During a period of significant change at Audubon and across the country, your inspirational giving has helped bring to life a more inclusive, more innovative conservation paradigm. Protecting birds and the places they need is a collective effort. From advancing conservation strategies that span the hemisphere to launching vital organizational efforts that will make Audubon more inclusive, Elevate has helped position Audubon to meet 21st-century challenges facing birds and people.
Your contribution was a seed from which Elevate sprouted. At a critical juncture for Audubon, your investment shaped how we operate and inspired other board members to consider how they give with an eye toward local and national priorities—and how greater investment can scale to create greater impact. As a leader on the Campaign Executive Committee and Council of Co-Chairs, you connected with board leaders at the state level, and took it upon yourself to speak directly with Audubon volunteer leaders and donors about the campaign. Elevate would never have left the ground without you.
Building a better Audubon
Powered by Elevate, board investments included $1 million in FY 2021 that positioned our new chief equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDIB) officer for success. In addition to the board’s commitment, the development team has raised nearly $950,000 toward our EDIB initiatives.
Of the $1 million dedicated by the board, we have disbursed just over $650,000. The majority of these funds were used to support the organization's internal activities such as the hiring and onboarding process for our chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer, investments in human resources, and staff training. These efforts to transform Audubon's organization and culture were—and are—essential if we are to continue on our journey to become authentically inclusive and welcoming of all those who wish to be part of our conservation legacy.
For a more comprehensive overview of Audubon’s latest efforts in this area, please see the 2022 EDIB Report.
The structure of your Elevate campaign gift—part unrestricted, part investment in our future, and part support for Audubon Washington—became a model that will elevate Audubon for years to come. Furthermore, your profound engagement and support across multiple pathways, from executive and board leadership to catalyzing state leaders to Walker Fellows, is serving as a leadership model for how board members and supporters can engage.
Organizational transformation at scale requires significant time and resources. It also requires visionary leadership to look at what is and to imagine what could be—the type of leadership you’ve always demonstrated.
Maggie, thank you for your enduring support for conservation, for birds, and for Audubon. Your generosity and leadership have been instrumental in creating a new vision for Audubon, making spaces for new voices in the world of conservation, and ensuring we can all work together to protect our shared and precious planet.
Your campaign support for our Centers is powering programs around the country, with a growing focus on grassroots and community leadership.
Your gift helped to underwrite a learning lab, which helped identify strengths, best practices, infrastructure needs, and more. We are now better prepared to scale successful programs to benefit other Centers throughout the network. This work is informed by a broad-based assessment of our Centers strategy, conducted by the team of Amy Kaufman Cultural Planning, PROS Consulting, and HG & Co., that will position us to better integrate community needs with an enhanced theory of change.
The transformation efforts you've helped to drive have had several significant benefits, both locally and nationally:
- The Centers Campaign is connecting Center and State leadership while engaging development.
- Our integrated Centers strategic planning and programmatic planning has reframed the work to encompass more than facilities—we are also considering activity inside our Centers and opportunities to connect the space to people and experiences.
- We have created relationships with Center leadership and staff through methodical, intentional, and consistent engagement. Their recommendations are being incorporated into business and operational planning and in proposals for technology investments and enhancement.
The primary initiative fueling program innovation at Audubon Centers over the last three years has been the Maggie Walker Incentive Fund, which is currently in its final year of grants. The Fund has supported 17 projects across the country and garnered significant matching funds to bolster these initiatives.
Our Program Innovation Working group is assessing the funded projects to determine which are best suited for further expansion. In the coming years, we will devote resources to scale up these pilot projects, develop clear financial models and understanding of outputs and outcomes, and train staff in their implementation. In addition to your support, this work is aligned and leveraged by the $1 million National Science Foundation grant to develop a new Audubon-wide curriculum to engage 18-25 years old in STEM and Climate Science through guided nature experiences.
Future investments will advance work that is necessary for Audubon to realize the timely vision of transforming our Centers—places that are a vital entry point for so many who are touched by and become part of our work.
Maggie Walker Centers Incentive Fund
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, staff at Audubon Centers have been extremely successful at stimulating program innovation. In many ways, the pandemic has increased communities’ desire to spend time—safely—together and in nature. Our staff demonstrated outstanding flexibility and perseverance, not only in shifting activities to remote contexts, but also in facilitating modified programming that prioritized the health of our visitors while still enabling active in-person engagement.
