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May 17, 2022


Fundraising at the Nature Conservancy (2020)

by Anne Paddock

The Nature Conservancy raised $1.1 billion (including $822 million in contributions of which $168 were non-cash contributions, $162 million in fees and sales, $16 million in investment income and gains, and $124 million in government grants) and spent $897 million (not including depreciation) in the year ending June 30, 2020.  With nearly $7.1 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 (2019) reflecting the year beginning July 1, 2019 and ending June 30, 2020 indicates the Nature Conservancy spent $91 million (or roughly 8% of revenue) on fundraising expenses:

$71 million:  Compensation, Benefits, Pension, Payroll Taxes

$10 million:  Professional Fundraising and Other Fundraising Fees

$ 4 million:  Office, IT, Insurance

$ 4 million:  Program support to Affiliate and Other Expenses

$ 2 million:  Travel and Conferences

$91 million:  Total Fundraising Expenses

As listed above, the largest expense was for employee compensation (about 78% fundraising expenses)  which is higher than previous years indicating more fundraising is being done in-house, followed by general expenses supporting fundraising efforts.

10 fundraising events were held in the year ending June 30, 2020 producing about $480,000 (significantly less than in previous years due to COVID). After deducting $350,000 in contributions (given the organization would get these tax deductible contributions), the gross income from the events totaled $130,000.  The Nature Conservancy expensed $450,000 with no detail provided as to the type of expenses and the organization posted a loss of $320,000 on the events.

The Nature Conservancy uses mail, internet, e-mail, phone, and in-person solicitations. In addition, the organization solicits grant (government and private) and has special fundraising events.  On Schedule G of the IRS Form 990, the Nature Conservancy provided fundraising activity information which is summarized as follows:

  • The Compass Group, of Alexandria, VA raised $14.9 million, retained $600,000 in fees, netting the Nature Conservancy $14.3 million;
  • New Canvassing Experience, of Bastrop, TX raised $2.6 million, retained $1.7 million, netting the Nature Conservancy $900,000;
  • Personal Fundraising Services, of Chicago, IL raised $2.3 million, charged $2.8 million, costing the Nature Conservancy $500,000;
  • Donor Services Group, of Los Angeles, CA raised $1.6 million, retained $500,000, netting the Nature Conservancy $1.1 million;
  • Ascenta Group (formerly ADDCO), of Lindenhurst, NY raised $1 million, charged $1.3 million, costing the Nature Conservancy $$300,000;
  • UP Fundraising, of Toronto, Canada raised $800,000 and retained $800,000, netting the Nature Conservancy $0;
  • 3Sixty Fundraising, of New York, NY raised $650,000, retained $1 million, netting the Nature Conservancy  $350,000;
  • Tallwave, of Scottsdale, AZ raised $0 but charged Nature Conservancy $4 million for fundraising counsel and paid media;
  • M & R Strategic Services, of Washington, DC charged $250,000 for fundraising services; and
  • Kevin Fox and Associates, of Minneapolis, MN charged $150,000 for fundraising services.

In summary, the above organizations raised $24 million in revenue which was offset by $13 million in fees (54% of what was collected) paid to the fundraisers, netting the Nature Conservancy $11 million (46% 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 or in person if you want your dollars to go further.

Compared to an organization like ALSAC (the fundraising organization for St. Jude’s) – an organization that spends $29 of every $100 raised on fundraising – the Nature Conservancy spent significantly less ($8 for every $100 raised), most of which was spent on staff and office-related expenses, which appears to be the trend the organization is relying on more:  using staff to fundraise.

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Dan Gaubas
    May 17 2022

    Thanks for your sharing this information! While there are two fundraiser companies who passed through over 60% of what they raised, there’s so many that should feel guilty for what they charge. In other words, while yes COVID was rampant most of the year, it didn’t appear that any of these fundraiser companies reduced their price or lifestyles, even though they probably brought in less revenue in many cases. The primary detriment companies were in Texas, Illinois and New York, while I don’t exactly know what the yearly roll of the Arizona company is, it appears legal counsel and zero fundraising. That comparison, their fundraiser dollars in 2019 vs 2020 would be interesting also. Thanks again!

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