My NGO disinvestment policy

You might remember the list of New Year resolutions I suggested.

Did you adopt any of them? Have you kept any of them?

Did you try #4 – review the wildlife NGOs of which you are a member, and dump the low performers?

I’ve taken that a bit further. I’ve cancelled all my Direct Debits and Standing Orders to wildlife NGOs. So I’m now not a member of any, or won’t be when the current membership runs out.

Actually, it isn’t quite that drastic (but almost). I can’t resign from RSPB membership for two reasons: first, I’m a life member (although I suppose I could still resign) and second, because I can’t bring myself to do so anyway.  I’m a lifer – although if I didn’t have all that history the RSPB might have joined the list. And there are a couple of organisations (NT and Wildlife Trusts) for which I am a joint member and so can’t make unilateral decisions. But the rest have all gone.

Why? We’ll get to that.

I’ve also cancelled my membership of the British Ornithologists’ Union and the British Ecological Society.

I will get around to reducing the amount I pay each year to the Labour Party too, not because I am against Jeremy Corbyn (I’m glad I voted for him) but because I am stuck in paying a membership subscription which is much more fitted to my RSPB salary than that of an author and campaigner.

And I think I might ditch my Cheltenham membership too. Not, it will please some and disappoint others, because I am going off National Hunt racing but because I am going off Cheltenham racecourse a bit (and it’s all on the TV and you can pay on the door anyway).

So, this does amount to one of those ‘clearing out the clutter’ moments.

But why?

First, because some of those memberships are for wildlife NGOs who don’t really do enough for nature.

Second, because the wildlife NGOs are losing my trust, so why should I keep paying them as though I am completely happy?

Third, because I am moving to a new funding model. By making the changes I’ve sketched out to you I will have a bigger pot of money to invest in nature conservation, and that larger pot will all go to wildlife NGOs. The difference is that it will go to those which impress me with their work.

I’ve signed up to every wildlife NGO e-newsletter I can find and I will study them with much greater attention from now on. If I like what I see then I’ll use the donate button on the relevant website.

So that’s my new investment strategy. I have a bigger pot to play with, and more flexibility, and I’ll pay on results from now on.  I’ll keep you updated on how I get on.

The one I feel most uncertain about is Butterfly Conservation because I do think they are very good – but they still get all my ‘Give as you Live‘ payments and that hasn’t changed.

And the BTO must be a little bit relieved that they aren’t a conservation organisation, because they aren’t, and so they remain unaffected by this change in strategy.


51 Replies to “My NGO disinvestment policy”

  1. Only “works” if you told them why you were leaving and then in future tell them why you’re donating of course. Hope you did and you will.

      1. Yes they probably have some metric of how many donations come from each e-letter.

        I do like your idea of applying market forces (something which gets a very bad rep in the environmental world) to your funding.

      2. They will surely contact you to ask why you left. My local Wildlife Trust did when I left, and I don’t think they liked the answer because the then CEO, who knows me, deliberately failed to catch my eye next time I saw him. Not sure how effective one person telling them is though – it needs a whole bunch of us.

  2. A sound idea Mark I have often dared myself to do the same. If more of the membership vote with their feet the wildlife NGOs might better understand what their members really want to see. I’d like to know more about what the RSPB are doing to address issues in the UK as opposed to pushing their retail sector. Likewise the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust seem to fly all over the world but I’d like to know if my money also protects wildlife in the UK. The third wildlife NGO I support is the Wildlife Trusts and I enjoy that through the county group I can better see where where my donation is spent. Maybe we should make a resolution to go local and support small, local-level wildlife clubs and charities?

    1. J Hindley – thank you for your comment. If I had to stick with just one it would be the RSPB because they can play effectively across the local to national to international issues. But we are all different and have different perspectives.

    2. With respect to conservation I really don’t see the merit in just supporting local charities. Why does the disappearance of a tropical duck (say) matter less than the decline of a British species of the loss of your local nature reserve? Surely all of these are important. Of course each of us will support the things that are closest to our own heart and that is fine but the WWT is surely not at fault for devoting efforts to conservation of wetlands and wildfowl wherever in the world they are under threat.

  3. I think that is brave Mark. I sometimes feel I desperately want to shake some of these organisations, many of which I belong to, out of a sense of corporate self importance, and would consider doing as you have.

