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National Audubon Society Board Meeting, Casper, WY 
September 14-17

 
 
Editorís Note:  We do not normally report on proceedings at the NAS Board. However, at its recent meeting, the NAS Board approved changes in the financial relationships between NAS and chapters. These changes have caused great concern in many chapters. The following report was posted to an Audubon List Serve by Marsha Cannon, a former chapter President. The report has been slightly condensed, and some items of explanation have been added.

 Unfortunately, NAS President John Flicker was unable to attend the meeting because he had recently had single bypass surgery. We received several reports that he is doing well but will be recovering for the next 3-4 weeks.

 The following report is organized by topic. It's long, but I want to share all that I learned. The opinions and interpretations of what went on at the meeting are my own.
 About 75 people attended. Board members plus a few spouses; 15-20 Chapter guests (most from Wyoming, 2 from Los Angeles, 2 from Arizona; 1 from Wisconsin); and 25 NAS staff, mostly from New York but also a few State Office directors. Board and Chapter members pay their own expenses, although meals and bus transportation were provided. Everyone was very cordial and open about information. We went on a field trips by bus to Pathfinder National Wildlife Refuge and to Soda Lake to see an abandoned oil refinery settling pond that has been turned into a wildlife refuge; and a tasty barbecue dinner hosted by Wyoming Audubon at their Garden Creek Center.

Letters to the Board
 I did not see Board members reading any of the letters on the Dues Share issue that were so carefully crafted and sent to them. I'm sorry but I believed they had been delivered. But there was no argument when Ruth Russell (co-chair of the Membership Strategy Task Force) proposed postponing dues share implementation until July 31.Chuck Bragg and Helen Engle did an outstanding job presenting the Chapter viewpoint. 

Dues Share
[Currently, Chapters receive $15 from NAS for each new member they recruit. They also receive $5.50 annually for every other Audubon member in their territory, regardless of who initially recruited the member. The proposal approved by the NAS Board will result in Chapters keeping the full first year dues for any member that they recruit. NAS will determine a net dues revenue per member taking into account all NAS recruiting costs and all Magazine production costs, and revenue from advertising, dues income and list rental. Chapters will receive the net dues revenue in the second and subsequent years for members they recruit. For members recruited in other ways, the Chapters will receive one half of the net dues per member figure for each year after the first. There are some transitional arrangements to prevent precipitous drops in income to any chapter, but the expectation is that Chapters will eventually be receiving about half of what they currently receive from NAS. NAS  expects to adopt new Chapter requirements rules which will relieve the chapters from the current obligation to send all Newsletters to all members. A vigorous debate has taken place on the NAS Chapter List Serve, and several letters signed by multiple chapters were sent to the board, mostly urging postponement of action on the proposals to allow for fuller debate and further refinement. The plan that was enacted was modified during the debate process.  Ed.] 
 The dues share issue is troubling for two reasons. First, it represents an obvious and immediate crisis for chapters, even though it is "just" a 3-year pilot program. Second, NAS has handled it poorly.
 As I sat through the NAS Board meeting, my biggest question was, "what is driving this change?" Of course, the answer is money.
 The bottom line is that 450,000 subscribers/ members are needed to maintain "Audubon" magazine advertising rates. The magazine itself generates approximately $900,000 in net revenue. But for NAS to "acquire" a magazine subscriber through direct mail (junk mail to some) costs a staggering $28.60. Simple multiplication shows that NAS is spending $5.7 MILLION to keep the magazine afloat. For many reasons, past NAS direct mail marketing has not been effective in recruiting and retaining long-term members. Our precious dues money is going to the post office and the printer rather than to Chapters.
 The situation has come to a head. And who would urge NAS to continue wasting paper and postage on ineffective magazine subscriber solicitations?
 Board members constantly refer to the $5.50 dues share as an expense that no other national organization has to pay to its local chapters. Most NAS Board members saw $1.8 million going out the door for something they don't understand, so they voted to cut the cost in half. While Board members that I spoke with personally told me they valued the Chapters and understood my concern about losing 25 percent of our Chapter's annual operating budget, the $1.8 million/$5.50 per member issue obviously outweighed my pleas.
 As Chapter leaders, we know that Chapter volunteers --officers and members -- do Audubon's grassroots work: . lead the field trips, organize monthly educational presentations, give the talks in classrooms, write letters, speak at public hearings, restore wildlife habitat, etc. We count on NAS to share member dues to support our volunteer efforts. Yet, the NAS Board spent time during their meeting actually worrying about defining grassroots!! Over the next few months or years Chapters must effectively communicate our value to NAS.
 The way that NAS has gone about announcing and implementing the dues share changes has angered Chapter leaders. I feel that NAS has taken a top-down, authoritarian, big-business approach. 
Those of us used to operating by consensus (where we eventually get to a decision that everyone can live with) feel betrayed. Chapters have no input into the membership (marketing) budget, yet our net dues share will be based on the amount remaining after all marketing expenses have been paid. The dues share issue was handled in a way exactly opposite to how the Audubon Strategic Plan was developed. Why the Board felt compelled to dictate this drastic change and impose its will on Chapters is beyond comprehension. The process has caused great harm to the organization. Can we get beyond this?
 

