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