Ducks Unlimited has been around since 1937 and raised an estimated $115 million in support of waterfowl habitat conservation, just in 2019 alone! Like many non-profit organizations, they have struggled during COVID-19 restrictions. Thankfully, Ducks Unlimited’s employees, members, and volunteers continue to support this American company with some creative fundraising efforts. Listen to how Ducks Unlimited is continuing to support waterfowl conservation on this episode of the Main and Mulberry Podcast.
AB: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of Main and Mulberry. I’m Anna Bell and today I’m so excited to have with us the Director of Digital Marketing for Ducks Unlimited, Anthony Jones. Anthony, how are you today?
AJ: I’m great. Thanks a lot for having me, man.
AB: Absolutely. We’re excited to talk to you today. It’s pretty cool that Memphis is the headquarters for the leading voice in North America’s conservation efforts. I think that’s awesome. You know, I’d love to start by kicking things off with you telling us a little bit about Ducks Unlimited, when it was founded, and the impact it’s having on our wetlands and waterfowl today.
AJ: Sure, absolutely. So, yeah, as you mentioned, Ducks Unlimited has been headquartered here in Memphis since about 1993. We were founded in 1937 by a group of waterfowl hunters. It was during the dust bowl and it was a time where, obviously there was a lot of, a lot of problems and they saw a huge decline in the waterfowl population overall, and being the concerned sportsman that they were, they formed Ducks Unlimited. And since that time, the organization, thanks to staff and our wonderful volunteers, and conservation partners, conserve more than 14 million acres of wetland waterfowl habitat across North America. So..
AB: Wow! That’s a lot of land!
AJ: It really is. It’s conservation that obviously benefits waterfowl, but it also benefits hundreds of other species of wildlife, as well as people. So yeah, our mission has conserved habitat, obviously that’s beneficial for waterfowl, but also beneficial to hundreds of other species of wildlife, as well as people.
AB: Wow, that’s so cool. You touched on your volunteers. You guys are a nonprofit, right?
AJ: We are. We’re a 501c3 nonprofit. We have roughly 500 staff across the country and we have roughly 50,000 volunteers who put pn 4,000 fundraising events across the country every year. They’re really the heart and soul of our, of our organization and of our fundraising mission.
AB: I’m glad you touched on that because I want to know.. I know that you raise quite a bit of money, you know, for your causes. How is that going this year with the COVID-19 pandemic? I mean, have fundraising events been canceled or postponed?
AJ: Yeah. So Ducks Unlimited, just like so many other organizations right now has really taken a hit since the pandemic started. We are very seasonal. We have a huge event fundraising season in the fall and then another one in the spring. So when March kind of came around, we were really getting in high gear with about 2000 events that were lined up. And once this hit..
AB: Wow! Wait, hold on.. 2000 events in March?! Okay, that is a big number.
AJ: Well between March and May, we had about 2000 events that were scheduled and as you would imagine, those events were either postponed or canceled outright, which cost us upwards of $20 million dollars in lost revenue. So it had a big impact to our fundraising mission.
AB: Wow. Okay. So what’s the plan? Are you going to postpone these events to a later date or what.. what are you guys going to do?
AJ: Right. So a lot of that is still to be determined, obviously based on when we’re able to safely have events and that’s going to vary across the country, based on local conditions and guidance from the CDC and so forth. I’m happy to report that we are starting to add some actual live events in parts of the country, as early as this month, which is great!
AB: Great! That’s good news.
AJ: And a lot of the events that were scheduled will ultimately get probably pushed back to the fall. The picture is still pretty unclear there as to just what our fall fundraising season is going to look like. But it has been really cool to see the resiliency, and the creativeness that our staff and volunteers that come up with during the last couple of months to help make up the shortfall that we’ve had and the event system.
AB: I’d love to hear about that, if you’re willing to share, you know, what, what you guys have done to get creative during this time.
AJ: Sure. So we’ve had to move a lot of our business, from the event world, online. One of the things that people really enjoy about our events are the live auctions, where they have an opportunity to win Ducks Unlimited merchandise, that you can only win at those events.
AB: At those events! Right. Well, my husband is one of those. He likes going to the banquets and the events to try to grab him some merchandise too!
AJ: People love it. I’m right there with him! So since we couldn’t have actual events, we set up some online options, working with a third party, working with our IT system. We were able to get some online options pretty quickly. They did raise, I think, upwards of $6 million over the last couple of months. Those went extremely well. We’ve also put even more emphasis on our online fundraising program in general. Our direct mail fundraising and online fundraising actually saw an uptick over the last couple of months compared to where we were this time last year.
AB: Oh! That’s good news.
AJ: I think we were actually at 40% year over year online, compared to last year. And I think a lot of that is just, people had no other choice but to go online, no other options, you know, to go to go to events.
AB: You know, Anthony, I’m glad you’re kind of talking about this. Cause in my mind, in light of the changes and things that are happening, what have you guys done that is unique to support your member engagement. It sounds like this is one of the ways, e-commerce.. Have you been doing some Zoom meetings too? What, what are you doing to really support your member engagement right now?