 I am convinced that NAS Board members value the organization (they're volunteers, too!). Fortunately, or unfortunately, Audubon is a multi-million dollar nonprofit organization ($57.6 million budget for FY00) with a well-heeled board of very intelligent but decidedly business-oriented directors. Audubon relies on its Board to provide essential links to major donors. That's not unusual.
 But Audubon is also a hybrid organization that relies on volunteers to run its Chapters. When new ideas need to be implemented, support must be built from the bottom up. How can that be accomplished?  I feel that fostering communication to build personal relationships between NAS and Chapter leaders will go a long way to restoring trust and cooperation. It will take time.
Marketing
 There has been an almost complete turnover of staff in the NAS Marketing Department (Iris Blumenthal is still there.)  I meet Alan Bayersdorfer, the new V.P. of Marketing. He comes with experience at Rodale Press, and after just 6 weeks on the job is already making progress with the $30 Fall Special. Kristen Totaro, Partnership Marketing Director, has communicated her eagerness to work with Chapters. The few Chapters that are paying attention have gotten the message: we must work hard for our dues share. On the other hand, Chapters now have a big opportunity to get involved, to communicate with NAS, and strengthen Audubon.
 Here's what we face. NAS must "acquire" 200,000 new members/subscribers each year just to keep subscriber levels at the 450,000 level needed to sustain advertising rates. Last year, 100,000 came via direct mail; it is the core tool for membership recruitment. Other sources are 50,000 via third party agents (like Publisher's Clearinghouse); 6,500 via Chapters; and the rest from gifts, ads, package inserts, etc The biggest challenge is renewals. First year retention is on par with the 40 industry average for members acquired via direct mail. After that, when NAS sends renewal notices, just 2.5 percent rejoin. However, I learned about an Alaska chapter that sent their own notices on Chapter letterhead from a local post office -- 15 percent rejoined. Yes, this is more work for chapters, but NAS has pledged their support and we must hold them to it!
 National's short-term goal is to double Chapter-generated memberships -- they're the best. In the long run, NAS is undertaking a three-part effort to revitalize Audubon: (1) mission-based (rather than magazine-based) direct mail marketing to improve response rates, lower costs and build member commitment; (2) revamp the magazine over the next two years to better implement the Audubon mission and include Chapter activities; and (3) re-tailor the Chapter certification requirements to allow flexibility for the wide array of Chapter needs.
 Throughout the meeting I heard many references to Audubon's goal of recruiting families and reaching one out of every four schoolchildren.
States and Centers
 Audubon offices have been established in 24 states. A map with state-office states shown in green was handed out -- referred to as the "Greening of America. In conversations with local Chapter leaders, I learned about the potential for friction between Chapter and the State Office. When paid staff roll into town and start making things happen, volunteer Chapter leaders have a hard time keeping up
 There was a discussion about the "Vision for Chapters," and "How to Define Grassroots." A draft "Resolution in Support of Chapters" was distributed and Dave Pardoe (Co-chair Membership Strategy Task Force) described the diversity of chapters. Amy Skillbred (regional rep from Alaska) addressed the need to define "Grassroots," asking where Chapters fit into the NAS vision and recommending that we need to go back to the Strategic Plan to ensure that Chapters fit in well.
 Other NAS Board member comments: 

 Chapters are "the wings that lift Audubon to a culture of conservation." The Strategic Plan says that field offices' major role is to help chapters build skills. 
 It's not what we say, but what we do. 
 Chapters add immense value/intellectual capital to Audubon but feel devalued.
 We do not have a philosophy gap, we have an information gap and do not know what each other is doing.
 We need to define how a grassroots organization works.
 Grassroots represent the human capital of the organization. 
 Centers vs. Chapters is a stumbling block. 
 25 percent of our members are not in chapters.
 Where we invest our money changes our relationship.

Other Issues

 Chairman of the Board Donal C. O'Brien, Jr. briefly described several big issues that NAS will be pursuing: 

 Greening of America (establishing state offices)
 $100 million capital campaign to support current campaigns 
 Membership growth 
 Essential Elements of a Chapter (certification) 
 Logo/branding (they're keeping the egret which has been just slightly revamped and it looks nice with green and gray/brown type)
 Audubon Magazine revamp

 The NAS "Resolution in Support of Chapters" was unanimously approved.
 A motion urging President Clinton to name the Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a National Monument was unanimously approved.
 I am glad to have had the opportunity to attend the NAS Board meeting and hope that these notes are of value to Chapters in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
 
Marsha Cannon, Past President/Board Member
Madison Audubon Society, Inc., Madison, WI.
cannon@mailbag.com    September 22, 2000