Local group saves African elephants | AspenTimes.com

Local group saves African elephants

Members of the tuareg band Tinariwen play Thursday night at the Wheeler Opera House, which Friends of Africa International helped to host. (Courtesy Georgia Hanson)

ASPEN ” Although located deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, one of Aspen’s more unique nonprofit organizations measures its success one elephant at a time.

Friends of Africa International was founded 18 years ago by a handful of Aspen-area residents who were inspired by personal travels to the continent or simply motivated by what they had learned about its unique wildlife.

“We’re still a small group. I wouldn’t say we’ve grown very much or shrunk very much,” said Jim True, president of the organization’s board of directors.

The nonprofit has played a limited but successful role since 1989 in directing tax-deductible contributions from U.S. donors to conservation groups with a proven record in Africa.

“We’ve done some good things over the years,” True said. “All of our work with Save the Elephants has been one of our biggest achievements.”

Save the Elephants is led by world-renowned conservationist Iain Douglas-Hamilton in Nairobi, Kenya. The Aspen group’s funding has helped Save the Elephants buy radio collars that allow Douglas-Hamilton’s researchers track the migration routes of bulls in endangered herds. The information helps with education efforts designed to reduce human conflicts with the grand beasts.

In 2001, members of the Aspen group purchased heavy, bulky radio collars from Canada, had them shipped to Aspen, then carried them in their luggage for delivery to Africa.

Friends of Africa International also funnels funds to The Bill Woodley Mount Kenya Trust and African Conservation Foundation.

All three organizations concentrate in various ways on preserving Africa’s wildlife or its human culture, True said. Friends of Africa picked the three because they are so effective at spending funds on their causes rather than on administration, he said.

Because of its nature, Friends of Africa International has a somewhat different kind of balance sheet. The Aspen organization doesn’t have a paid staff. It relies on volunteer labor for its educational efforts and fundraising. Its actual expenses are minimal ” only $2,231 in 2005. However, the donations it collects that are passed on as grants to organizations like Save the Elephants are listed as “expenses,” True noted.

A form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service for 2005 (the latest year available) shows the organization collected $41,576 in revenues in 2005. It had expenses of $199,322, which included a grant to Save the Elephants for $193,800.

Although the deficit was $157,746, Friends of Africa International had net assets of $183,813 going into the year. Many of those funds in reserve were earmarked for Save the Elephants, True said.

Heading into 2006, Friends of Africa had net assets of $26,067.

True said the bulk of the contributions that Friends of Africa International collects is for specific purposes or programs. The funds are paid to Friends of Africa International for delivery to the organization it assists, usually for tax reasons.

Save the Elephants and Mount Kenya Trust are not United States 501(c)(3) organizations, but funds from contributors are tax deductible when routed through Friends of Africa International because it is a 501(c)(3), True said.

Friends of Africa must satisfy the federal government regulations that the organizations to which it gives grants are legitimate and that they spend the funds on the listed causes.

True said Friends of Africa International is always interested in raising more funds for the causes it supports, but its budgets likely will remain the same for as long as it is structured the current way ” relying on volunteer efforts.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.

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