A Special NWF Thank You to Donors at ThanksgivingAs an employee of the National Wildlife Federation, I recognize that my work depends largely on the kindness of strangers. Nonprofit organizations like NWF rely for survival on donations, and roughly 75 percent of the money donated to nonprofits yearly comes from individuals.
I picture these NWF supporters as dedicated to protecting the natural world and to curbing the ecologically reckless excesses of human society. I imagine some of these benefactors living on limited fixed incomes but nevertheless determined to share their money with the cause of conservation. I think of such people every time my work requires me to spend NWF funds.
Until recently, I never had a chance to thank these contributors personally for their support. But this year, as Thanksgiving approaches, NWF offered staff the opportunity to phone individual donors directly and show our appreciation for their generosity.
Saying Thank You
As part of this process I phoned 30 people. Most of my contact with these folks came in the form of their answering machines, but the individuals with whom I actually talked seemed surprised that NWF would take the time to thank donors personally. From my perspective, I would suggest that it is a pity we can contact only a small fraction of the thousands of people who make the Federation’s work possible.
I talked with other staff who also made calls. Pat Raitt, NWF associate vice-president for development, said he was impressed with the enthusiasm he encountered when he reached donors. “One said, ‘Well, just so you know, we’re sending in a check this year, too,’” Raitt recalls. Another told him that she made NWF the beneficiary on her life insurance and “wanted to be sure we know it.”
Mark Wexler, editor of National Wildlife magazine, found that donors appreciated the calls. One told him that she gives to a number of groups, but NWF was the first to make a thank-you call. Another said, “It’s nice to get a call like this, where there is no motive other than to say thank you.”
Staff also enjoyed the nature of these calls. Garrit Voggesser, director of tribal lands in NWF’s Boulder, Colorado, office, said he was pleased with the opportunity to reach donors and supporters this way. “The holidays make a good time to pause in our work and thank these people for helping us get that work done,” he says.
One of the most moving calls was made by Diana Kalaly, an NWF executive assistant who is Hungarian by birth, when she reached a donor who is a 103-year-old doctor with a Hungarian surname. “After my quick thank you,” Diana told me, “he said: ‘This is wonderful, if you are just calling to say thank you. But if you are calling for more money, I usually wait until the second half of December to see how much money I have left after the holidays.’ I quickly reassured him that I was just calling to say thank you. He thanked me for pronouncing his name correctly, and guess what? It turns out he is Hungarian. From there we had a great conversation in Hungarian, and he said he thought it was very important to protect wildlife and he thanked me for the call. What are the odds of this happening?”
I found that the calls helped me to get a better understanding of our donors and of their commitment to the NWF cause. Some radiated a personality that gave you a sense of why they were NWF partners. My favorite was a South Carolinian who declared via answering machine, “I’m out looking for the sun. I’ll get back to you if I find it.”
To the extent that the sun is a metaphor for better days, you might say that all of us who work for or support NWF are seeking a brighter future for wildlife, people and the planet. Consequently, the Federation observes Thanksgiving this year as a special moment in which staff can say thanks to all our partners in conservation for enabling our search for sunlight.
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