How to Find a Fiscal Sponsor for Your Conservation Photography Projects: An Interview with Vance Martin of WILD Foundation
You need money for your conservation photography project, and grants are a big part of that fundraising… which means you're likely going to need a fiscal sponsor. But what exactly IS a fiscal sponsor, and how do you get one? This episode gives you the what, why, and how.
Let’s suppose you have a conservation photography project in mind and know exactly what you want to produce. You've done the legwork to figure out the grants you want to go for…
…but you get stuck when you discover that the granting entity is only going to hand the money over to a nonprofit entity.
Well, now you need a fiscal sponsor.
So, what is fiscal sponsorship and why do you need to know about it? And even more importantly, how do you find the just-right organization to partner up with?
When I started Urban Coyote Initiative, I partnered up with an organization called WILD Foundation. Not only was WILD a home for the project when it was up and running, but is now a fiscal sponsor and a collaborative partner for Her Wild Vision initiative.
WILD Foundation has thus played an important role in my conservation photography work, as well as in the work of many others, including big names such as Cristina Mittermeier and James Balog. It is safe to say that WILD Foundation knows exactly what it is doing when it comes to partnering up with conservation visual storytellers!
That’s why I'm honored to have Vance Martin, the president of WILD Foundation, join us for this episode to share what fiscal sponsorship is, what it means to collaborate with a nonprofit partner, and what he has learned over the years about the requirements for a successful collaboration.
- What is has been like for Vance to have worked for WILD Foundation since 1984.
- Why conservation photography fits so well into WILD Foundation’s mission.
- What it takes to set up a collaboration agreement between a photographer/filmmaker and WILD.
- How conservation organizations like WILD help people to get funding for their initiatives.
- The responsibilities of the fiscal sponsor and how they protect the interests of all parties.
- Why WILD Foundation does these collaborative agreements and what they look for in projects.
- A photographer’s responsibilities in their relationships with a fiscal sponsor.
- Advice for how visual conservation storytellers can go about looking for a fiscal sponsor.
Resources & Links Mentioned
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Episode 053: How to Find a Fiscal Sponsor for Your Conservation Photography Projects - An Interview with Vance Martin of WILD Foundation
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
Okay, let's set up a scene. You have a great idea for a conservation photography project. In fact, it's not an idea, you have a conservation photography project on your hands, you've already thought it through, you know exactly what you wanna photograph and why, you've got all the parameters around your project set up, you know what you wanna create, what you actually wanna produce, from this project, in fact, you've even done the leg work to figure out what grants you wanna go for and how you're gonna fund this, but as you start to dig into that part of the project, the part where you wanna go for grants, the part where you wanna get sponsorships, well, now there's a little bit of a hiccup, because what you may discover, more than likely is that some of the grants that you want to go for in order to fund your conservation photography project... Well, they specifically say that the grant needs to go to either a non-profit or you need to be fiscally sponsored by a non-profit. Okay, what the heck is fiscal sponsorship? And why do you need to know about it? Well, in a nutshell, a fiscal sponsorship is another entity that can accept funds on your behalf and then distribute them to you.
0:01:21 JH: So typically, when you're working on a photography project, what this looks like is you collaborate with a non-profit organization, and when you win a grant, the grant money goes to that non-profit. They deal with the book keeping on it, they administer the grant money to you, and then you go off and create things, or let's say that you want to do some private fundraising and you have some large private donors who want to fund your project, well, they can make their donation to this non-profit organization, they can get a letter for tax exemption that they can then hand off to their CPA and your non-profit fiscal sponsor can then pass those funds, that donation on to you and you can get to work. The thing is, this can be a little bit more complicated than you might think at first glance, but it's worth navigating through that complication because it can end up being a really phenomenal partnership. In fact, when I started Urban Coyote Initiative, I partnered up with a phenomenal organization called WILD Foundation, and WILD Foundation was not only a home to Urban Coyote Initiative when that project was up and running, but it is now the fiscal sponsor and our collaborative partner for Her Wild Vision Initiative.
0:02:51 JH: So WILD Foundation has played a really important role for me in my own conservation photography work, but I am certainly not the only one. In fact, WILD Foundation has been home to some pretty big names and projects over the years. We're talking Cristina Mittermeier when she was first starting International League of Conservation Photographers 15 years ago, we're talking James Balog of the Earth Vision Institute and who created the documentary "Chasing Ice." WILD foundation even incubated SeaLegacy, which is run by Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier until that became a non-profit. WILD Foundation knows exactly what it's doing when it partners up with conservation visual storytellers, and that's why it is such a huge honor that today, Vance Martin, the president of the WILD Foundation, has agreed to hop on the podcast and talk with us about what fiscal sponsorship is, what it means to collaborate with a non-profit partner on fiscal sponsorship as well as in a larger collaboration, and really importantly, what he's learned over the years for what goes into a great collaboration. What you need to pay attention to when you're looking for a partner and what to keep your eyes open for.
0:04:09 JH: Vance is absolutely filled with information, and this episode is jam-packed, so be prepared to take notes or even better head over to the show notes at jaymih.com/53, where you can download a transcript of the episode. Every episode has a transcript, and a lot of times it's a lot easier to grab that than to furiously scribble notes. So head over to jaymih.com/53, the number 53 for this episode, and grab that transcript, because as you look for a fiscal sponsor for your conservation photography project, you're gonna wanna refer back to what we talk about in this episode. Now, let's dive in.
0:04:56 JH: Welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing, and everything in between, this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.
0:05:28 JH: Well, welcome to the podcast, Vance. I'm so grateful that you're here and talking with us today about something that I know is a stress factor for so many conservation photographers and filmmakers trying to launch and do conservation storytelling projects. So I so appreciate your time today.
