Rating ‘Environmental’ Groups

Sponsored by Rescue One ‘CDS’ Harness System and  TreeSuit.

The Defenders of Wildlife has used the wolf issue to raise money for awhile. For quite awhile they had wolves on their home page, but now (July 28th as I write this) that page is all about the oil spill. That’s the hot button right now, and the one that brings in the money.

Relative to wolves, the Defenders have done some good things. But, relative to wolf management, they’ve been a thorn in the side to wildlife management. Right now their big push is to get the wolf relisted as an endangered species.

I put the title word ‘environmental’ in quotes because some so-called ‘environmental’ groups are really just animal rights groups. About ten-fifteen years ago the press started calling these groups environmental or conservation groups. PETA is about as much a conservation group as your local high school football team is Notre Dame.

Anyway, back to the issue. How creditable are these groups when it comes to what they do with the money they collect? In other words, if someone gives an organization a buck, how much of that dollar goes to the activity the organization was promoting and how much goes to salaries?

There are several organizations that do such ratings. One is the American Institute of Philanthropy and the other can be found at www.charitynavigator.org. It is AIP’s belief that a charitable organization that solicits money should spend at least 60 percent of that money on their charitable programs. One problem with this approach is that many organizations cook the books a bit. When they make a mailing to thousands of people asking for money, they call that not only raising funds, but ‘educating donors’. So, if education is one of the charities programs, then soliciting funds is construed by that organization as a charitable program and thus, some or all of the money spent on fund raising is called ‘education’. That’s one way around the 60 percent model.

AIP feels that a 60 percent level warrants a ‘C’ rating for that organization. Many organizations are much higher than that, meaning they spend a lot of what they raise on their programs. So, how does the Defenders of Wildlife rank based on what AIP says? Well, on the AIP web site, when you look up Defenders of Wildlife, there is an article that AIP had in their May 2007 Watchdog Report titled, ‘No Defense for Bad Accounting’. I won’t bother you with the details, but in that report they give DOW a ‘D’ rating. The report notes that DOW says it spent ‘$19 million our of its $25.6 million in total expenses’ on programs. However, AIP then points out that half of those reported programs were direct mailings and fund raising solicitation costs. They actually spent $10.9 million out of the $25.6 on programs. That’s 43 percent, and gives them a ‘D’ rating.

Ducks Unlimited gets an ‘A minus’ rating. The Nature Conservancy gets an ‘A minus’. Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation gets an ‘A Plus’.

Charity navigator.org gives the Humane Society of the United States a One Star (possible of four) for efficiency, and shows their President earning $228,000. Defenders of Wildlife gets a two star rating for efficiency, and their President earns $255,000. The Rocky Mt. Elk Foundation gets a four star rating for efficiency, and their President earns $$199,000. Ducks Unlimited gets a four star rating for efficiency, and their President earns $377,000.

Sometimes these rating systems are a little screwy. For example, PETA gets an efficiency rating of three stars. Yet, there are serious questions of what programs they spend money on. Just a guess here, but a big chunk of their publicity stunts used to raising money probably is categorized by them as ‘education’.

The U. S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation (not the USSA, but their Foundation) has a four star rating for efficiency. And so it goes. In general, it does appear that the animal rights oriented groups pay big salaries and count a lot of their fund raising as ‘educational’ while groups such as Rocky Mt Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, and others, get higher efficiency ratings and spend much more of what they raise on wildlife-related programs. So, why do groups such as PETA and HSUS take in huge chunks of donated money every year? Probably because wealthy widowers who live in penthouses in large urban areas, give them big chunks of money. Movie stars too. Think about it. Movie stars jump on the PETA band wagon all the time. When have you heard of a big time star giving to Ducks Unlimited or Rocky Mt Elk Foundation? I know it probably happens, but not often. Too bad.