Cetacean Society International
Whales Alive! - Vol. XV No. 1 - January 2006
For Love or Money
By William Rossiter
For Love or Money: A crisis is brewing that affects our society's ability to understand and conserve cetaceans, and all related issues of biodiversity and environment. Too many gifted, experienced people working as cetacean scientists, advocates, or educators are being let go, too many projects are facing funding cuts, and the new generation cannot find independent work. Recently a surprising number of people CSI knows have had their jobs vanish, creating some very real personal crises, and projects have been stalled, influenced or threatened by funders.
These are special people, gifted with abilities, enthusiasm and experience, with the potential to help solve problems that seem to be increasing everywhere. None of them got into their field to get rich, or even have a "normal" life. Give them enough to survive and they will explore, create; provide knowledge and solutions. Without minimal support their contributions of creative, innovative, and independent science, education, and conservation are lost to society, and we all need them.
CSI's concern is partly that experienced people forced to migrate to other work are unlikely to return to science or advocacy. It is like demobilizing a work force after a war, and being left ill equipped for the next one. But the battle to conserve cetaceans and much more is only getting worse.
It's all about the money, the measure of the priorities of society and government, and increasingly today a weapon to silence opposition to short-term economic profits and political gain; no money equals no opposition. Political games with government funding is an efficient silencer, soon to expand as Washington recognizes that deficit spending is out of control. Another reason for the crisis is that these are hard times for many non-profits, with an understandable diversion of public charity to help with natural disasters. Another may be reduced income for foundations, leading to reductions in support.
Patronage may be one solution, wealthy people, corporations or foundations that understand the value of supporting gifted, productive independence, very much as the Medici family supported Michelangelo. The Arts receive enormous patronage. Why not science and conservation? If you may be or know of a patron, and want a lot of satisfaction, please contact CSI. But this is not about CSI's needs. We are all-volunteer, with minuscule overhead, a philosophy of giving before we get, and 25 years of experience finding and helping significant people and projects. We link patrons with needs, ensuring benefits to both, and to society.
Self-promotion is part of the solution. Because almost everyone resents the need to sell themselves, CSI works hard to urge and equip needy people or projects to develop promotional skills. If you could use that help read on, as CSI asked some independent, successful scientists, educators and advocates to explain their method for acquiring support. If you see flaws in the list below, or items to add, please send them to us. Although expressed mostly for scientists, the suggested essentials that follow are for anyone struggling to become or remain productive and independent helping cetaceans:
Write well. Your use of words displays your education and potential; keep it simple and spell check everything. Learn to express yourself in a second language; enable your future anywhere. Maintain a professional quality CV or resume. Write your dissertation or thesis in the form of a publication; do not shelve it later.
Learn now how to interact with the public and media. Exposure may attract attention; don't waste the opportunity. If you work in a public venue, such as a naturalist, be prepared for the anonymous initial inquiry and interest from someone more skilled at assessing people than you are. Treat everyone as a potential supporter.
Be able to explain what you want to do with enthusiasm, in non-technical terms without patronizing people, your preferably simple solution to a problem of mutual interest. Describe the whole plan, from field work through publishing or product. When will the results be available for use, and how might they be used? Your product must be applicable to something. Make no promises you can't keep.
Know your potential patron. Patrons may not come to you. They may expect you to come to them. Wealthy people and corporations may accept the responsibility to help others but they do not waste money. They need to know who you are and what results they will see with their money, expressed in their terms. Meet their expectations. Emphasize common ground, relate to their interests. You see the results of patronage all around, in art, literature, buildings, public land, but the results of your work may be harder to see.
Remember to say please and thank you. Listen to their advice. Be aware that their time is extremely valuable to them, and they are being solicited all the time. Any time they give you is already patronage; do not squander it. Ask them how they would like to be thanked. Some patrons may not want any public recognition. Others may want their name in bold letters, or logos prominently displayed. Meet their needs. Sending them a photograph of your product, work in progress, or focus animal or habitat may mean more to them than publicity. A detailed thank-you letter is a must.
Tax deductions for patrons are important, but in the US only possible with charitable gifts to qualifying 501(c)3 organizations. Tax rules are complicated and strict, but it is possible for a charitable organization with appropriate bylaws and history to accept and fund your project while accepting an unrestricted donation from an entity seeking a tax deduction.
Different cultures present different problems. Some have little sense that wealth incurs the responsibility to help others, or that status can be enhanced by giving. Some have no tax laws to stimulate giving. Offer something they will appreciate in return for support. Know the power of satisfaction, it may be all you can give.
Consider your balance between science and advocacy. Expect to be pushed towards the latter, and know the risks and benefits. To many patrons your being a voice for the animals you study is the price you should pay for the time you are privileged to spend with them.
Does the patron understand that support means keeping you alive to complete the work? Include reasonable living expenses in your budget, but know that they will spot any frills or excess. Use borrowed or donated equipment wherever possible. Wealthy people like to see a bargain. Innovation is often rewarded. As one put it: "Put up signs in stores that sell camping and outdoor equipment, or pass proposals on to guides who run adventure travel or ecotourism trips in your area." Rent a boat rather than buy one. Better yet, find an owner who will donate the boat for your use; know the rules about tax deductions for expenses.
If you are willing to live near the animals or habitats you may reduce travel costs, come to a more complete understanding, and develop more productive results. Some projects must be nine to five and lab bound, but your patron may prefer that you get out there. Go to the opportunities.
If you can't do it alone, approach patrons as a team. Join with others who share your goals. A good name, logo and track record goes a long way. Include students; let their voluntary participation help their own graduate project while saving project money. Dedicated assistants are the ones with a stake in the project's success.
Bookkeeping is essential. Record all cost-saving measures. Gifts are in-kind contributions. Patrons may be more willing to help knowing that X people have already contributed Y (in cash, time or equipment). They may not want a full accounting, but they will want to know that you know where their money went. And they will want results.
May the Force be with you.