0:05:46 Vance Martin: Oh, it's great to be here, Jaymi. I'm a long-time boy fan of yours, so this is a great opportunity for me, I feel very honored that you've reached out.
0:05:56 JH: Oh, thank you. Well, so in the introduction to the episode, I kind of outlined a little bit about WILD Foundation and what it is that you focus on, but before we dive into all of these logistics about fiscal sponsorship and all of your incredible knowledge about that, I would love to hear from you, you've been with WILD Foundation since 1984. So what has that been like? Working for this incredible organization.
0:06:24 VM: It was kind of interesting, I was a very happy expat overseas for the better part of 15 years, and I actually ended up getting married and my kids were born over there, and one thing leads to the next, and I met Ian Player, the great South African conservationist who saved the white Rhino from extinction, he and his brother and partner and colleague, Magqubu Ntombela, who was a Zulu of the old tradition, and they worked together in the Wilderness for 40 years. We really have an indigenous tradition that not only co-founded the WILD Foundation, but it has informed everything that we've done since day. So in that respect, our origin story is a little bit different, and it's one of the things that drew me to WILD originally, and it wasn't called WILD, it had this very long name called the International Wilderness Leadership Foundation, and it was set up in the early '70s in the States, and it was really meant to bring people from the States out to South Africa to go on trail, which is a wilderness walking trail, which were the first ones developed in Africa, because it was actually illegal in most African countries to be out of your car, they had drive-through game reserves and walking, you suddenly become part of the food chain, a lot more quickly than you might here in grizzly bear country or something, maybe mountain lion or something, that might happen, but over there, it's very real.
0:07:52 VM: Really, that background was part of our story, and I'll just say one thing because it was really important to me that old Ian and Magqubu are founders, they left the wildlife conservation movement to found this wilderness leadership school, because they realized that wildlife was not the issue, that it was people that we had to work on, and how best to work on them, but allow nature to do it. It sounds so normal these days, Outward Bound and this and that, but it was very unusual back in the '60s, especially in Africa, and they knew that working in the wilderness themselves had changed them as people... Well, certainly the white man Ian did and he got rid of the racial prejudice of his country, he discovered himself as a spiritual being all because of working in the wilderness. And so they left the wildlife world because they saw the impact the wilderness had on them, and therefore they said, "Well, we wanna help other people have the same experience," so they started this small school taking people into the wilderness.
0:09:09 VM: People said, "Oh, is that like Outward Bound?" And our answer and Ian's answer at that time was, "No, Outward Bound does a good job, super job, but they do focus on hard skills, and we consider our experience and our understanding of the wilderness experience as an inward-looking Outward Bound, that we specifically do these... And we take people into the wilderness, make it safe for them, do some nature interpretation with rhino and elephant and bugs and all that kind of stuff. Nature is not the classroom, she's the teacher. That has been our ethic all along, and so as we... " Ian then set up our organization in the States, he and Magqubu did, and in the UK and other places. We then drove a lot of our work into being "Conservation work," working with species or working with communities on their conservation plans and tourism and national governments, always with the same ethic. And that ethic is that we recognize nature as the teacher, no matter what form it is, in the wilderness, in the classroom, in our lives, nature is given to us as a teacher, and I believe the biggest thing standing between humankind and resolving many of the challenges on planet Earth is simply recognizing what's in front of us, that nature is the teacher, and by learning from her and how she does things, so how is it for me working with WILD? It's been a wonderful opportunity for me to marry my values that how you do your work is every bit as important as what you do.
0:11:07 VM: So marry the values to the work, and we've been able to do that through WILD, so the final answer to your question... Very long answer, I apologize, the short answer is, I agreed in 1984 to leave Scotland where I was living and where we had done the third World Wilderness Congress, and to come back to the States and resurrect this slumbering foundation called the International Wilderness Leadership Foundation and I would do it for four years, and then I would go back overseas, 'cause I was a very happy expat.
0:11:40 JH: I love that, and I really love what you mentioned about the realization that nature is a teacher and that once you really embrace that fact and allow that to take over, the things that you discover about yourself, about your approach to conservation, that that can have a big change. I love that WILD Foundation focuses in on the real conservation issues are a lack of respect for Earth's wildlife and wilderness, and a lack of coordination for their protection, you have that on your mission statement page and I think that that's such a really important thing to address, and I think that with conservation photography, so many of us don't even realize the passion that we have for conservation until we realize the passion that we have for wilderness, and that comes when we discover our love of photography and going out into nature and discovering the nature that's in front of us, and we become more and more and more embedded in it, and then we find our way into conservation because we want to give back to this thing that has taught us so much about ourselves.
0:12:49 VM: Yeah, I think that's such a true statement, Jaymi, and the kind of interesting thing is... I'm a very amateur photographer, I used to be quite good when I was a lot younger, when we were using black and white, and we would develop our own prints and all of that, so I play around with photography, but one of the things about the WILD Foundation and what made this niche so perfect with conservation photography when it first started under that name, that genre hadn't been created. What I liked about it, when I first heard about it, and it was really Cristina Mittermeier, who came to me back in late '90s, 2000, we started talking about this, and she said, "You know, this can be a change in photography," She had two young kids in school, and got married to Russ, and she was taking some Photoshop courses in DC, and she just had this idea that photography could serve conservation because of the reason you just said, because so many photographers who had mastered their art and in so doing, had grown further in love with and fascinated with nature and wanted to help, that she just knew this was something that could develop.
0:14:13 JH: Did you know when you were sitting down talking with Cristina Mittermeier, who is known as basically the founder, essentially, of conservation photography as this recognized thing, did you know that WILD Foundation and you and her would indeed be creating a radical shift in visual storytelling and what that would mean to conservation?