    In my case, in many ways it is the establishment I think we should fight, and so many NGOs appear to have become part of that, not standing up to the agents of destruction strongly enough. That leaves a lot of us trying to do our own bit of lobbying, which is exhausting, and we fight wealthy organised groups.

    When I first became involved in conservation, locally we fought off destructive marinas, caravan parks and such. Some iconic sites were saved and some measures of protection were brought in.

    How many battles are our NGO’s choosing to fight these days, let alone winning?

  4. I work for a membership wildlife NGO and my wife and I are members of several others. We did withdraw membership from the one I work for as we ‘cap’ the £ we are willing to spend on membership and wanted to join another, which we felt needed our support more. As well as supporting an NGO toward running costs membership increases an NGOs voice in the wider arena. So it is vital to support those who are standing up for what you believe.

  5. This is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years.
    I’ve been feeling for sometime the big NGO’s have become too dependent on government grants & membership from the blue rinse tweed set, & consequently afraid to upset the gravy boat on issues where they should be more outspoken.
    Putting them on a diet will hopefully make them keener.
    We need to be looking at NGO’s investment strategies with the money they hold too.
    Any NGO that isn’t divesting from the fossil fuel industry should be shamed in my humble opinion.

  6. That’s an interesting strategy Mark. I can think of a couple of problems. If NGOs think they have to work hard for our money they may get the marketing people involved and spend more effort on this and less on conservation. Another idea they may have is to look elsewhere for money and go down the route of commercial sponsorship, which is always going to lead to problems.

    1. I think the big NGO’s already have huge marketing teams working hard to relieve us of our hard earned cash.

  7. You are right Mark.
    As a long term NCC/EN/NE employee I noticed a distinct shift in NGO attitudes when NE was born. This was partly down to a combative CEO who (to my mind) seemed to rub a lot of people up the wrong way, but also down to then Labour Government who the NGOs chose to cosy up to directly because there were funds available.
    This divergence had 2 consequences when the Coalition came in
    1) NE was seen as a quango (for the pedants out there its not its an NDPB!) and whats was worse it was a Labour created quango!! So it was fair game – along with EA……………….
    2) The NGOs found they had backed the wrong horse because, Government had not only changed its colour but was totally illiterate as far as the the natural environment was concerned, so they, with their opinion and influence, were out in the cold too.
    In the last 5 years 65 years of nature conservation work has been sent into reverse and at times I wonder if my 30 year career in conservation has been brought to naught.
    I’m not saying that a strong NE/NGO relationship would have been able to ride the economic downturn but it would/should have been able to provide a stronger voice by allying member (ie voter) weight to pro wildlife and environmental arguements. The reaction to the forestry sell off was an example of what could be achieved when we all pulled together.

  8. I don’t work in the sector so I don’t have much in the way of inside knowledge. It seems to me though from the outside that there are far too many NGOs ploughing their own furrow and chasing the same funding sources and not delivering on their aims and too many egos. The government doesn’t need to divide and rule because the NGOs do the job for them. With the total membership of these organisations much more could be done if it was properly harnessed. The RSPB is a real disappointment to me having been a member for a long time. I am not even sure where it is going. The magazine is full of adverts and requests for further funding (as are the mail shots) but I see little visible campaigning in the UK – I appreciate that much goes on behind the scenes but it appear to me to punch well below its weight. I am not interested in funding cosy discussions. There isn’t time. I want action and to see NGOs roll their sleeves up and get stuck in. I haven’t yet got to the stage where I will cancel memberships but I am not far off doing so.

  9. Payment by results sounds very “Conservative” to me.
    Also how do you get ‘results’ if the money comes at the end of action and not the beginning?
    Indeed what is a ‘result’? Might be more obvious for species and habitats but in changing attitudes and connecting people with nature much harder than simply numerical metrics.

  10. Can’t really agree with that as this is likely to give people another reason to leave their supported charities – which is something many people always seem to be looking for an excuse to do at the best of times.
    All these charities obviously rely on membership support and the weight of that support is what gives them a louder voice. Sure, they’re likely to make mistakes and might not be being run exactly how you’d like them to be but I have no doubt they all do tremendous work and have enormous successes that are down partly to the support of their members. Also, if people start leaving in droves it will appear to decision makers elsewhere that the environmental NGOs are weakening and give them even less of a reason to consider the environment in their policies.
    Leaving them won’t make them improve, it will just lessen their chances of fixing the problem and improving what they do. Still, hope your strategy works and you support many successful projects, though perhaps encouraging people to do that as well as being members might be an alternate option.

