Greetings Fellow Conservationists! In our Fall 2019 newsletter, I filled you in on some changes happening inside the UW organization, and I’d like to add more detail here. But first, I’d like to share some recent progress at UW.
We had a great strategic planning meeting at the end of October – you can find our latest plan at https://umpquawatersheds.org/who-we-are/strategic-plan/. I would urge you all to check that plan out – we encourage feedback on our goals and priorities.
Our planning discussions and feedback from our members have led us to address an ongoing issue at UW, i.e., our inefficiency in notifying members when their memberships are due and our sometimes haphazard tracking of larger donations. I am excited to let you know that we have just subscribed to a web service (Bloomerang: https://bloomerang.com) to help us with fundraising, donor tracking and communicating with members. This will make it easier for you to stay up to date on our activities and to support us as you are able.
The transition to our new accounting software is going well as we streamline our books and get up to speed on report generation. Mark Eason (Treasurer), Melanie MacKinnon (Office Manager), and Diana Larson (Bookkeeper) are putting in long hours to organize accounts and integrate our bookkeeping system into Bloomerang. This is helping to build the organizational framework for creating our budget for 2020, and will provide for much better accounting transparency.
Back to the organizational changes I mentioned up front: In addition to the new board members I introduced in our last newsletter, you’ll notice some other former board members who are no longer on the list. This includes the members of the Douglas County Parks Advisory Resource Committee (DCPARC). After Busenbark Park was clearcut, several outraged citizens came together and forme
d DCPARC to advocate for county parks and to stand up to their abuse by our county commissioners. Given that they were focused on publicly owned natural resources, it seemed logical for UW to pull them in under our non-profit umbrella and give them a physical home, and 2+ years ago, that is exactly what we did.
Three of their main organizers became board members and DCPARC became a committee under our conservation program. The DCPARC folks immediately pitched in to help work on the building and outreach projects for UW while keeping a separate Facebook page. For the first couple of years, DCPARC remained a separate, semi-autonomous committee raising their own funds and managing their own public events and activities.
But it eventually became clear that DCPARC had a different focus and strategies that weren’t always compatible with all of UW’s core missions and organizational culture. For example, both organizations have a FB page, but when DCPARC became a UW committee, entries to BOTH pages needed to be vetted by the UW board. This proved to be too cumbersome to DCPARC who wanted more authority to post what they wanted when they wanted. This desire for independence is understandable, but not compatible with cohesive and unified organizational structure where the left hand needs to know what the right hand is doing.
Or to paraphrase a long-time UW member and supporter, “Some folks are playing bluegrass and some are
playing jazz. It’s all good music, but not when they are both on the same bandstand at the same time.” When the dissonance became too great, we all realized that our experiment had not worked out the way we had all hoped, and DCPARC decided to go back out on their own. UW will continue to collaborate with and support DCPARC when both of our missions are aligned.
Another hurdle that UW must clear in the coming year is the loss of Paddy Quinn as our volunteer Conservation Director. After 10 years of hard work and perseverance, Paddy is retiring from that job. We all can’t say enough about the incredible work he has done over the years driving to meetings, going on field trips with agency, industry and government officials, writing comments, protests and appeals, working with our regional allies, and the myriad other chores that come with the job. And all this without a dime of compensation. He is a true hero of the Umpqua, and we all owe him a great debt of gratitude.
Paddy’s retirement means UW will be without a Conservation Director for some time while we find ways to pick up his duties. The strategic plan I mentioned above puts funding for a paid Conservation Director as our highest priority beyond our current paid staff (Office Manager and AmeriCorps member). Although Paddy was willing to put in the long hours and travel time as a volunteer, it is unreasonable to expect another volunteer to step into that highly skilled position.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to fund ongoing positions with “capacity” grants. Most funders want to give one-time grants to get specific projects off the ground then move on, and we have had a lot of success with those. Our sister organizations in Portland, Eugene and Ashland have a large enough base of donors to be able to fund their directors from their big-city events and huge member lists. Unfortunately, small-town conservation organizations like ours (especially in areas where resource extraction industries dominate the economy) have to rely more on dedicated volunteers. We have been fortunate to have Paddy’s skills and passion for free for the last decade, but we can’t expect to be so lucky going forward.
So how can solve this problem? We will continue to look to our members and major donors for funding, and fine-tune our traditional fund-raising events such as the Banquet and Brew Fest to raise more money in our community to support this critical position. But history and circumstance suggests that will be a heavy lift.
That’s why we are looking at non-traditional funding streams including creating a fee-for-service ecotourism/edutourism initiative. We have the experience and skills to do this within our organization, and we certainly have spectacular landscapes to show off to travelers from around the world. Therefore, we will be soliciting funding for a van(s) or small bus to modify into a comfortable, efficient and fun platform for “glamping”-style adventures. This model has been successfully used by other conservation organizations, and we think that this approach has great potential. As the old proverb goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” We’ll just be asking funders and local supporters for a pole, some line, and a couple of hooks.
The UW board is engaged, excited and confident that 2020 will be our best year ever. We really feel that we now have the technical tools, organizational structure, and group cohesion to take UW to the next level. Stay tuned as we celebrate our 25th year of protecting the best and restoring the rest!
Ken Carloni, President of Umpqua Watersheds