0:14:35 VM: You never get the full picture but the flash was there, I place high a value and importance on feeling and understanding who people are and what they can achieve. It's a tricky game because human beings are unusual, they have lots of surprises, we all have lots of surprises as we try to cope with life. Cristina was one of those people, and then there's been a number of others, but Cristina... This is very funny, I just spoke with her this morning, and what she said to me was, "You know Vance, I'm contacting you today for one reason, just to say good-bye because the SeaLegacy one is about ready to take off," and I can talk about that later, but she said, "I want you and I to remember that 15 years ago this month, the iLCP was started". And she said, "Look at what's happened since then." And she went on, she was very complimentary, it's a bit embarrassing, and I said, "Well, Cristina, it wasn't really that hard for me, all I had to do was recognize a visionary and say, "Yes," and she said, "Well, you have to realize that how many people before you didn't recognize a visionary." [chuckle]
0:15:52 VM: Just that simple example, she said, "Look, I wanna do this," and when I took over this organization, and then I re-named it the WILD Foundation because quite honestly, it had such a long name and a formal stiff name, I discovered that you couldn't raise money for an organization the name of which nobody could even remember, and so I re-named it, but I said to the board, a board that I had to put together with Ian Player and I said, "If we're gonna do this, we're gonna do work for wilderness and all that kind of stuff, but we're also going to help other people," because I believe one of the great challenges of the conservation movement, especially the institutional organizational movement, I said, "It doesn't collaborate, it's competing for the same funds, it's doing everything that the corporate sector does, and it's for every reason... " Well, one of the big reasons, I have never really wanted to work for a big corporate private sector thing is because it's run on this model of competition, competition, and life has competition in it, but life is also altruistic. And so I said, WILD is going to have a certain part of its mission, which is about helping other organizations and other people develop what they need to develop, because by doing that, we not only enrich ourselves, we build the movement.
0:17:23 JH: And my goodness, WILD has helped so much. Speaking of who you've worked with, and I honestly believe visionaries that you have worked with under WILD, it includes James Balog, who founded the Earth Vision Institute and the Earth Vision Institute created the documentary "Chasing Ice," which was just a game changer, Chasing Coral is a partner, that's a huge, incredible endeavour that... That's changed the way that people really look at our oceans in a lot of ways.
0:17:55 VM: Really, as in Jeff and his team, Jeff is a real visionary too, Jeff is an incredibly fine person, and so it's been great to work with him really.
0:18:05 JH: So what has it been like working alongside partner photographers, and we will get to the fiscal sponsor side of the conversation soon, but I would really love to dig into how you've seen photography and visuals change the path of conservation efforts working alongside people like Cristina Mittermeier and James Balog and these projects that put visual storytelling at the forefront of the way that they wanna tackle conservation?
0:18:35 VM: Yeah, I'm gonna park that question just for a second, where... Because I wanna tell you a little bit of why conservation photography is such a good fit in the WILD Foundation. Not only because of what I just said about our mission, part of our mission is to help other people, because we've helped straight out the field conservation projects as well as conservation photography. We co-founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
0:19:03 JH: Oh my goodness, I would love to do a whole another interview about that... Oh my gosh, what an organization.
0:19:12 VM: Laurie came to me when she wanted to leave the States and go to Namibia. And I had met her years before. And same story, I need some help. I said, Laurie, If you're in, I'm in. And we took over their US operations for 10 years and built them up, and I remain on their Board of Trustees, and... They're just a fabulous thing, anyhow. So we do things like that as well. It's not just conservation photography, but one of the reasons that conservation photography fits so super well into our mission is something that we also emphasize that most organizations don't. Yes, we do species conservation and community-based conservation and policy and all of that kind of stuff, but we have insisted since day one that the real strength of effective conservation is culture and to integrate culture equally with policy, science, economics creates an approach that is unbeatable and if you take culture out of there, and by culture, I just don't mean photography or the arts or writing, those are all examples, but what culture is, it's whatever it is that informs us of who we are as people and a society, it's not just information, there is a subjective quality to culture as well as an objective quality.
0:20:39 VM: And that's exactly what wilderness is about. It teaches you about yourself. We have always emphasized culture, we've done a lot of projects with the Arts, some really cool stuff. I absolutely, it's one of my favorite things. But it's also when Christina came to me and said, "You know, this thing with conservation photography," I said, "This is perfect," because of our emphasis on that, it wasn't like she had gone to wildlife organizations and biodiversity organizations. And they just didn't see that it was important. And to me, wow, it was the first thing I saw, this is not only really cool, but it's really important.
0:21:17 JH: Thank goodness. You saw that.
0:21:19 VM: Well, but then we just helped everybody did the work, and a lot of hard workers and visionaries. So I guess your question was, how have I seen it change things? Well, I can tell you that the emphasis on visual storytelling wasn't there 10, 15 years ago, when Christina and I started, worked together was about 18 years ago. It just wasn't there. It was all, show me the science. Do the rapid assessment. What's the biodiversity? Where's the data? That was it. And that was conservation, and still and while that is certainly important, it's not what inspires people, it might frighten them or it might interest them, but it doesn't engage them, it will engage you if you're a scientist, but people are engaged by their emotions, and that's what stories do. Stories are relatable. Look, I've been in this conservation world for a long time, and I admire scientists, I do a lot of policy, I'm not good at it, but I get better people to help me with the policy, I just don't get off on it. What I get off on, is putting the pieces together and creating a cultural moment, and that cultural moment includes information, it includes people, but it includes a story. And the classic components of the story, where's the challenge? How does that challenge affect me or affect a friend of mine or my community? Then how can we address that in a way that is effective, and at the end, we emerge with a solution that both inspires and practically helps people...
