Saturday, February 3, 2007

TU By Numbers--Does It Use Its Money Wisely?

A buddy of mine was grousing the other day about the fact that he had heard that TU spent only a tiny fraction of what it took in on anything having to do with protecting salmonids. Since Teh Wind Knot is pretty active in TU and a finance type, he decided to analyze the numbers and call bullshit on his buddy. Pulling the latest IRS Form 990 that all charities have to file, was pretty interesting to say the least. You can get it from TU's web site, although more up to date information is available at places like Guidestar.

Here are the basics, somewhat summarized from IRS speak:

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Wow! That looks like an efficient organization. TU took in around $16.6 MM in fiscal year 2005 and spent around two thirds of that on Programs. Almost $11 MM to save the fish. Sounds good, right?

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Well, if you look at what they spent on Programs, it is not quite as clear. The biggest line item was salaries and benefits for staffers. They spent a lot printing and mailing magazines and calendars (but unfortunately not enough for proofreading as their latest calendar has 31 days in February). TU spent only $569,000 for grants. That sounds bad.

Thinking that $3.1 MM for "Other Expenses" must be going to save the fishies, TWK did a little more digging. Unfortunately, TU doesn't really tell us where that money went. The biggest chunk is for Consultants at around $2.8 MM. Surely, those are lobbyists and scientists looking to save coldwater fisheries? I sure hope so, but I sure can't prove it to my friend, and, from my experience with the organization, I would suspect that some of that goes to renting lists, PR firms, graphic designers, etc.

One interesting thing is to look at the grants. Of the measly $569 k TU tossed out in grants, two thirds ($ 380 k) is the 10% rebate local chapters get kicked back from National on membership dues (and one could argue that should be included in fundraising expenses). Only $189 k went to stream improvements (and for you east coasters who are always griping that the money is all spent out west, you have a legitimate complaint).

What does this tell us? I don't know. I know I can't convince anyone that TU is an efficient organization, since with the most favorable look, only about 20% of annual revenues are spent on fish stuff. It is pretty clear that TU could do more in grassroots habitat work if they cut down on the glossy magazines, direct mail and boondoggles for staffers.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Blah, blah, blah. TU doesn't do enough in the East. Daddy didn't love me enough. You TU bashers--always with the same tired refrain.

Will said...

The compensation/benefits line depends on what the staff actually does. It looks from their website that they do alot of HR-intensive stuff, like studies, lobbying, restoration, public information, and the like. We can't pay fish, we can only pay other people for labor and equipment. The more that the labor and equipment goes to non-fundraising activities, the more efficient the program. Which brings me to a question: does the "Fundraising" line include compensation for the fundraisers? If so, then TU is probably in good shape. And TWK: I enjoy your blog very much. Thanks!

Teh Wind Knot said...

It is not my intention to bash TU. In fact, I am quite active. I was suprised, though, that it wasn't so clear cut what a great job TU does with their funds. Perhaps I should not have been, since it was after all an IRS filing.

Will's point is a very good one. There is some detail on the salary & benefits, but not enough to know what the folks are doing. The other thing that I am pretty sure TU does that would not show up is arranging direct grants for projects. They could, for example, get XYZ foundation to provide funding for a project directly and never have those funds go through TU.

September said...

Well said.