Written by Detlef Tibax
Searching for new projects basically starts with a self-made coffee in the morning, to be honest. I usually don't drink coffee, but the extra focus was welcome since in the past months most of my weekends were spent behind a computer screen searching for and reading through many charity projects. Like a lot.
It's certainly not easy to choose one project over another. There are so many variables to take into account: like what is the overall project goal and vision to achieve that goal? How relevant is the project? Are there any success stories? Is it a transparent organisation? Is it effective in its financial management? How large or small is the project? Is the project committed to the wellbeing of its employees and the wildlife it works with? How do they present themselves, how do they communicate? What partnerships are involved? I can go on and on, but I think you understand it's not something you can skim through quickly.
In fact, realising that I had tens of paintings that all needed to support dedicated charities was pretty daunting at first. But it became a truly informative experience for me. Reading through all these projects taught me so much, I couldn't believe it! I learnt that some conservation issues are vastly more complex than I thought; It's not only poaching and climate change that threatens wildlife. Culturally rooted conservation issues, corrupt governments, private land disputes and agriculture development conflicts influence today's natural world in ways beyond what I imagined.
Eventually, when you read through so many stories and conservation strategies, you start to see a pattern on how most projects try to achieve their goals. You become more aware of what could work and what might not. Because reading 'educates', the act of selecting projects becomes more instinctive after awhile. I wouldn't say there is 'one standard selection procedure' I follow, it's more organic than that. For example, I sometimes link projects to artworks that don't have a 1:1 relationship with the art subject. I allow myself some flexibility when the project feels appropriate regardless of the focus or the geographical scope. It also happened once that I could tick all boxes on a project and identify it as being 'good', but I couldn't morally justify it, so I didn't select it.
I'd say the two biggest things I pay attention to are passion and vision. Passion includes the people that are behind the project and how much their passion is driving the charity organisation. Vision includes how well the organisation is translating passion and goals into a workable strategy.
A major pitfall in assessing a project in my opinion is their website, because having a fancy website does not necessarily mean the project is good and having a poorly built website does not necessarily mean a project is bad. Websites are very important communication tools that projects can use to raise awareness, extend their international reach & public engagement. However, projects do not always have the resources to build a fancy online presence.
Today, having a social media presence is virtually a no-brainer, or at least that's what society expects from us. Never has there been so much pressure to get noticed, to portray yourself and your project in the best possible way. And while I do understand the advantages of that, we shouldn't judge a project merely by its online presence or the lack thereof. As a visitor, I learnt to see beyond the initial drawback you might experience when you open a poorly built website. The downside is that assessing a project becomes more difficult because it takes much more time when information is poorly available. But sometimes doing an extra effort really pays off!
My recommendation for people who are looking to support projects: don't instantly judge based on the project website, but really take some time to read about the project, maybe even on third party websites. It doesn't hurt either to look up a project on a charity assessment platform like Charity Navigator. Then you might sometimes find that the project behind a poor website is actually super ambitious and effective, whilst that fancy project website you saw the other day just turned out to be a good marketing stunt!