When the weather turns cold, plants stop growing, and the birds go south, I , like most temperate biologists, go inside to labor over paperwork and office tasks. We work on reports to agencies, type our field data into complicated spreadsheets, apply for grants so we can continue to spend our summers outside, and write up our work so that other people can learn from it.
As the manager of the Oklahoma Natural Areas Registry, I also spend time connecting with landowner members. I like to send out a holiday letter, but when I do this, I am always confronted with troublesome mail. The growing stack of returned envelopes is like a gloomy cloud hanging over me because it represents the disconnection I have with my program members. Yes, some times it is a simple fix – the address was typed wrong when I updated it, or they recently modernized the rural route addresses – and a quick phone call will clear up the problem. However, I feel that it indicates that many of the program members are detached from their membership in this land conservation program.
So what do you do to make people feel included, part of something bigger? Give them a bumpersticker touting their membership? A thank-you magnet for their fridge? Those seem like simple, but half-hearted gestures. After a little
daydreaming deep thinking and budget consultation, I decided to organize educational field trips for our members. Not only will members be able to learn about protecting natural diversity on their land, they will also get to meet other members – to make a connection to other landowners who are also voluntarily protecting rare species. I am still in the planning stages now, but the field trips will likely happen in the spring. In my Thanksgiving letter I asked for opinions on topics of interest. One landowner already called to offer their natural area as a destination!
But before the next mailing goes out to announce the spring trips, I need to make some calls and do some white page searches to clear up this misfortunate mail!