor the possibility of using CC’s name, emblem/logo or image in its communication and promotional materials, or anything else that thereby potentially creates a public association between the Donor and Creative Commons, including the Creative Commons Network, subsidiaries and similar, and/or any Creative Commons events.

For Donors that are not individuals, the processes and criteria set forth in these Guidelines may involve a review of the potential Donor’s executive level staff as well as board members, in the discretion of the Creative Commons.


A wide range of functions and units across CC are part of the process to decide on Donations and Partnerships. The process will typically include input from CC’s:

Beginning with the Development Team, current and prospective Donors that meet the criteria for screening described above will be screened using a wealth screening database. Additionally, the Development Team may use other publicly available data to identify any risk associated with receiving any form of support from a Donor.  Within the limits prescribed by law, the screening may include a search of publicly available criminal records, main business interests, sources of income, known associates, an Internet news search, and/or reports of positive and negative corporate performance. The expectation is that the Development Team will use reasonable efforts and diligence throughout the screening process that results in a recommendation as to the suitability of the current or potential Donor, and will exercise discretion in deciding which sources to use.

Once assessed, the Development Team will provide a written report to the CEO, the Legal Team, any relevant program / project teams, the Development Council and board members selected by it and the Development Team for review and approval during the Qualification Stage of the fundraising pipeline. As part of the report, the Development Team will provide recommendations for or against accepting any form of support from the screened Donor.  Additionally, the Development Team will use the same screening process for unsolicited donations above the thresholds described above.


The following section clarifies exclusionary, cautionary, and positive criteria. These categories are not finite and may be supplemented from time to time by CC in its sole discretion, including upon review of a particular Donor.

A. Exclusionary Criteria

An exclusionary criterion is one that categorically causes Creative Commons to reject any form of support from the Donor. These criteria are established and evaluated by CC in its sole discretion. The exclusionary criteria include the Donor’s involvement in:

  1. The manufacture or sale of arms, including any direct or indirect involvement in the manufacture or sale of illegal or controversial weapons;
  2. International crimes; this encompasses International crimes as defined in treaty and customary law, which include violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and  violations of International Human Rights Law (IHRL), such as crimes against humanity, genocide, torture; as well as other international crimes such as piracy, transnational organized crime, human trafficking, financing of terrorism, amongst others; and
  3. The manufacture of products that are widely recognized as deleterious to human health.
  4. Gifts from anonymous donors where the donor and the origin of the funds cannot be determined.

The exclusionary criteria are supplemented by a list of cautionary criteria and positive criteria, detailed below, which further influence the decision to accept support from a Donor.

B. Cautionary Criteria

Beyond the exclusionary criteria outlined above, cautionary criteria flag issues that may present potential risks, keeping in mind that some of these risks may be mitigated. Cautionary criteria are often more qualitative in nature, and therefore do not allow for clear thresholds. The cautionary criteria for a Donor is as follows, based on CC’s reasonable assessment and determination in its discretion:

  1. Has been involved in past controversies;
  2. Does not respect internationally recognized human rights and fundamental labor standards;
  3. Has engaged in practices running counter to the rules and principles of international humanitarian and human rights law;
  4. Does not respect materially the local or national laws and regulations of the country(ies) where it operate(s);
  5. Through its business practices, materially contributes to armed conflicts or natural disasters;
  6. Any other criteria that, in CC’s sole discretion, causes CC to question the advisability of accepting a contribution from the Donor.

C. Positive Criteria

Whereas cautionary criteria are meant to flag potential risks and issues of concern with a Donor, positive criteria focus on issues that may reflect more positively on a Donor’s reputation and future business behavior. The positive criteria potentially include where the Donor:

  1. Would respond positively to input aimed at improving their business practices in a way that promotes social responsibility;
  2. Promotes the education, health and social welfare of their employees to an extent that goes beyond what the law requires; or
  3. Has a positive image, good reputation and a track record of good ethical behavior.

D. Donations from High-Risk Sectors

CC closely monitors donations from Donors who derive a significant part of their revenue from sectors defined as high risk. For CC, these sectors include (among others that CC may subsequently identify):

  1. Food, beverage or other products publicly recognized as deleterious to health (e.g. fast food chains/stores, confectionary, energy/carbonated drinks, junk food/unhealthy snacks, tobacco);
  2. Other products deleterious to health (e.g. certain pesticides, lead paint, asbestos, etc.);
  3. Mining and extractive companies with associated social, environmental or health issues (e.g. petroleum companies, energy companies and mining companies);
  4. Pharmaceutical companies; and
  5. Military contractors.
  6. Is engaged in socially sensitive industries, including gambling and pornography.

Decisions are taken after thorough examination of such Donation. They may also be referred to the Board of Directors for further examination or a final decision.


Given the fluid nature of the environments in which the CC and its Donors operate, the screening process must be able to account for sudden and unforeseeable changes. The monitoring and management of relationships with Donors is therefore an essential part of the overall screening approach to long-term relationships with Donors. The monitoring process distinguishes between:

  1. Changes in a Donor’s policies and fundamentals that are likely to affect the long term trajectory of their business practices
  2. Unexpected development/controversies that are likely to affect reputational risk associated with a linkage to the Donor.

A. Review of Donor Policies

CC reviews Donors and their fundamentals every year at the renewal or annual anniversary of a multi-year relationship. This review is led by the Development Team in consultation with the Legal Team and Development Council, and is based on the most recently-available information for each Donor. The objective is to assess whether there have been any significant changes to a Donor’s policies and practices. If a deterioration in the Donor’s policies and practices are identified and deemed significant enough to alter the balance of risk and benefits of a relationship with a Donor, the Development Council will then carry out a complete review of the proposed relationship. In extreme cases, such as when there have been very significant changes to a Donor’s practices in relation to CC’s exclusionary criteria, CC may consider the suspension and eventual termination of the relationship. In most cases, however, significant changes in a Donor’s practices and policies will first lead to a direct engagement on the issue with Donor, if needed.

B. Monitoring Developments and Controversies in the Media

In addition to the review of existing Donor relationships every year, CC regularly monitors the media for developments linked to Donors. The monitoring is carried out by the Development Team with support from staff and relevant project teams as reasonably requested.

C. Engaging with Donors

Along with its proactive and systematic monitoring system of Donors, CC aims to maintain a frequent, transparent and constructive engagement with Donors. This enables the CC to be a critical friend where appropriate.


In addition to the numerous checks and balances that have been built into the screening process (e.g. multiple sources of information, multi-stakeholder decision making, etc.) the following steps are implemented to ensure that the screening process is effectively and efficiently implemented:

  1. A register of accepted and rejected Donors is shared with the CC Board of Directors on a yearly basis, which shall remain confidential;
  2. Recommendations for changes to these Guidelines shall be considered annually by the Development Council and submitted to the Board of Directors for review and approval; and
  3. The Audit Committee will review the outcomes of the screening process no less than annually.