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February 1, 2018

Fundraising and the Nature Conservancy

by Anne Paddock

The Nature Conservancy raised $914 million (including $627 million in contributions, $130 million in fees and sales, $50 million in investment income and gains, and $102 million in government grants) and spent $796 million (not including depreciation) in the year ending June 30, 2016.  With nearly $6 billion in net fund assets – most of which is unrestricted – the Nature Conservancy has successfully raised a lot of revenue and retained a significant portion.

The IRS Form 990 (2015) reflecting the year beginning July 1, 2015 and ending June 30, 2016 indicates the Nature Conservancy spent $109 million (or roughly 12% of revenue) on fundraising expenses:

$61 million:  Compensation, Benefits, Pension, Payroll Taxes

$20 million:  Office, IT, Insurance

$15 million:  Professional Fundraising

$ 8 million:  Other (no detail provided)

$ 5 million:  Travel and Conferences

$109 million:  Total Fundraising Expenses

As listed above, the largest expense was for employee compensation (about 56% fundraising expenses) followed by office overhead and professional fundraising.

42 fundraising events were held in the year ending June 30, 2016 producing $6 million in receipts. After deducting $4.9 million in contributions (given the organization would get these tax deductible contributions), the gross income from the events totaled $1.1 million.  The Nature Conservancy expensed $2.2 million (with nearly $2 million on one event called the “LAR COUNCIL”) with no detail provided as to the type of expenses and the organization posted a loss of $1.1 million on the events.  They still raised $4.9 million in contributions but the $2.2 million in expenses means the organization had to use their resources to cover $1.1 million in expenses not raised through the events.

On Schedule G of the IRS Form 990, the Nature Conservancy provided fundraising activity information which is summarized as follows:

  • GiveBridge of Toronto, Ontario raised $2.8 million and was compensated $2.6 million, leaving the Nature Conservancy with about $200,000.
  • True North of New York, New York provided professional fundraising counsel to diversify the donor base and develop on-line advertising and messaging. They were compensated $2.1 million.
  • Dialogue Direct of New York, New York provided professional fundraising assistance in the form of canvassing and citizen outreach.  They were credited with raising $1.4 million and were compensated $1.3 million, netting the Nature Conservancy about $100,000.
  • Donor Services Group of Los Angeles, California provided professional fundraising by designing and implementing an “ongoing program of cultivation, stewardship, and solicitations of current, former, and new Conservancy supporters to renew or continue support.  They were credited with raising $1.3 million and were paid nearly $500,000, netting the nature conservancy about $800,000.
  • Russ Reid of Fairfax, Virginia provided creative design and analysis for fundraising programs for $1.1 million in fees.
  • Compass Group of Alexandria, Virginia provided feasibility studies and campaign management services for about $800,000 in fees.
  • APPCO Group of New York, New York provided face to face fundraising services resulting in about $625,000 in revenue offset by $5750,000 in fees paid to APPCO, netting the Nature Conservancy about $50,000.
  • Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. of Boston, Massachusetts provided citizen outreach and face-to-face fundraising that resulted in $400,000 in revenue which was offset by approximately $400,000 in fees, netting the Nature Conservancy about $6,000.
  • FineLine Communications of Winnipeg, Canada provided telemarketing services that resulted in about $360,000 in revenue. FineLine was compensated about $60,000, netting the Nature Conservancy about $300,000.
  • Donald Campbell and Company of Chicago, Illinois was paid about $180,000 for strategic campaign development.

In summary, the above organizations raised $11.1 million in revenue which was offset by $8.6 million in fees (77% of what was collected) paid to the fundraisers, netting the Nature Conservancy $2.5 million (23% of what was collected). Although some of the specific services above were not actual campaign expenses, donation dollars that bypass telemarketers and other organizations who deduct a percentage of the proceeds, goes further if given directly to a non-profit. In other words, don’t give to telemarketers via phone or mail if you want your dollars to go further.

Compared to an organization like ALSAC (the fundraising organization for St. Jude’s) – an organization that spent $29 of every $100 raised on fundraising – the Nature Conservancy spent significantly less ($12 for every $100 raised), most of which was spent on staff and office-related expenses. Although $8 million in “other expenses” seems insignificant relative to the total fundraising costs of $109 million, $8 million is still a lot of money and the expenses that comprise these dollars should be detailed.

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