Where will a donor's dollars be most effective?
A donor evaluating wildlife organizations has many to choose from. Some sponsor multiple independent projects across the country or even the world. Some focus on preserving habitat. Some provide direct care and rehabilitation.
All approaches - scientific study, habitat preservation, rescue and rehabilitation, breeding, ending illegal trafficking, and education - contribute to the overall effort. Yet as with any other type of business or nonprofit entity, some programs perform better than others, and fit better with an individual donor's personal concerns and goals. A number of questions may be helpful in deciding what organizations to support.
How does an organization's work benefit wildlife in the long-run?
We have all heard the saying "Give a man a fish, and you have fed him for today; teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime." The same idea applies to our philosophy of stewardship of the ecosystem. It makes us feel good to help an individual animal - but what efforts will continue providing benefits for generations to come? For example, if we captive-breed an animal, will that animal or its offspring be returned to the wild to repopulate a species in trouble? If we educate children about an animal, will they simply enjoy an animal ambassador for an afternoon or will they leave understanding how to be part of a solution for that species' survival? If we study an animal or population, will what we learn be used to preserve that animal in the wild?
Does an organization advocate solutions that unite or divide?
One must look carefully at the message conveyed in educational statements or advocacy. It is easy to propose solutions and win supporters for one's point of view (at least temporarily) by vilifying others and setting one group against another. But we all depend on our environment, and real, long-term solutions require balancing everybody's interests. Does an organization develop respect for all, or does it seek a "quick fix" to advance a one-sided agenda?
What is the impact of an organization's choice of "wildlife clients"?
At a very deep level, we feel for individual lives no matter the species. Yet in the fight to preserve our wildlife heritage, the choice of which animals we help matters. For instance, if we focus on treating and releasing plentiful species like pigeons and squirrels, versus threatened species, do we provide an ecological benefit?
What does an organization aim to accomplish?
Do the organization's stated goals support a clear conservation benefit? If a mission is vague or primarily aesthetic ("helping the public appreciate the beauty of..."), the less impact that organization's work likely may have.
Is the organization willing to be accountable?
Some wildlife organizations talk about how many animals they serve, but can - or they - give a potential donor meaningful case statistics? How many animals were treated? How many survived? How many were returned to the wild? Do they have any idea how many of those animals continued to survive and reproduce?
Is there a scientific focus?
Whether the focus is on population biology, behavior, general ecology, or veterinary science, does an organization have a solid foundation for the work it does in supporting wildlife? An organization can not be effective if its methods are weak or haphazard.
What is the expertise of the organization's staff?
Is an organization willing to talk about the expertise of its staff? Do their credentials match up with the kind of work the organization aims to do? Is medical care and rehabilitation provided by veterinarians that specialize in the type of wildlife being served? Is a research team led by someone with experience in that area? What kind of training is provided to volunteers, and is the focus on volunteer quality or merely quantity?
Is the organization open with the public?
An effective, well-run project has no secrets. If asked, will it provide information about case statistics, its board and organization, fundraising, facilities, permits, and other important matters?
What do other reputable organizations, publications, and the media have to say?
Today, it is easier than ever for an organization to widely disseminate self-congratulatory information. But a little research into what other reputable sources say can go a long way. Is most of the positive information on an organization generated by its own public relations efforts, or do truly independent sources have good things to say about it?