Caesar Kleberg Keynote: The Future of Funding for Wildlife Conservation

This year’s Caesar Kleberg Keynote session explores and highlights how four entities (a research unit, a foundation, a business, and a professional society) are addressing the changing landscape to remain vibrant.

David Hewitt, Executive Director, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute

David Hewitt, the Leroy G. Denman Jr. Endowed Director of Wildlife Research, started off his talk discussing the history of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute. In 1981, the institute was founded.

“It’s a unique model as far as I know in that it’s a privately funded research organization embedded in a university,” he explained.

To run an organization like this, you need operating funding and project funding, Hewitt said. The institute is not very dependent on state dollars, he said. For project funding, most of the funding comes from private sources.

As time has gone on, budgets have been shrinking for professional organizations.

“Organizations have to be innovative and creative to remain relevant,” said moderator Fidel Hernandez. “Fortunately, society is increasingly interested in biodiversity and conservation.”

The location of the institute in southern Texas provides significant strength, he said. Right outside of Texas A&M University-Kingsville is extensive wildlife habitat known as the last great habitat.

“We do a lot of applied research,” he said. “The institute focuses on wildlife management challenges and evaluates wildlife management practices, especially unique practices by private landowners.”

Being in a small university is a benefit, Hewitt said. The Institute itself goes out and looks for support.

“We make a big effort to get our information out and engage these people we want using our information,” he said. But “I think we’re reluctant to go out and ask for help with things,” he said.

But going out and asking for help and support, giving people the opportunity to help is important in regards to funding.

Mike Phillips, Executive Director, Turner Endangered Species Fund/State Senator, District 31, Bozeman, Montana

Private lands, which are common throughout the country and tend to be unusually productive, are important for conservation, said Mike Philips, the executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund. The fund has the most successful desert bighorn sheep project of its kind in the nation’s history, has done work with red cockaded woodpeckers, black footed ferrets, and developed the only captive breeding program for Mexican wolves.

But how do they get the funding to do it?

“We have had tremendous success,” he said. “But the task has grown only more important since we began 20 years ago. We need fresher ideas, fresher than philanthropy, building out new initiatives with a differential focus on funding. One of the things to consider is to acknowledge that the world we live in is “unlike anything known to our ancestors.”

Phillips said more active invovlement in politics is important, leading to funding and can improve the prospects for all creatures deep and small.

“I know this in my bones,” he said.

Darren Miller, Incoming Vice President, Forestry Programs, National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Inc.

Darren Miller, TWS president-elect and vice president of the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement’s forestry program, talks about the sustainability of privately owned forests.

NCASI is funded by membership dues, Miller said. External experts then conduct research. Because NCASI often doesn’t have sufficient funds, state cooperative agencies and member companies step forward with additional resources, he said.

Currently, NCASI is working on projects including northern spotted owls and barred owls, pacific martens and fishers, herbicides and biodiversity on working forests and more.

“We find that intersection of providing forest products and providing ecosystem services for society,” Miller said.

Some suggestions regarding funding? “Understand your customer and focus on their needs,” Miller said.

Also, collaboration is key, he added, including partnerships. Ask the right questions, maintain a mission for long-term issues.

“It’s important to think ahead,” he said.

Ed ThompsonChief Executive Officer, The Wildlife Society

Final speaker, CEO Ed Thompson shares his thoughts on funding the work of membership organizations. Funding the work of membership organizations is facing some challenges right now, he said.

How much do membership dues cover everything the organization does? 22 percent, Thompson said. So where does the rest of the money come from and what are the solutions? One of the important things to consider is the value proposition, Thompson said.

“We used to have a very long list of member benefits,” Thompson said. “But there were many things on that list members weren’t using. You’ve got to eliminate that stuff because it makes it harder for your members to see the really valuable benefits.”

“We build everything along three core principles: Learn. Network. Engage.” Thompson said. “How can we best deliver on that promise?”

As examples, Thompson shared how TWS built the weekly eWildlifer to keep members better informed and fixed the member directory to improve networking.

“You’ve got to make sure you’re talking to them with a steady cadence of communication,” he said. “People need to feel like they are engaged.”

And although many people may not want to hear it, Thompson said being a business is one of the most important things a membership organization can do.

“I know we’re in a very passionate community,” he said. “I know we have a lot of heart, and for some people the word business feels cold. But unless we roll up our sleeves and realize we are business, we won’t be successful in securing the funding we need to continue.”

To secure funding, Thompson suggests telling members different things they can contribute to, whether that’s The 1000, the conference, or others.

“Give people the opportunity to give to what resonates in their heart,” he said. “And give them options for how they can make their donations.”

For TWS, 48 percent of member services are funded through business relationships, Thompson said.

“Business relationships are where you can make a huge step forward,” he said.

This can include advertisers, exhibitors, sponsors and partners.

It’s not easy to set up these partnerships, Thompson said. But Thompson said following three steps can help create valuable partnerships for your organization:

  1. Connect the Dots – Listen to people tell you about their business and find natural intersections
  2. Cause Each Other no Pain – Don’t agree to do something within a partnership that doesn’t align with both organizations’ goals for the year. Otherwise, you’re asking one organization to dedicate staff and resources without any benefit to achieving its own goals.
  3. Customize – Make partnerships that work specifically with that other organization or business.

What better way to start off the morning plenary on the future of funding for wildlife conservation than to recognize members who have worked hard in the wildlife field.

The following are award winners recognized this morning:

Distinguished Service Award – Cynthia Perrine
Diversity Award – Carol Chambers
Donald H. Rusch Memorial Game Bird Research Scholarship – Kali Rush
Jim McDonough Award – Paul Johansen

Carol Chambers receiving the Diversity Award from TWS President John McDonald.