  11. Like you Mark, I have no gripe with Butterfly Conservation.
    Over time I’ve ditched the NT because I don’t trust the loyalties of their chairman who used his proxy vote against the will of his membership.
    I fell out with the WWT over a dispute where my family membership didn’t count for much at the Barnes London Wetland Centre. This was a case where the organisation clearly didn’t understand the concept of Service and their customer’s coming first. I used my membership as a way of voting to tell them they were wrong.
    WWF has sadly lost out when I found out they support canned hunting in certain countries and try to convince me it’s in the species interest.
    RSPB is the hard one – I wish I could just vote for a change in management and their strategy. Like Nick Hall has said, I feel like RSPB is representing children and elderly people requiring a stair-lift. Both are equally important of course, especially the former but I think that those like me with a life-long passion for birds expect more when the gloves need to come off.

  12. Perhaps a considered dialogue would be more effective than removing support. Or should the petitioning approach be extended to NGOs? A petition for NT to end driven grouse shooting on the High Peak? A petition for RSPB to support a DGS ban rather than licensing? A good opportunity for members to influence policy, and much more effective than the occasional question at an AGM. Some NGOs do take questionnaires of members priorities however. Surrey WT did last year anyway.

  13. Look away now if you don’t want to read philosophical meanderings…

    I have recently decided (as part of my re- and deeper investment in nature) to go the opposite way to Mark, and I have joined, or re-joined the major conservation charities. I’ve had several years of giving no set charitable donations of any kind, but making individual decisions each time I was asked to give something. I’m on a limited income, with little ‘disposable’ funds, so always very careful about who gets my money.

    I’m having to trust, I guess, by making this decision. Trust that you, WWT, or RSPB, or Plantlife, or whoever, will spend my money the best possible way. I also have to let go of the notion that sometimes they definitely won’t spend my money the way I think they should. But then, I don’t know all there is to know about issues in conservation, or in running a CC. I appreciate that others – like Mark – do. For some folk, from a psychological point of view, learning to trust, and to let go, is A Good Thing, so perhaps I’ll benefit in other ways.

    I’m also widening my voluntary activities with CC’s – utilising my writing and other skills, but I feel the difference there is that I am directly involved, directly doing the doing, and won’t do anything I feel would be detrimental, or simply unhelpful. I have given up a voluntary activity with a CC before because I was not confident that my input was of ultimate use.

    Researching voluntary time contributions to CC’S has shocked me though… I had no idea that it’s worth – in financial terms – as much as it is. Figures seem to vary, but are vast in all cases. So a question for those who know more than me: I wonder whether CC’s would be able to do anything like the work they do without the time contributions of volunteers?

  14. Sometimes an issue is just so important that it overrides all others M Parry. On current form I certainly wouldn’t give a penny to the National Trust. I do feel that this is something of a shame as they are doing good work for nature in some areas; The Eastern Moors in Derbyshire and the Farne Islands in Northumbria being two obvious examples. However while they continue to lease land in the High Peak for grouse shooting, in full knowledge of what has happened and what will continue to happen, including renewing the lease to the same individual at Howden Moor who’s gamekeeper had been convicted for a raptor persecution offence only a few months previously, well I wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole.

    1. NT not doing what it damn well ought is why we should try to get them to change, although stopping money is one way of doing that. But only one way.

      1. Do trust me Dr Parry when I say the dialogue approach has been tried ad nauseam. I think the only method that is likely to really work is through a large scale show of disapproval on site on the days of the shoots (which, as they stop access to the relevant moors, have to be publically advertised). We do of course have a long- standing tradition of this sort of action in the Peak District, and we are perhaps long overdue for a revival;
        It would be very interesting to see how the NT public relations department tried to handle the situation at the very least!

        1. Yes, I have begun to wonder whether one of these moors is going to be ‘the next Kinder’. The one above Hebden Bridge perhaps. After all, just being able to walk there at some times of year isn’t worth much if the land is being destroyed. Might at well walk in your local supermarket car park. A big trespass on the 12th August would certainly get ‘attention’ from everyone. Are any of the ‘Kinder scout trespassers’ still with us? Their weight behind our campaign would be worth a good deal for publicity.
          Well done for persisting with the dialogue. We have to exhaust that route before we go for harsher methods. *Really* do think that NGOs must at least comprehensively, and publicly, justify their softly-softly approach, if that’s the way they’re determined to go in the face of a significant section of their membership opposing it. “We need to keep the goodwill of landowners” isn’t a thoroughly worked out response. Need to really quantify and weigh the relative pluses and minuses of the two approaches and with lots of ‘what-if’ scenarios.