0:23:07 VM: That's the story. And you know it's all the big rage now, right, because of people like you, Jaymi and Morgan, Jayme Dittmar, and the young generation of upcoming photographers and storytellers who insist that storytelling is what it's all about, and so it's been, I think, a relatively recent phenomenon in conservation, though in human history, it is the original solution making.
0:23:40 JH: I know that you can't see me, but I'm furiously nodding along with you.
0:23:48 VM: Well good. 'Cause it is, a long time before science came along, people would tell stories about the plants and about the stars, and about the animals and the stories, are what informed people about how to live with nature and therefore how to survive.
0:24:05 JH: So you mentioned that these folks have come to you asking for help and recognition, you've been able to recognize visionaries and say," Yes." How does that help play out? So why is it that folks like Christina Mittermeier and James Balog and me have come to your door step and said, "Alright, I want to accomplish this, and I need WILD's help to do this."
0:24:30 VM: Well, it's been through a certain amount of trial and error, I have to say, because back when I started it in the late 80s, no other groups were doing it, and still very few groups do it because it's not easy. I've always been a committed collaborator, and I'd like to draw the distinction here between cooperation and collaboration. Cooperation is fairly easy, and you say, "Sure, I'll help you out, here's a little advice." or whatever, meanwhile, you get on and do your own things, you don't really learn from each other, And collaboration is when you make a commitment to learn from each other, take the time, which is an expensive commodity these days to learn about what each other is doing and what the perspectives are, it's a bit like a co-mentorship relationship, you're really learning from each other, and that's how we gradually learned, probably because that's a predilection, I have anyhow in my life. That's what we began to build on, and we created this concept called a Collaborative Conservation Agreement, CCA, and what used to be a one-page agreement is now quite a bit longer because we wanted to build something. The more we started working with photographers and filmmakers, there were rights involved, there was ownership involved, there was buying equipment.
0:25:58 VM: And so we had to tread very carefully and get a lot of pro bono legal advice from proper entertainment lawyers and standard patent lawyers and things like that to create an agreement. And a couple of filmmakers helped us with this too, and so we now have this, what is essentially a six or seven-page agreement, which is 98% boiler plate, but it assures that whether it's the photographer or a conservationist in West Africa who needs to buy some vehicles and they're raising money in the States, and... It assures that the arrangements that we make and the collaborations that we facilitate are 100% bullet-proof by the IRS, because this is a complicated world, and ownership rights, patents, who owns the film, who gets the rights from it, if so and so gives me money to my film, how do I spend it? Right. And because that there are some things you can spend it on, some things you can't. So we've had to learn all of this in order that conservation film-making and photography, while it's not a specialty of ours, it is certainly something that we know more about than most conservation organizations because we've worked on it longest, and so when... If I wanna give advice to young filmmakers or old filmmakers doesn't make any difference, it is possible under US law for private business and non-profit business to work together very successfully.
0:27:41 VM: Most people don't realize that. They think, "Oh, you're a non-profit. And I'm a for-profit company da da da da," US non-profit law is very flexible, if you know how to use it. And it was made that way, and it's probably the best example anywhere in the world of how a non-profit sector is set up. I personally believe it needs more oversight. I mean, why should a person like me... When I came back to the States, I'd worked with non-profits overseas, but I was 33 years old, I had a bachelor's degree in English literature Victorian poetry, I was barely recovering hippie, and suddenly I was in charge of a non-profit. I didn't have any training for that you gotta be very careful. I guess my first piece of advice, if they have their own little LLC, or even if they haven't formed that yet, well, there's ways you can raise money for your project, and some of them are non-profit means, and some of them are for-profit. So by forming a collaborative agreement with a non-profit... And we're a conservation organization, but there are a few community foundations that do these kind of things, most conservation organizations won't do them, and the reasons are three-fold, One is, it takes time, and most conservation organizations are just over their head.
0:29:13 VM: It certainly doesn't pay the conservation organization because what I would have to charge a young photographer to basically mentor them in how to work with a non-profit and still create... And still make money, that's like a full-time job really. It costs money, and you have to charge something, but it never pays for what it really takes, and the third thing is there is this argument amongst the conservation community that, "Well, this will muddy the waters, it's not our project, it's their project, it's gonna confuse our donors." Do you know what I say to that, hogwash. When a donor comes to me and say, "Well, what is this... What's Jim Balog's project doing?" And I say... This is called smart conservation, this is two organizations eliminating a duplication of overheads and admin and working together to show donors like you that we can save money and not just compete, and you know the donors, 100% of the time say, "Oh, what a good idea. You're exactly right."
0:30:21 JH: Yeah. Well, I feel like we jumped into some really solid detail about fiscal sponsorship, and I wanna rewind just a little bit because I think that what I realize is so many conservation photographers think about, "Okay, well, I want to... I have this really amazing conservation project that I want to document and I want to raise funds for this, but I don't really understand how," or they start to find grants that are a really good fit, but the grant parameters say, "You have to either be a non-profit or you need to have fiscal sponsorship by a non-profit." And they stop and they say, "Okay, so what's fiscal sponsorship?" So would you mind explaining how WILD and an organization, like I've mentioned to Her Wild Vision Initiative is a collaborative partner with WILD and you are our fiscal sponsor for Her Wild Vision Initiative so how does WILD help Her Wild Vision Initiative with funding?
