N.C. Open Government Coalition raises final $250,000 to meet matching grant from Knight Foundation

The North Carolina Open Government Coalition, a nonpartisan organization housed at Elon University that educates people about their rights and supports their efforts to gain access to government meetings and records, announced today it has raised an endowment to support its Sunshine Center.

Local contributions of $250,000 were this week matched by a challenge grant of an equal amount awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami. This means that even in tough economic times, those committed to open government sent a strong message by establishing a total $500,000 endowment.

“Receipt of the generous Knight Foundation grant marks the ‘end of the beginning’ for the Coalition,” said Hugh Stevens, president of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition. “Now that our supporters have laid a firm foundation for the organization, we look forward to exploring new and expanded opportunities for promoting openness at all levels of government in North Carolina.”

The Knight Foundation is a leading journalism philanthropic organization committed to funding projects that inform and engage communities. Knight’s gift to the citizens of North Carolina is just one of more than a thousand journalism grants totaling $400 million since 1950. In its journalism work, the foundation focuses on the quality of and freedom of news and information, and media innovation.

“Informed, engaged communities are simply not possible if local governments fail to obey their own open records and open meetings laws,” said Eric Newton, vice president of the foundation’s journalism program. “Yet historically governments at all levels have cared more about promoting the ideal of freedom of information more than they have cared about making it real. That means Americans themselves must step up. That’s what’s happening in North Carolina.”

Since establishing the N.C. Open Government Coalition in 2006 and later partnering with Elon University to create the Sunshine Center, the organization has handled almost 400 citizen calls, answered hundreds of e-mails, hosted annual well-attended state and regional conferences, and participated in the national meetings of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

The Sunshine Center is also host to the state’s annual celebration of open government held during Sunshine Week. This year more than 100 supporters of open government attended activities at the Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro, N.C.

Coalition board representatives and members raised the last $75,000 during the final six months of the three-year campaign. Gifts from the Josephus Daniels Fund, the Park Foundation, the North Carolina Press Foundation, Time Warner Cable, the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters and a host of individual contributions helped the group reach its goal. Fundraising was kicked off in March of 2007 with a $50,000 gift from the Triangle Community Foundation, and since then more than 30 organizations and individuals have donated.

In March of 2010, the Elon Poll found citizen awareness of open government laws was up across the state of North Carolina from 26 percent in 2007 to 46 percent today.

For more information about the matching grant and about the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, please contact the Sunshine Center at Elon University 336-278-5506 or at ncopengov@elon.edu.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.