  15. There s been a lot of discussion about failing leadership in our major NGOs.

    In the spring edition of one of their magazines the CEO tells me:

    ‘The Government intends to produce a 25 year plan to restore biodiversity. This is to be welcomed, and it is also pleasing that the Government wants to involve NGOs like *****. Obviously, great, we all want to restore biodiversity.

    But hang on a second. This is the Government that promised to be the greenest ever only to go on and close down large swathes of a developing, vigorous green energy industry, has succeeded with minimal opposition in blaming green policies for stopping economic growth and has promised to get rid of the ‘green crap’ – that’s us, folks.

    It has also made it very clear that Defra’s job is to do nothing, spend nothing and keep the environment out of the news. What better way than a 25 year plan ? After all, it will take a lot of discussion for such a significant initiative – which should take us pretty much up to the next election.

    And a privilege to sit down with this Government ? Quite the opposite: the NGOs are the essential fig leaf, and at the very least they should be making pre-conditions – mine would be a guarantee that NE remains a free-standing agency and is not amalgamated with another Defra agency like EA.

    The Government have also achieved another of their key aims: to prevent any effective action to improve the environmental performance of agriculture: they have set up a separate group for agriculture and forestry, which no doubt will accelerate intensification just as the biodiversity group is urging for the opposite. Agriculture and forestry control 80% of our land area (including grouse moors) and are responsible for maybe 50% of the terrestrial problems for biodiversity.

    there was another 25 year plan: the Natural capital committees 25 year plan to restore natural capital. I assume these plans are the Government’s attempt to wriggle out of addressing the NCC’s game changing thinking and we’ll be seeing more to follow I suspect.

    In that context, its a tense time for Liz Truss and Rory Stuart, with the green crap flowing up to the very door on No 11 and worrying discussion about new approaches to land use. They need to get through the next 3 months and let it all away. They’ll be hoping the NGOs don’t make trouble, and to help things along will no doubt be throwing a few Lynton Crosby dead cats into the ring – eg cutting funding to wildlife crime.

    We stand at a point where real change might be forced on even this Government. Where will our NGOs be in the next 3 months ? In a Defra bunker being diverted from the big issues, I fear.

    1. Absolutely right. Time for NGOs to stop cosying up to a government that has demonstrated that it has absolutely no respect for them and to start campaigning.

    2. If EA is joined with NE you get better work in the uplands, better use of the flood plains, savings of £billions preventing floods not paying for them and then add FC with all that planting that is needed.
      You would FANCEE that wouldn’t you!!

  16. Last year I did the same as you Mark, except I did ditch my RSPB membership.
    I now only support Butterfly Conservation for the great work they have done near my location, and my local Wildlife Trust as it seems only fair to pay for some great reserves in my county that I visit regularly.

  17. I forgot to mention the Wildlife Trust – If I were a member of Somerset WT I would have resigned my membership given that they have recently recruited VPs who are pro-hunting with dogs and pro Badger Cull. I remain supporting my local WT and also Norfolk WT for now.

  18. The RSPB has the same emotional, not-very-logical hold over me that it seems to have over a lot of members. I moan and complain about their impotent and half- hearted responses to various things, yet can’t bring myself to part from them.

    It would be interesting to see how Somerset WT’s membership is affected, if at all, by Mr Eavis’ appointment as VP.

    1. The whole point of Mr Eavis appointment was to increase membership and being a well respected person with just one different point of view on one topic will readily be forgiven by those who consider him a real kind person.
      If anyone on this blog agrees with everything that others have strong opinions about then they must be very funny people.
      Somerset Wildlife trust to my mind have a very good record and Mr Eavis appointment will be beneficial.