0:31:17 VM: I have to emphasize one thing, first is that WILD in the way we do things, we're not a fundraising organization per se for other organizations, we have done that, of course, but it's not our principal strength because we have to keep the doors open ourselves, and there is... One of the reasons why some groups don't like to do it, is because suddenly you have a project that's out there raising money, that might also conflict with some of the ways you're raising money for your own projects. So I call that a traffic issue, a financial traffic issue. We have ways to get over that, I'll come back to that later. So fiscal agency in its purest form is Jaymi Heimbuch is doing very good conservation work and she wants to take nice pictures of it and tell stories with it, it just so happens that I'm a conservation organization or that the mission of my non-profit allows me to embrace a project like hers. The fiscal agency is, "Okay, I recognize Jaymi Heimbuch's project or Morgan Hime's or Christina Mittermeier's. My board recognizes this as a project that falls within our mission, so that ticks the first box, it's not like you wanna go out and make umbrellas, and I have to stretch the point that umbrellas might be a climate change issue or something like that.
0:32:47 VM: Now, if you fit the mission, that's the first box, second box is, there are things called pass-through grants. And a pass-through grant is when any non-profit organization receives money and just passes it on to somebody else and says, "Here, have a good time you're doing good work," that's a type of fiscal agency, it's a type that we don't do. For a variety of reasons, I have done it many, many years ago, I don't particularly like to do it, we like to collaborate, which means that when we start a fiscal agency with somebody, we are named within their project as a conservation communications partner or something like that, so we have a role, we are not just a channel for money, a funnel, some people say, "Oh, can you be a funnel for this grant?" And I say, "Not on your life. It doesn't work for us." So fiscal agent, really, we receive money that is tax-exempt money from US taxpayers, we supply all of the paperwork that can assure them that they can apply for a tax benefit to the best of their ability, we don't tell them what the tax benefit is that...
0:34:00 VM: That's the job of their tax accountant. We just say we are a non-profit and this donation you give to us is tax deductible to the fullest benefit of the law, so we have no liability over that. Anyhow, we take that money in, we put it into our system, it is then the property and under the authority of our Board of Directors, it does not belong to the project. And then our board, because of our internal procedures and our bookkeeping, we grant that money after a certain process to the project, to Jaymi Heimbuch's project because it fulfills our mission. So we can be very clear with the IRS, we're not just giving this money to anybody to go out and have a holiday, we're taking in this money and we're targeting it and we have responsibility for how that money is spent. Right, so we require reports and outcomes and examples and pictures and documentation, so that when the IRS comes knocking, we can say, "Yeah. Jaymi Heimbuch... I hope you don't mind me keeping using you as an example, anybody... She didn't just bomb off to Bermuda to lie in the sun, she was there photographing sharks or something. Right, and she used that for a certain conservation reason for an exhibit for education for science or whatever.
0:35:29 VM: So we have to prove that. Right, and that's largely what makes it different from a pass-through grant, we have a responsibility for oversight and responsibility, and if we by doing that, we can protect both the non-profit project and the donor and ourselves.
0:35:51 JH: Right. Now, you have just outlined all of the process and responsibility that WILD Foundation takes on inside of a fiscal sponsor type of collaboration, and it is not a small amount of work, so I really wanna emphasize 'cause you mentioned, "Well, it's not free you, we have... We take our percentage that is required," because you really do put in a lot of the administrative work, the bookkeeping work that then the partner organization does not have to take on. Would you mind talking a little bit about the type of administrative work that goes on and the types of fees that someone, either with WILD or with another organization would expect if they're partnering with the fiscal sponsor agency?
0:36:37 VM: We've done so many different experiments with this when we did one of our first big ones, and I didn't realize it would be so big, when we did the Cheetah Conservation Fund, we actually did all of their back office for years. And now we don't do that much anymore, but we did it at that point. It taught us a great deal. It costs us a lot of money, it also eventually in the first two years, it costs us a lot of money, but then eventually the fundraising started and we were able to pay most of our expenses. The basic financial arrangements is that, very occasionally, there's a project overseas or something and we really need to help, it will... And it's not a long project... We'll actually do it for free. It doesn't happen often, my board doesn't allow me to do it, and I do it anyhow, and I tell them, I tell them afterwards.
0:37:29 VM: But generally, it's anywhere between 5% of funds raised and 15% of funds raised, and that's if we have to pay vendors and keep track of a lot of that and actually do some bookkeeping... It's a lot of work, they're multiple entries, and it also opens us up to a lot more audit scrutiny because we have obviously an independent financial audit every year, and the more projects we have, the more expensive it is for the audit. Also when we take insurances out as an organization, insurances cost more, the higher your revenue is and your turnover is, so if we wanna take liability insurance, somebody might sue us, well, they're not gonna sue an organization that has a couple of hundred thousand dollar a year kind of turnover, but if suddenly if they see a big organization and that one's doing four or five million dollars, $10 million, $100 million, then they're much more open for liability, and their insurance costs a lot more.
0:38:35 VM: Now, I can assure you, we are not $100 million a year organization, but that's one of the reasons why groups like CI and World Wildlife Fund have a lot of lawyers, and it's also why they don't take on projects like this, 'cause there's potential liabilities involved. So in an ideal situation, what we do, this is just cutting it right down to the bone, a person comes to us and they're usually referred by a friend or they've heard us, and we say, "Okay, here's the deal," we send them a three-page overview of, "This is why we do these fiscal agencies, these collaborative agreements," and it's number one, it's because we wanna help. Number two is we recognize how difficult it is for an individual to set up a non-profit. We don't recommend it at first, because to do it right is a lot of time and a lot of money. We have many projects we've taken in as fiscal agents, as collaborators, eventually, we spin them off into their own non-profits because they're ready. That happened to Christina twice. Christina brought the iLCP, and we did that for five years, and then boom, that became its own non-profit, and then she left iLCP and formed SeaLegacy, and we incubated that for three years until that was spun off.
