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Rhino conservation is a cause very close to South Africans’ hearts and one to which consumers easily give their small change – especially in September, around World Rhino Day. With the right financial support, rhino conservation efforts can make a difference, but do you know whether your money is being used for the right things at the right times?

Neil Robinson, chief executive officer of Relate Bracelets, a 100% not-for-profit social enterprise, says: “Passion is good. If the public doesn’t feel passionate about conservation issues, organisations entrusted to conserve our natural heritage would have far less success than they are. But passion without logic doesn’t help anyone.”

Robinson says that while people are generally careful about where they invest their money – seeking integrity, authenticity and transparency in the companies they deal with – they sometimes forget to apply these same principles to the causes to which they decide to donate.

“The impulse to give to charity should, ideally, be paired with a clear understanding of where you’re sending your money. Your money will make a real difference if it is administered in a careful, transparent way by a non-profit organisation (NPO). Otherwise it might end up simply lining the pockets of people who run commercial companies that on the surface appear to be NPOs – until you dig a little deeper.”

For a civil society organisation or NPO to be recognised as a legal entity in South Africa, it has to be registered with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC).

Robinson suggests that consumers who feel strongly about conservation – or indeed any cause – could do the following to make sure that their money is being put to good use:

  • Do research. Find out as much as you can about the organisations that work with causes close to your own heart.
    Once you have narrowed down your search and found a few names you think you can trust, do a search of the organisation’s name on the internet, including words such as “scam” and “complaints”. If the organisation’s work is questionable, this is one way to find out quickly.
  • Once your chosen charities have passed this test – and if you are really serious about supporting one of them – request a tour or an overview meeting with them. Even a phone call will do. You make a lot of appointments when you buy a car or a unit trust. Apply the same principles of responsible consumerism to your philanthropy.
  • If you come across a charity or fundraiser that refuses to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, running costs and registration details, you should be on alert.
  • Avoid organisations that can’t or won’t give you a clear idea of where or how their money is spent.
  • Ask the cause you’ve chosen what exactly its next goal is, how far it is from reaching it and what systems it uses to track and measure its goals.
  • And, finally, never offer your personal details, credit card or account details over the phone or via email or the internet to anyone who has called soliciting your support.

There are several ways to support rhino conservation in South Africa, from buying a plastic horn for your car’s front bumper, to running marathons. If buying a beaded bracelet is one way you wish to support the fight against rhino poaching, then make sure you buy a Relate Bracelet, which you will recognise from the “R” bead.

A third of the profits from Relate’s white, grey and matt black bracelet, are donated to the Endangered Wildlife Trust Rhino Project. The rest of the profits are poured directly back into the Relate social enterprise model, which means that another third of it is used for running costs and materials, and the final third goes towards investment in enterprise development initiatives, skills training and providing earning opportunities for local bracelet makers.

Robinson says: “It might sound counter-intuitive, but bringing a hard-nosed business attitude towards causes you care about is a meaningful and enlightened way of engaging with them.”

This article was first published on Spice4Life.co.za

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