As we encourage growth at the local level, we are also identifying and nurturing programs with scalable potential: programs that can be uniquely Audubon across the nation. However, as you know, it’s not enough to ask people to come up with good ideas for innovative offerings. In a national network like ours, it takes resources to put these plans into action. In 2021 we received nine grant proposals totaling $538,985, with an additional $577,200 of proposed match funds. Six of the proposals were accepted.
Maggie Walker Centers Incentive Fund Grantees 2021
Honoring Our Roots
Following their recent designation by the National Park Service as an Underground Railroad Trail to Freedom site, staff at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary at Francis Beidler Forest are working to build the partnerships, skills, and competency to better interpret the difficult history of the site as part of their efforts to advance equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging. With 1,000+ years of unchanged, old-growth forest surrounding the boardwalk, Beidler Forest can play a unique role in sharing this history.
Engaging Native Landowners
Over the past several years, Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center has forged partnerships with the Ponca and Winnebago Tribes to implement bird-friendly conservation practices and grow engagement with Indigenous populations. We now aim to expand these relationships to bring Plants for Birds to one of the few remaining remnants of tallgrass prairie, to assist with community projects on tribal lands, and to expand the use of Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center by first peoples.
Forging Pathways from the Classroom to Careers in Conservation
Following on the success of the Tenacious Roots teen afterschool program, Seward Park Audubon Center seeks to launch a new Elevation program that will engage an even broader swath of young people. The program will create cohorts in six schools in the Puget Sound area, empowering students to plan and execute their own conservation projects while connecting with environmental professionals as they grow their understanding of careers in conservation.
Bringing Wild Indigo to the Heart of Columbus
Grange Insurance Audubon Center is partnering with colleagues in the Great Lakes office to expand the Wild Indigo program to the Columbus community. Located within the 120-acre Scioto Audubon Metro Park, the Center is a critical resource for the surrounding community, offering access to nature, educational programming, and art exhibitions for people of all ages in the heart of downtown Columbus. Wild Indigo is a program focused on thoughtfully engaging diverse and underestimated communities in conservation issues that are relevant and impactful in their everyday lives.
Reaching Diverse Communities in the Southwest
Rio Salado Audubon Center is also partnering with colleagues in the Great Lakes office to expand the Wild Indigo program to the Phoenix community. The new Rio Salado Wild Indigo program will explore partnership and engagement opportunities in the immediate South Phoenix vicinity, where they plan to help address the barriers and lack of awareness that make natural spaces and environmental careers inaccessible to communities of color and begin to dismantle perceptions that nature, stewardship, and environmental careers are not for them.
Welcoming New Fellows
The two Audubon Centers in California—Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary and the Audubon Center at Debs Park—are teaming up to create a new Community Conservation Fellowship program. This multi-landscape and dual-center fellowship will launch two young adults’ conservation careers and provide young people in two urban centers with volunteerism and advocacy experience.
Incentive Fund Overview
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Since 2016, the Walker Fellows program has imbued Audubon with new perspectives, new talents, and new energy from tomorrow’s rising conservation leaders. The latest class of Walker Fellows is a diverse group with expertise in film, marketing, and storytelling; they are supported by an increasingly robust mentorship structure and the guidance of several program graduates who remain with Audubon in long-term positions. By creating a pipeline of well-trained, talented, early-career professionals, the Walker Fellows program represents a model for other youth and leadership development programs.
In 2021 and then again in 2022, to great success, we experimented by extending the length of the Walker Fellowship to six months. We have always encouraged Fellows to undertake substantive projects that spring from the intersection of their own skills, their passion for conservation, and Audubon’s mission to protect birds and the places they need. This longer timeframe provided Fellows with a more substantive training experience and allowed them to contribute meaningfully through these types of more time-intensive, deeper, self-driven efforts.
We also created new opportunities for mentorship and support to benefit all of Audubon’s interns, apprentices, and fellows—and each member of the latest class of Walker Fellows independently volunteered to participate. Elaine O’Sullivan, Audubon’s director of network support and education, led this initiative, which was designed to ensure that those who are new to Audubon have the guidance, training, and support structures they need to find their footing quickly, build friendships and networks within the organization, and make the most of their experience.
Walker Fellows Class of 2021
Walker Design Fellow
Bethany is a Chicago-based designer and artist. As a Walker Design Fellow, they focused on the relationship between inclusive environmentalism, art, and social justice. During their time at Audubon, they had the chance to collaborate widely with our design team and colleagues throughout Audubon, and actively participated in projects that ranged from creating science and fundraising reports, printed collateral, and Audubon store merchandise to developing graphics and Audubon store merchandise. The largest project they tackled has been shared broadly across the organization: a 125+ page field safety manual for use by the Audubon network.