          1. Well not him personally he has a proper house with a septic tank and a cheat-pipe like everyone else

      1. I hope you are right Dennis – Mr Eavis’ track record on soil protection hasn’t been too good but that also applies to every other mass pollution festival. Nice fence though but

  19. I’m sure you all got your email yesterday from the RSPB asking you to contact your MEPs to support the Nature Directive. Of course I did as they asked and I hope you all did. However, this just supports my previous point expressed on this site, that if they wanted to support Mark’s petition on DGS or Rob’s on Lead ammo, then they have the means to do so immediately.
    Conclusion has to be that they don’t want what their members want.
    It’s not made any easier now that some NGOs are so big that you have to pre-submit questions at an AGM, thereby allowing them to pick and chose which they answer.
    So, do I throw dolly out of the pram or keep writing to the people that run the show and fight from within? ER, dunno!
    I really don’t know which way to go, and from reading the above, it’s clear that others feel the same.
    I get many benefits from the RSPB, NT and wildlife trust sites and it’s only right that I should pay for them. But, does this then give the impression that I support everything they do?
    What I can’t support, are replies to letters that hide behind DEFRA as if NGOs hands are tied. They are not. They should all do more, a lot more.
    Hopefully, at least some of the management of these NGOs are reading this site and taking notice.
    Give us a sign that we should continue to support you. Email all of your members now to support both petitions.
    And if you don’t??
    Ok, if you lose a member or two, you won’t care…..accepted.
    However, once you start losing the trust of people like Mark Avery you are heading to a very bad place indeed!

    1. Have done….no reply! Other directors have replied, but not him. He’s head honcho, what does that say?

      1. Who is Mike Clarke? Never heard him say anything on TV or Radio. Perhaps he only writes a quarterly editorial in the RSPB Magazine.

  20. In the summer I reduced my giving to the main conservation organisation I have been supporting by about 97%. It was a painful process and was a result of an embarrassingly poor opionion article written by the conservation director in their magazine about the impact of grouse moors and their failure despite my requests to officially support Hen Harrier Day. I feel I left my foot in the door, should I see them start to do a better job for nature, I would love to return my support.

    I cling to the hope that should we start to make progress with our campaign to BDGS then the RSPB will publically support us. I think it is easy to over estimate the impact the RSPB would have at this stage. There luke warm support for the ban of lead shot petition has done little impact on that. I hope behind the scenes they are more vocal. I hope they made it clear to Rory Stewart that grouse moors management should end in favour of rewetting, rewilding and other sustainable flood mitigation measures at the recent flooding meeting.

    A lot of people talk of wanting a conservation org with more teeth. I think what we want is Greenpeace to start working to do more to protect UK species and habitats. I would like to support them more but will not until they start to do more here.

    I am overall disappointed with our conservation orgs. I think I will switch more of my giving to where it is being best spent and I think that will be ones who are working overseas.

    1. Owen spot on remark re Greenpeace. When the BDGS petition was launched I contacted Greenpeace Action to ask if they would support it, an email going out to their supporters in UK could result in thousands of signatures literally overnight. They responded quickly and were sympathetic, but essentially felt this was a hunting issue and only dealt with international ones. Well driven grouse shooting is about a hell of a lot more than hunting and like so many issues it’s not just local – heavily supported by foreign customers for one. Greenpeace ran a successful campaign to stop funding for a pulp mill in Sumatra, well technically you could have said that was not an international issue. I do like Greenpeace, they have done climate change work, but have not let it divert them from saving rainforests etc. Think Greenpeace are a superficially surprising, but absolutely valid partner in fighting against grouse shooting industry.

  21. In – Butterfly Conservation and Trees for life
    Out – WT and WWF

    Some of the smaller NGOs are campaigning better and more clearly than many of the larger better funded ones. They seem to be able to innovate where larger NGOs continue to struggle – seem scared of upsetting anyone. They need to be reminded what their job is.

    I can see this is one of the reasons why your blog is more and more popular – you are occupying the space which NGOs used to!

  22. John (Miles) seriously, that would be the dream, but I’m sure you’d accept that the track record doesn’t make it likely those amalgamations would lead to the outcome you suggest – and I agree with you very strongly that far from spending money a smart solution bringing together everything we know into a comprehensive approach to land use and flooding could save billions of pounds.

  23. I can see where your coming from Mark and to an extent I agree, but I do think Colin Cheesman makes some very salient points above. How do we judge success or results? Certainly not the contents of PR driven e-newsletters in my experience. It’s a tricky one.

  24. Glad to see your position on BTO, Mark 🙂 From a BirdTrack perspective, we’ll endeavour to keep it free for the foreseeable, whilst continuing to offer people the chance to contribute to research and development as and when they feel moved to do so.

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