Not only are foundations self-interested slime, they are also habitually "risk averse" (that means cowardly) if they suspect they might attract negative government attention.
So it is not surprising that:
The New York Times reported last year that the ACLU had rejected grants from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations rather than examine themselves for promotion of terrorism. The exact language of Ford's grant letter was: "By signing this grant letter, you agree that your organization will not promote or engage in violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state, nor will it make subgrants to any entity that engages in these activities." The ACLU responded in effect (my paraphrase): "Huh? What's that mean? You want us to intuit what it means?"
What the United Way in Pittsburgh has chosen to do sounds as if it is letting vague government requirements make it a full partner in spreading fear among small non-governmental organizations. But is it the United Way's job to police unknown intentions and vague suspicions?
Teresa Odendahl, formerly director of the National Network of Grantmakers (that's the liberal funder caucus) has researched the implications of this kind of thing and reported about it here. [ Warning: pdf.] Her findings are depressing if predictable. Confronted first with a Presidential Executive Order and then ambiguous Treasury Guidelines that enlisted foundations in "the war on terror," the foundations complain, point out the futility of the government's demands, and roll over.
And no wonder the process is expensive:
Big brother is alive and well and masquerading as a funder of charitable organizations!
Naturally other parasites want a piece of this new market. There are commercial data base outfits that contract to check "watch lists" for the foundations. And
Funders did want Odendahl to understand that they knew all this certifying grantees as terrorism-free was not making anyone safer.
So what does all this mean to ordinary small scale nonprofit organizations? It seems to mean foundations are becoming even more careful than they always have been to limit their grants to known, large, conventional charitable entities. Innovative and oppositional groups (think your local Peace Education Project, whether "peace" refers to gang violence or the US invasion of Iraq) can forget it.