0:40:00 VM: So it's just that at first, people wanna get on and do their work, they don't wanna have boards of directors and audits and all that kind of stuff, so we provide that. That is a benefit that we provide, so you can concentrate on your work, and these things are spelled out in this initial overview, and the third thing is that people just starting out, having the umbrella of a established organization with a good track record and a good reputation, helps them. They're not just Joe Smith or Nancy Smith trying to raise a grant. You can say, "I'm part of the WILD Foundation, I'm part of this organization, and this is what they've done, and I'm part of that." And so that's brand equity, right? That's a benefit that people have when they do one of these fiscal agents, depending who they do it with, you get to share the brand equity, it's also a reason why a lot of the bigger brands don't do it, 'cause there's liabilities involved, I mean, suppose this person screws up.
0:41:08 VM: So there's a lot of these things, so that's what the first overview is, "Hey, this is why we do it, and these are the benefits to you," and it usually costs us money, but we try to recover some of that through a small fee, so that's what that covers, if people decide they wanna do it, then we take the next step, we have this more formal agreement, but what I look for is, number one, do you have a fundraising plan? If you don't have a fundraising plan, our response is, "Go make one," because you're not gonna get anywhere if you don't have a plan. Now, some people come to us and say, "Yeah, I wanted to do this," I mean, Frans Lanting and Christine, we're just doing something with him for the first time, and they came to us, they had known us for years and they've always done their own thing, and that's fine, and they said, "We need a non-profit and we have one very large donor, and this is what we wanna do." Boom, done. Right, they had a fundraising plan, I knew them, I trusted them, it's gonna be a fantastic attribute for conservation, so it wasn't a big deal, so it was really, amongst friends, really.
0:42:13 VM: And the other thing we say to people, in your fundraising plan, if you want it to be less expensive for you, the fundraising plan should be based on larger grants, not a lot of crowd funding and a lot of small grants because it's hellishly involved to administer those though there are some ways to do it. So we say to people, we really prefer to only handle grants of a $1,000 or more, even though that doesn't always happen, and we prefer it when people come in to say, "I have three potential donors or two donors and they're gonna fund 75% of my $100,000 project, and I'll figure out how to get the rest." That to me is a good enough plan, and we've done ones, I mean, we've done some that they just don't work. We'll go through the process, make an agreement, they don't find the funders or the funder drops out, well, there you go, you don't win them all, but it was a good experience, but 90% of them work out and they're successful and out of that 90%, a few of them go on to be their own non-profits, and that's really kind of our goal, if that's what... If that's what the person wants. But we, for example, Jaime Rojo, iLCP photographer, he was the Executive Director of Wild 9.
0:43:39 VM: He worked under Patricio Robles here in Mexico, doing stuff now for the BBC, National Geographic, we're his fiscal sponsor, he's no longer living in the States, he has zero interest in starting his own non-profit, and he'll be part of us like our family kind of forever. So sometimes they wanna form their own non-profit, sometimes they don't, so there's all sorts of different ways these things can happen.
0:44:06 JH: When you have that partnership and everybody is understanding how things are gonna go. So for example, with Her Wild Vision Initiative, WILD Foundation is our collaboration partner and our fiscal sponsor for the larger grants that we want to go for that will fund the scholarships that we provide to members, however, we know that WILD does not wanna have to handle smaller donations, and there's plenty of people who would like to provide smaller donations, so we set up a separate way that is not tax deductible, but is a way for people to just... Not come straight to us. So let's say Her Wild Vision Initiative lands that $30,000 grant that we would love to have for our scholarships, and that goes into WILD Foundation's bank account and things are processed, and then you hand us that money that we've earned so that we can provide the scholarships. What is now our responsibility to do or to provide for WILD on our end of that collaboration agreement?
0:45:05 VM: Well, in the very first instance, there has to be not an extensive, but there has to be a proposal that says, "This is how we're gonna use the money," and I'm not one for big log frames and all of that kind of stuff. I like it on three or four pieces of paper, "This is what we're gonna do, here's the budget," on one piece of paper, and generally, that's enough for us. I'm by law required to say to my board, "This is a project I would like to adopt because it's outside of our shop." And they say, "Yes," because I say it fulfills our mission. And this is the plan. So we do that, then we get the grant in from one of your donors, we send you a grant transmittal agreement, it's a one-page agreement that has it all, and then this is after we are in... We've signed the collaborative agreement earlier that sets up the project, so for each grant, there is a grant transmittal, which is the result of the proposal that comes to us, I emphasize brief proposal that is approved and put in the file folder, the digital file.
0:46:21 VM: And so when the IRS comes to us and says, "You gave $30,000 to Jaymi Heimbuch, what'd you do that for?" I say, "Well, because of this, this is what they're gonna do with it." "Well, did they do it?" And that's why once a year, Jennifer our operations director contacts all the collaborators and say, "Can we have your report, please, how did you use the money?" We don't want how you spent every penny. We want to say, "According to the budget, we were gonna spend $10,000 on travel to do X, Y, Z, okay, that's what we spent it on, and we have all the receipts to prove it." Sometimes we ask for the receipts for our records, sometimes we have an agreement that you keep the receipts yourself, okay? But basically, we can prove to the IRS that the money was spent for the reason the proposal was accepted, and the reason the proposal was accepted is that it fulfills the objectives of the WILD Foundation, because we are responsible for that money. If that money is not spent or not spent correctly, it comes back to us and ultimately because we have a responsibility both to the donor and to the federal government, and that kind of oversight takes time, it takes care, it takes experience.
0:47:46 VM: Ultimately, 98% of the time, it works like a charm. We know how to do this. We have a good trust level with our collaborators like you and Morgan or Jayme Dittmar, or all of these people, Jaime Rojo, Frans Lanting, Jim, Jeff... All these people we're part of the same tribe. But we have the paperwork right too.
0:48:14 JH: Yeah, I always say good fences, make good neighbors and have your paperwork in place, even if it's a volunteer effort or where it's a handshake, paperwork is lovely.
