Friday, 19 December 2008

Going Corporate

According to the annual report of WWF, in 2006 and again in 2007 the organisation spent £7.5 million on raising £12.3 million of unrestricted donations from individuals. Put another way, that for every £10 donated to WWF they will have spent £6.00 on raising that money. Of course not all the ratios are so bad. Overall they only (yes only) spent £11.5 million to raise £41 million, of which over £11 million came as legacies, and nearly £5 million as government grants, which only cost £0.75million to raise. The average salary paid was £34,800 p.a. and three members of staff earned between £80,000 and £120,000 a year in 2006. The figures for 2007 are much the same. And of course there are any number of interpretations that can be made of such figures.

I mention these figures, not to criticise WWF -- my readers can look at the Annual Reports of any NGO and draw their own conclusions -- positive or negative. I mention them to illustrate a more important point. That is that Conservationists and charities are often told to look to business for guidance, and to model their modus operandi on business models. I think that in general, this is bad advice. And business is a bad model for a conservation charity to copy. And I think WWF follows it too closely. And the danger here is that the public become distrustful of charities that spend a huge percentage of their income on raising those funds.

Having worked in and around both the charity sector and the business (publishing) sector for around 40 years, I feel confident in asserting that business has more to learn from the Charity sector than the other way round. At the WLT we take a 15% overhead, to cover non-project related management and fund-raising costs. Put it another way, we are making a 85% 'profit' to spend on our objectives. Not many businesses can claim that level of efficiency. Salaries in the charity sector (despite the above quoted figures) are generally significantly lower than business --but, research has shown, the employees are generally much happier, more loyal, have less time off for sickness etc etc etc. But realistically it is just as daft to say business should learn from charities as the other way round.

Both sectors should be using the models and methods that work best for achieving their objectives. Some charities (such as the Royal Opera House**) have used the business model, and pay huge salaries to senior staff, claiming they need to do this to attract the right people. I disagree. The right people will not be motivated by huge salaries, they will be motivated by a belief in the work of the charity. Even in the business world not everyone is obsessed by money. This is not to say that any staff should be underpaid, but once the salary becomes the main reason a person takes a job, it is increasingly difficult to assess their real worth. I am a critic of conservation bodies that become too 'corporate'. Large reception areas, all chrome and glass. It may be how big business operates, but it should not be how a conservation charity operates. Charities rely on voluntary donations, and donors do not like to think their well intentioned gifts are being spent on maintaining flashy offices, or funding an extravagant lifestyle for the staff.

** Much as I like opera, I cannot really see the justification for it being considered a charity.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Annual Goat Rant

Several friends and colleagues have contacted me over my silence on goats this year. I am sorry, I simply have not had the time. It is very depressing to see Oxfam and the rest still flogging goats to Africa. If the world is led to believe that increasing the goat (and other livestock) population is going to solve the problems of poverty in Africa, we truly are in a mess. If the aid agencies continue short term 'solutions' without carrying out Environmental Impact Assessments, it is not unreasonable to accuse them of potentially creating the problems they are trying to solve.

With habitat degradation continuing apace in Africa, any programme that suggests that increasing the numbers of livestock should be very seriously questioned. And that is without taking into account the social aspects. Giving camels and other livestock away in communities where these are not so much a part of a subsistence economy, but part of the wealth bartering system, has serious ramifications, and I cannot find any analysis of this by the agencies concerned.

And finally, what happens to the huge flocks of goats that the agencies claim are being produced by giving a poor African a single animal, when a drought come along?

If anyone can find some respected environmental conservationists who believe that increasing the numbers of goats in Africa is a way out of poverty, I would be very interested to see what they have published. But every single conservationist I have spoken to thinks it is a mistake. A big mistake.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Stop Breeding more humans: Save wildlife.

Those familiar with my regular rants about politicians who ignore the human population crisis will understand why I like this website:

Those not familiar who like wildlife, think the planet's in a mess shopuld also take a look.

