It’s About Community

Puddles staying up after his bedtime to view an April meteor shower.

Just like at your refuge, all the public facilities at Ottawa NWR in Ohio closed in response to COVID-19. Ultimately, the Biggest Week in American Birding, which attracts more than 90,000 visitors to the refuge and other lands along the shore of Lake Erie, had to be canceled. It was a blow to the local community and to the Friends because spring and early summer are the busiest times at the refuge.

The visitor center and the Friends store are the heart of the Ottawa NWR. That’s where the Friends of Ottawa’s staff and volunteers connect with members of the community. The Friends didn’t want to lose that connection, so they went about replicating the sense of community online. Aimee Arent, Executive Director of the Friends, shared what they’ve done, what has resulted, and how people have reacted.

First, they began expanding email communication to let folks know what’s happening on the refuge and to share refuge photos. Using creative subject lines like, “It might be worth staying up past your bedtime!” they saw email open rates jump from 25% to 45-50%. They also heard from a state health care official, dealing with COVID-19, who told them that their messages were a “desperately needed breath of fresh air.”

Next, they have been calling members,volunteers and donors to see how they are doing—and letting people know that the Friends care about them. Although callers haven’t solicited donations, many of those who were called renewed their memberships early or upgraded to a higher giving level.

Finally, Ottawa Friends began increasing Facebook activity, even adding an easy-to-join Photography Club subgroup. Results were again positive. Their followers increased by more than 300, and they were especially pleased when one member, who had declared that she would never use Facebook, became an enthusiastic member of the Photo Club group.

Putting the community first has strengthened the Friends’ ties to its members, volunteers, and donors—for now and into the future.

To see what other Friends organizations are doing during the time of COVID-19 sign up for the next issue of The Link, a quarterly newsletter from NWRA & CORFA. https://www.refugeassociation.org/friends

COVID-19 Resources

We’ve started a list of resources to help navigate through the changes brought on by the coronavirus. Send us your favorite sites or post them in our Facebook Group and we’ll add them to the list.

OFFICIAL SITES

NONPROFITS

QUARANTAINMENT

Covid-19 and Friends

As concerns about COVID-19 continue to escalate, we as members of the Friends community supporting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sites need to think about how we can protect our health and well-being as well as that of volunteers, staff, visitors, and members of our organizations. Our lives and communities are changing so quickly that it’s difficult to know how to proceed, so we would like to start a dialogue and provide some resources.

First, it’s important for us to follow the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and our state and local health departments. Please check these sites regularly for guidance and updates.

Remember that, as nonprofits, we have a legal ‘duty of care.’ For those not familiar with this concept, it means your board has the responsibility to act in a reasonable and prudent manner when making decisions. Following the guidance of the CDC and your health departments would constitute a reasonable standard of care as you decide whether to move forward, postpone, or cancel your activities and programs. Of course, as your board works on making reasonable decisions, it’s vital to communicate with refuge staff.

Stay in touch with your members and volunteers and inform them of board decisions. Let them know what is happening and if there are ways they can help. Phone calls may be especially effective ways to keep in touch with key members as well as those without email. Don’t know where to start with a written message? Here’s a letter from the Friends of the Wichitas that may offer ideas you can use.

If your board can’t get together to make these decisions, then try a teleconference or virtual meeting. If this would be something new for your group, then check out Jonathan Poisner’s recent post in the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates (CORFA) Facebook group for tips about conducting successful “virtual” meetings.

CORFA’s Facebook group is a place for Friends to share ideas and stay in touch. If you’re not a member, you are welcome to join! Besides offering postings on subjects important to Friends and advocates nationwide, every Wednesday the site features a posting, by Linda Kilgore, with information about webinars that can help you build a stronger organization. Some of these webinars cover subjects related to COVID-19; for example, legal and insurance issues and guidelines for conducting remote meetings.

Or perhaps your group is one of the many cancelling, postponing, or altering the format of an outreach or fundraising event. If so, you may want to take advantage of a free or low-cost webinar offered by one of the consulting groups supporting nonprofits to weather the current situation. Check the CORFA page for options.

This is a time for us to be creative as we continue to work on supporting our organizations, refuges, and communities, and the CORFA Facebook group is a place for us to brainstorm and share resources. Please check the site regularly for new ideas and resources.

Stay healthy and let’s stay connected!

Regards,
Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates

Photo credit: Greg Kramos/USFWS