0:48:23 VM: Yeah, it's communal, it's a little bit like a pre-nap, I mean, everybody brings value to something, and you know what I learned very early on was a simple thing, when you execute a contract and that's an agreement... An agreement to do something together. And that can be a very technical, dry contract, or it can be a, one of our collaborative agreements, but when you do that, think about what happens if it falls apart, and if what you're executing, that collaborative agreement or that contract, does that cover the unlikely event that it's going to fall apart? And so if you think that way, that's not negative thinking, that's positive thinking, How do I protect the relationship that I have with this person and with this project and with the donor and the government? My job is to protect relationships so that the work gets done.
0:49:22 JH: Right. Now, I feel incredibly lucky to have found WILD very early on. I mean, we've known each other for years now, and I genuinely lucked out in finding WILD Foundation as the first and only fiscal partner that I would want to work with, but I know that there are plenty of other options out there for other photographers, and I'm curious if in the long experience that you have had and in knowing the ups and downs of all of this, if you have advice for conservation visual storytellers, photographers or film makers, do you have advice for them in what to look for, how to get started looking for a fiscal sponsor and what to look for in that type of marriage partnership?
0:50:07 VM: There's not a lot of options, there are some... Many groups won't do it, I think the danger is finding a group that says they'll do it and they don't know how to do it because others say, "Oh yeah, sure. Well, have your donor talk to me, I'll get the check, I'll send it to you." That's a recipe for a problem, because they might not really understand that the IRS might come knocking... Doesn't all the time, but we've been audited by the IRS twice, which is at least one and a half times more than any other organization our size, I'm not sure why it's happened. So we've been through the fire, and anybody who's a small organization that knows the time that it takes to put up with an IRS audit and the expense, it teaches you a lot, and if you're lucky to have a good auditor, you'll learn a lot. So when you go... When you find a potential fiscal sponsor, don't just say, "Oh my God, I'm so glad I found somebody that can receive this donation." The first thing you say to yourself was, "Tell me how you do it. Do you have any experience doing this, and I'd love to talk to some of your other people who have done this before," and if they say, "Well, we really haven't done it," then there's nothing wrong with that if they wanna help you, that's great.
0:51:21 VM: But wanting to help somebody shouldn't get in the way of not being experienced enough or smart enough not to get them into trouble. I'm painting a picture here that is not out of the question. So first thing, talk to your community foundation, talk to some of the local photography clubs or non-profits, they might be able to help. Most conservation organizations won't do it, some will, and they'll do it if... They'll do it more on a contract basis, right? And that contract basis would be, "Hey, we're working on this canyon here, and you know a lot about the canyon. Do you have any donors?" "Oh yeah, sure, I've got a donor." "Okay, great, why don't you find a donor and they can give us the money and we'll pay you because we're really interested in doing this canyon kind of project," so they do a contract with you, but you raise the money, right? That happens a lot. It's not quite as kind of independent while WILD wants to be, and we ask that we're a conservation communications or conservation... A partner, we give the photographer or the team a huge amount of autonomy, huge, because it's their vision. We just have to make sure that there's proper oversight, whereas under the contract arrangement, there's often...
0:52:42 VM: You're just working for somebody. Really? Now, you can get your work done. So there's many different ways to look at this, but just be careful. Know that the organization you're working with understands IRS regulations, ask them, "Well, this is great, and if you give me this money and I'm gonna produce this three-minute short, who owns it?" Find out if they know. It's fine. Incidentally, it's fine for the LLC to own it, right? If you Jaymi Heimbuch have an LLC, you raise the money, you give it to us, you make a two-minute film, we give the money to you, you make a two-minute... It's very fine for that to be owned by a private company, but the non-profit has certain rights to it, right? And that rights of use, non-commercial use, etcetera, and so on, to fulfill our mission, 'cause that's why we're giving you the money. We're not giving you the money to have a private asset. The private asset is a result of the work you do to help us fulfill our mission.
0:53:44 JH: Okay, so it sounds like a couple of really strong things that stand out to you to be aware of is if you are approaching a non-profit that could be a fiscal sponsor, what experience do they have in this to make sure that the proper oversight of handling the money and the IRS language around it is there, and if they don't have it, then being really aware about forming that language with them in a contract agreement, and also being aware of nuances around ownership of intellectual property that is created out of that. And is there anything else that has popped up for you for what to pay attention to?
0:54:22 VM: Three main things that you've just said, two of them, the third one is what do you need? What do you need out of the relationship? Number one, you need to know if they understand how to do it and all that. But what practically do you need? Do you need bookkeeping? If you need bookkeeping, it's gonna cost. It's gonna cost more than it would just by having a fiscal agent, so if you want somebody... If you don't have the capability to pay your vendors and buy equipment and all of that kind of stuff, well, you need to be clear that you need somebody else to do it, so either you control it by... When you get the grant, you hire a bookkeeper or you make an arrangement with your fiscal agent that they do it, any way, it works, it's still gonna cost you money. Now, most people just do it themselves, it's a simple operation, they have their own LLC, they or their partner or their friend keeps the books, and at the end of the fiscal year, they make a copy of their financial records, they print them out and they send them into WILD or whoever the fiscal agent is, and here's our P&L, our profit and loss statement.
0:55:32 VM: You can see that it says, travel, we had budgeted $10,000. We spent $9,058. So at the end of the year, you have to report that you've either spent all the money on what was approved or you over-spent, which is fine, but if you underspend, you then have to say, this is how I'm gonna use the rest of the money, and that has to be approved. So there's the basic thing, be clear what you need. Number one, be clear who you're working with and what their experience is, and number three, when those things are satisfied, have an agreement that really looks out after your own best interest, which are intellectual property and things like that, and that you're confident that the fiscal agent can represent you in the most extreme case to the IRS, and therefore protect you, protect the donor and protect themselves.