AJ: Sure. So what we talked about briefly a moment ago was the fundraising aspect, which is critical to the mission, keeping the lights on and so forth, but we’ve done a lot of things to try to keep our constituents in the loop in terms of communicating where we are as an organization, the national situation that we’re in, the reason that we’re still asking them to give us support during this time. Our CEO, Adam Putnam, has done a number of video updates. We’ve posted on our website, including a Facebook live video that went out right around March 15th when things were starting to shut down and did a really good job of just kind of explaining the position DU was taking, and why we were doing the things we were doing. So I think that regular cadence from our CEO has been very helpful, but we’ve also tried to, we’ve also tried to do a lot of engaging programs through social media. We are very lucky to have a very strong social media following over 1.8 million people across all of our channels. So we’ve tried to have some fun, engaging content, some contests, content that, you know…we know people are, have been cooped up and we’re trying to get them to enjoy the outdoors. One of the, one of the byproducts of being quarantined is people are willing to get out and just want to get out of the house and do something. So we tried to encourage people to get out, go fishing, go Turkey, hunting during the season. And, we’ve had a hashtag or social media program, what we call “responsible recreation” trying to get people to send us pictures and use that hashtag and show others that they’re getting out enjoying the outdoors during this time where there’s not a lot of other options.
AB: Yeah. Oh, I mean, our family is following suit. We got the kids a fishing poll! Ordered it online, got to the door, and we went out! Spent a couple of weekends during this whole thing fishing. And so I know a lot of others are very similar to us and enjoying the outdoors while we can, instead of being all cooped up, like you said. Let’s take a second to talk about your volunteers. I know you said earlier, you’ve got thousands of volunteers and I know you guys probably rely heavily on those for your conservation work. Is that right?
AJ: Well, we rely on our volunteers for fundraising efforts. So our volunteers don’t actually go out and do on the ground habitat restoration. And that’s very technical work, where we have… working with contractors, biologists, doing that type of, you know, actually moving dirt and so forth. But our volunteers are the heart and soul of our event fundraising system. As I mentioned, putting all over 4,000 events each year, it’s phenomenal to see their drive, to see their passion for the organization. And it’s, I’ll tell you, it’s, it’s inspirational to the staff.
AB: That’s awesome. You know, I was wondering how you guys have gotten creative to help them adapt. And I’m sure several are eager to help right now with you guys.
AJ: Yeah. They’re really chomping at the bit, you know they’re working really hard trying to reschedule events that were canceled or postponed in the spring. And, there’s been a lot of volunteers and staff working together, to actually put on some virtual events over the last couple of months. So whether they were Facebook live events, in some cases, or other cases there would be an online registration fee and then you could come into a zoom meeting where we would have an auction and do some other things, you know, trying to do what we could to encourage the comradery, that people enjoy.
AB: How did those go? Did you get a good response?
AJ: We have, it’s something obviously we’ve never really done before. So we’ve been learning as we’re going. The field staff has learned a lot of really valuable lessons. So I think we’ll continue to do some virtual events, but we’re obviously very much looking forward to getting back in person hopefully sooner than later.
AB: I know it. We’re all in that boat.. sooner than later, for sure. To kind of wrap things up, Anthony, what has been some of your biggest takeaways as you’ve tried to navigate through this season?
AJ: Yeah, so I have quite a few..one has been just working remote. So I have the privilege of managing a really awesome team that’s responsible for our digital media and marketing. So by the nature of our jobs, my team in particular was able to transition to the remote world pretty easily, but I’ll tell you, I’ve been managing a team for over 15 years now. And, this was the first time I ever managed anything remotely. So like, day one at home, it was like, “Oh crap, how do we, how do we do this?”
AB: I know it!
AJ: And, and how do we make sure we keep people, you know, communicating and on the same page and keeping projects moving forward and thank goodness for Zoom. Obviously we had countless, countless zoom calls over the last couple of months. So we learned as, as a team and we also learned as an organization, that we can be a very productive, very effective working remotely, even other teams that maybe may not be in the digital space, they did a phenomenal job of making that transition. So that’s certainly one of the lessons that we’ve, that we’ve taken away.
AB: Yeah, absolutely. I know it, it is nice to know that if we can’t all be there together, we can still be working from home right?
AJ: Yeah, exactly.
AB: So for anyone who’s listening today, who wants to know more, who wants to get engaged and help with your cause? What can I be doing right now as they’re listening with us on this podcast?
AJ: Sure. There’s a great question. Thank you for asking. So a couple of things: one, go to our website, go to ducks.org and learn more about who we are, our mission and so forth. Follow us on social media. We’re on pretty much every network out there and engage with us there. And, and again, as, as you go to the website those who are compelled to support obviously can make an online gift. You can join for $35, receive a free gift and get a full year of member benefits. And then as we move forward into the fall, obviously, please come back to the site, check it and you’ll see local events start to pop back up in many parts of the country, and I would encourage everyone to check one of those out whenever that opportunity comes around.
AB: Yeah. Sure to be a lot of fun right? And we’ll probably appreciate them even more now that we’ve had all this time apart from one another. Right?
AJ: Absolutely. Absolutely.
AB: Well, we appreciate you, Anthony. Thank you so much for your time and your insight today.
AJ:Thank you for having me. I appreciate it
AB: Until next time. I’m Anabel sending you all well wishes.