Credit cruch and good news

While the worldwide credit crunch could undoubtedly have a serious impact on charities like the World Land Trust, there could be a silver lining. Ever since the beginning of 2008 there have apparently been declines in the value of real estate; and this means that the cash the WLT raises can potentially go a lot further. There is no better time than the present for the WLT to work with its ever increasing network of partners to spread its network of nature reserves. If it's all added up, between the WLT, WLT US and all our partners, there are probably somewhere in excess of five million acres under protection, that might otherwise have been lost. But even this huge number is a drop in the ocean compared with what is needed. However, in the 20 years since the WLT first started to help buy land we have seen dozens of other groups start up, and seen governments take the issue more seriously. In many ways this is the really important benefit of saving land with the WLT: the fact that it sets a really good example. Our successes encourage others. It is, as one of Council Members, Simon Barnes, recently described, the leverage effect. Punching above our weight.

That is not to let governments off the hook for ignoring the real problem that is driving deforestation, carbon excess etc. Human population growth. And greed. Last night I watched a video of a BBC TV production of Anthony Trollope's The way we Live Now. So pertinent and up to date. And that rapacious greed, that is destroying the planet, also leads governments to allow expansion of airports such as Stanstead, not because Britain needs extra capacity, but simply to stop other European countries getting the traffic. Greed. Pure unadulterated greed, is unfortunately what seems to be the great motivator of the 21st century. Most people in the developed world have material wealth several orders of magnitude greater than the poorer parts of the world. But still we want more. And with our population still growing at an alarming rate, only a major pandemic of disease (or similar catastrophe) can reverse this, unless governments take the issue seriously -- really seriously and not just lip service. But there is absolutely no sign of it. And even the world's biggest conservation conference (IUCN in Barcelona 2008) did not exactly put it at the top of its agenda.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Credit Crunch and the bad news

Overall the WLT has been very successful in 2008, and has been able to help its partners buy lots of land, with over $2 million sent for this purpose (and more sent from the USA). However, suddenly we are noticing a big dip in donations from individuals. Compared with last year fewer individuals are supporting conservation. This is a great pity, as the environmental crisis is probably even greater than the economic crisis.

Never has there been a greater need for protecting land. And while land prices are unlikely to crash in the way stocks and shares have, there is little doubt that it will generally be much cheaper over the coming months.

So please, if you can spare it make a donation, however small to the WLT's Action Fund, where the money can be used for any important opportunity as it arises. At the meeting of the WLT's Trustees last week exciting new initiatives in Venezuela, Guatemala and India were all given the go ahead. Our vital work in Paraguay continues with a project that could ultimately benefit around 10 million acres. The land the WLT helps buy and save for ever, but even more important is the knock-on effect of making governments and others aware of the international importance of local heritage.

Help make this a greener Christmas.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The endangered lion

Lion numbers have plummetted from around 450,000 ca. 50 years ago to around 20,000. When I was the secretary for the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society some 20 years ago I suggested to the Council that the lion was in serious difficulty,and that the society (now known as Fauna and Flora International) should initiate a conservation programme -- a proposal that was turned down. I pointed out at the time that the lion together with the unicorn was on the royal coat of arms. In fact, one of the origins of the unicorn has been suggested as the Arabian or White Oryx -- a species saved from extinction by an initiative of the Fauna Preservation Society (as it was then).

But still lion numbers decline, and will continue to do so as more and more of their territory is taken over by humans and their ever expanding flocks of domestic livestock (particularly if charities continue to encourage more and more goats as Christmas presents). The fragmentation of their habitat is the real problem. While lions are not Territorial like most cats, they do need large numbers of prey, each time habitat is fragmented, the survival of lions is threatened. And because they are large predators, and both humans and cattle, as well as sheep and goats are all well within their natural prey range, conflict is inevitable. Lions were exterminated in Europe over 2000 years ago, and throughout much of the Levant and Middle East by the early 20th century. India has lost all but one tiny population. The Cape Lion has gone, and so has the North African population. The rest are pretty well doomed, unless we can create corridor ts between the fragmented patchwork of national parks and other protected areas. The World Land Trust is pioneering the creation of corridors, but as yet has not been able to do so in Africa. We probably need at least $2 million to kick start such work. Any Offers?