0:56:25 JH: Oh, that's fantastic. You know, this is a little random coming off of what you just said, but you know what I love about you, Vance...
0:56:35 VM: What?
0:56:36 JH: You speak equally as passionately about all of the logistical stuff that goes into this as you do about the why of nature conservation and storytelling. You started out as passionately talking about the reason why WILD does what it does as you do about avoiding IRS audits and you are a man after my own heart, when it comes to that.
0:57:00 VM: How sweet, that's so very nice. Well, again, I'll kind of towards the end here, I'll say what I said in the beginning that I believe that the values framework of why you do something is every bit as important as what you do, but man, you need to know both of those things, you need to know why you're doing something and you need to know bloody well how to do it. This world is not an evil place, but it is a place full of pitfalls and pot holes and people that aren't always looking out after your own best good.
0:57:29 JH: Well, I have one more question I would love to ask you before we wind up, you have had your whole heart inside of conservation for a long time, and you have worked with some of the most phenomenal conservation visual storytellers that are in this field, and I'm just curious if there has been one thing, a story or a film or something that's come across your desk that has been a visual story that has really stood out or that has floored you or wowed you or changed the way that you thought or stood out in your memory somehow?
0:58:08 VM: Oh boy, I'm often times more enamored with the people I'm working with and how they do their work, than I am necessarily with the product. Again, it comes back to this framework of the conservation world needs respect, it needs good people who understand values, who build a better world, both through how they act as well as what they do, and I've met filmmakers who have... I said, "Wow, look at this film. This is great," and I meet the person that does it and I'm just really not impressed, and it brings the whole project down in my mind. But when you work with people like Jeff Orlowski and Frans Lanting and Christine and Jayme Dittmar and Cristina Mittermeier, these people are building a better world, not just a wilder world. So that to me is super, super important. And I have to say, when Chasing Ice came, it at first, it was gonna be just... It was gonna be a short, and Jeff Orlowski got... But Jeff said he had never made a film more than eight minutes long, and he was a volunteer, and I said to Jim, you know, "I'd like to go along to Greenland with you and shoot some video," and Jim said, "Sure, come along," and Jim at that time was a still photographer, he wasn't a film-maker, and I can tell you as that thing developed and I saw the quality coming off of it, it was pretty freaking spectacular.
0:59:41 JH: That's awesome. That is such a beautiful response, I think that that really shows that you are so very much in this for all of the right, grounded reasons, the idea that you care and are enamored by the people who are out there doing the work, even more so than what they produce speaks volumes. So thank you so much for that honesty.
1:00:05 VM: Can I finish with a carry-on statement from that about conservation?
1:00:09 JH: Oh, 100%.
1:00:12 VM: Because conservation photography is in pursuit of nature conservation and building a wilder world, and it's also a unique avenue to actually build a wilder world, our... At the WILD Foundation, and my personal fix on that is, yes, we're building a wilder world, but what we're really doing is we're mending a dysfunctional relationship between people and nature, because that is the core issue, and it's why Old Magqubu and Ian Player, why they left the wildlife world and they started taking people into the wilderness because they knew if they could affect how people felt about nature, how they saw it, how they perceived it, how they experienced it, then they would not only be creating better advocates for wild nature, they would be healing the relationship, the dysfunctional relationship, that is the root challenge of climate, of extinction, and of zoonotic pandemics, it's a dysfunctional relationship with nature, and that's why we founded Nature Needs Half. It's not just based on, "Science says save half the world, because that's what we need to do." What it's based on is creating a functional relationship with nature, one of mutual respect and love and enjoyment. Conservation photography is uniquely positioned to do just that.
1:01:37 JH: I could not agree with you more. Thank you so much for not just the hour that you've spent here explaining stuff that can be tough for so many of us to understand, but also for the decades of dedication that you've given to us and also for being someone who recognizes visionaries and says, yes.
1:01:58 VM: What a great fun. I mean, it's a great enjoyment. It's a great privilege. I have to tell you... I feel, when these things happen right, I just feel like I'm the luckiest boy in the world.
1:02:10 JH: Wonderful, well, thank you so much, Vance.
1:02:13 VM: And let me just say, and I hope you put this in your broadcast, please, that you are the type of person that WILD wants to work with, that I personally want to work with because of how you do your work. It's an honor for us to be associated, it's not just like, "Sure, we'll be your fiscal sponsor." You, Jaymi, Morgan, Jayme Dittmar, Jaymi Rojo, all of these people, it honors us.
1:02:41 JH: That means so much to me.
1:02:43 VM: And I mean it absolutely, sincerely, and please put that in your podcast, that it is an honor... It is an honor for us to do this.
1:02:52 JH: And there you have it, folks, not only can partnering up with the just right non-profit for your fiscal sponsorship be something that works out really well for you in funding your photography projects, but it also can be just one of the most amazing collaborative experiences that you have, something that you can truly grow from, because not only are you working with a non-profit for that fiscal sponsorship, but you're working with other people, other people who can believe in what it is that you're doing with your photography talents, and when you have that around you to support you, it's a pretty big deal. So I hope that you have learned a ton from this episode, remember, you can download transcripts of this and every episode in the show notes. For this episode, just head to jaymih.com/53, and you can get all of the information in one easy place as well as of course, link up to WILD Foundation and explore more of what this amazing organization does for conservation around the world. Thanks so much for listening, and we'll talk to you again next week. Before we wrap up, I would love to ask you to do one quick thing, subscribe to this podcast. As a subscriber, you'll not only know when each week's episode goes live, but you'll also get insider goodies, like bonus episodes. You might miss them unless you're subscribed and I don't want you to miss out on a thing, so please tap that subscribe button, and I will talk to you next week.
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