Part three of spotting real impact in rainforest protection: how money is used (or not used) for rainforest conservation


RP Team

August 16, 2021

Part three of spotting real impact in rainforest protection: how money is used (or not used) for rainforest conservation

No matter what your area of interest or expertise is… we are all looking for the same thing: impact you can trust. 

Let’s explore this critical question: How do I spot and recognize organizations with the highest tangible, measurable, durable impact?

Here are four key aspects of an organization’s impact, model, values, and success to investigate and assess. 

1.    Representing impact.

2.    Transparency and accessibility.

3.    Financials.

4.    Language and relationships.

This third blog is about money-- and its potential to either create immense impact for forests or to prevent real action and progress.

You may question why we are writing about money after posting a blog called “Beyond Money: Redefining Wealth and Capital.” 

It will come as no surprise that money (despite the immense values of other forms of capital) is a huge player in the rainforest conservation space.

Donations, grants, and funding make projects possible, expand teams and open doors for new ideas and opportunities. How organizations spend their money can determine how much real impact they make for forests and has a real effect on the future of tropical forests and our climate. 

It will also not come as a surprise that money-- as in every other sector and space-- is often not spent in the best ways. do you know if an organization is spending its money efficiently on its projects?

Everyone will have different standards and expectations for how organizations spend and make their money. The critical piece here is to look. Investigate.

  • What percent of their total revenue and expenses are they spending on impact-creating work (program services expenses or project expenses)?
  • Are they prioritizing projects’ work over marketing, fundraising, office expenses, travel, executive salaries?
  • Do they show specifics on how they are spending their money? Specifics show transparency and show what they report as “program expenses” is real and key to producing their impact.
  • How do they value and leverage non-monetary capital? Do they rely on large donations to function?

Leveraging In-Kind Capital and Partnerships to Create High Value, Low Cost Solutions

In kind donations are chronically undervalued. Why is this so important?

Groups often only look at cash revenue and leave out in kind revenue. This means that organizations with high in-kind values look like they are spending a much lower percentage of their revenue on their direct project work. 

An NGO with relatively low cash revenue but high in-kind revenue will look like they are spending much more on overhead costs. These groups are paying much less on direct project expenses - but this doesn’t mean that they are less focused on creating impact and implementing their projects. 

But organizations with high in-kind capital are strategically leveraging resources that come at no monetary cost - from volunteers, in-kind donations, or the capital brought by partners.

Organizations that forge strong partnerships which bring different skills and resources together should not be penalized for being thrifty. 

These infographics show why leveraging partnership and in-kind capital help organizations create outsize impact for forests.

We’re all about impact, but not as a buzzword-- as an active commitment and a creed that drives and shapes our work. Check out our video podcast series: Spotting Impact in the Wild and don’t forget to check out the other three blogs in this series on Impact.