Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Nature Conservancy is No Charity

Green-machine blog wrote today “Some groups are far more efficient than others. The Nature Conservancy, for example, spends just 10 percent of donor contributions on fund raising, while the Sierra Club spends 42 percent, according to the American Institute of Philanthropy.Pope, the Sierra Club director, said it's not a fair comparison. The reason? Donations to the Conservancy and most other environmental groups are tax-deductible -- an important incentive for charitable giving. Contributions to the Sierra Club are not, because it is a political organization, too. "We're not all charities in the same sense," Pope said. "Our average contribution is much, much smaller."”

Gee, do you think so?

Has anybody noticed that the almost $1 billion per year in revenues from land deals makes public donations a tiny and almost irrelevant part of The Nature Conservancy’s financial picture? Apparently Pope was being politically sensitive in his comments but his lack of tenacity does not help people understand the glaring distinction here. TNC is a non-profit, not a charity. One glance at TNC’s financial statement tells you this is an ordinary non-profit organization. TNC is the world’s largest land broker and one of the wealthiest organizations (including all for-profit comapnies) in the world. TNC receives hundreds of millions each year from governments worldwide. Most of its public donations of land are tax-driven as part of wealthy land owners' estate planning, not from the pure goodness of the donor. The Nature Conservancy is not a charity by any stretch of imagination.

Another distinction that should be made is the purpose of the fundraing. Most non-profit organizations raise money in order to financially survive and continue their operations. Not The Nature Conservancy. TNC raises money through highly publicized community activities because it is good PR and especially effective at diverting public attention away from its more significant and controversial financial operations. Fundraising, it turns out, is a great way to create spin. Keep the community fundraising event on the ront page and bury the corruption investigations in the back pages.

The Nature Conservancy’s management has been compared to the world’s most ruthless for-profit corporations yet, these actions are well hidden behind the parade of public fundraising by the do-gooders across America.

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