Claire Del Sorbo
Walker Social Media Fellow
Claire received their Master of Arts in multi-platform journalism at Fordham University, where they studied how social media can be used for coalition building. As a Walker Social Media Fellow, Claire helped create content that entertains, educates, and shows even the most amateur naturalists how they can become dedicated advocates for birds and the places they need. They made that vision a reality through their role managing Audubon’s Instagram feed, brainstorming ideas for new social media content, and engaging with community members on various social media platforms, including Instagram and Facebook. They also helped to share their peer Fellows' stories by writing spotlight articles about them for the Audubon website.
Walker Visual Storytelling Fellow
Zakiyyah Madyun is a Cinema Production graduate who came to Audubon with the goal of combining her love for film and storytelling with her passion for environmental advocacy and education. As a Walker Visual Storytelling fellow, she harnessed her expertise to create informative, accessible, and entertaining content for Audubon’s video platforms. Among other responsibilities, Zakiyyah collaborated on creating fun and engaging video content for Audubon’s TikTok channel and provided ongoing community management on the platform.
Walker Communications Fellow
A graduate of NYU with a degree in Journalism and Environmental Studies, Gabriella Sotelo brought unique capabilities to her position as a Walker Communications Fellow. She wielded her skills to report stories that are important to birders, environmentalists, and herself. These included stories covering conservation issues affecting Latin American countries, explainers about the importance of native plants, and a series of profiles of scientists and conservationists working for Audubon throughout the hemisphere.
When Christine Lin joined Audubon in 2017 as a Walker Social Media Fellow, she didn’t know much about the organization—and Audubon didn’t know much about producing compelling video content designed for today’s online platforms. “I was encouraged to take initiative and to run with my own projects,” explains Christine. “The Fellowship helped me hone my marketing and visual production skills; it also transitioned directly into a more expansive role at Audubon.” After her Fellowship ended, she worked with her managers to determine how she might continue to sharpen her abilities and contribute to Audubon’s mission. The result was the creation of a new position within the organization: Social Media Producer.
“I was encouraged to take initiative and to run with my own projects. The Fellowship helped me hone my marketing and visual production skills; it also transitioned directly into a more expansive role at Audubon.”
It took Christine Lin only three years to transition from a Walker Communications Fellow to the co-host of Audubon’s popular web series I Saw a Bird, with guests that ranged from board members and scientists to legendary figures like Dr. Jane Goodall. Over that period, she expanded her role further and had the opportunity to mentor and manage several Walker Communications Fellows following in her footsteps. “When our class of Fellows first had the chance to meet Maggie in Utah, she told us ‘I want you to be subversive’” Christine recalls. “I took that message to heart, and I really encourage the Fellows I work with to do the same—to find their own path and to help drive Audubon forward.
Walker Fellowship Alumni
- Annie Cebulski
- Ally Chamberlin
- Bethany Chan
- Lana Cohen
- Fernando Collada
- Diego Herrera
- Zakiyyah Madyun
- Kawai Marin
- Khanh (Kay) Nguyen
- Eileen Solange Rodriguez
- Claire Del Sorbo
- Gabriella Sotelo
- Katherine Soto
Tomorrow's Leaders Shining Today
The Walker Fellows represent a best practice for engaging young people of diverse backgrounds and identities in the critical work of caring for our shared environment. By dedicating $100,000 of your EDIB support to expand the timeline of the Walker Fellows program, you created a truly transformational experience for this year's participants. Furthermore, your leadership at the board level fueled further investment from your fellow board members and others, and elevated EDIB as a key organizational priority.
Over the course of six months, Fellows were able to dive more deeply into their work, engage in more extensive and impactful projects, form relationships with peers and coworkers across Audubon, and develop skills that will serve them throughout their professional careers. They were also able to build valuable resumes; two of the class of 2021 Fellows went directly into full-time jobs afterward.
For example, in her role as Communications Fellow, Gabriella Sotelo was able to not only develop Tweets and press releases, but actually work hand-in-hand with sources to build stories from the ground up. This level of relationship building is nearly impossible in only a three-month timeframe. She learned how to deploy her journalism skills specifically within the context of a conservation nonprofit, and how to craft communications that engage supporters.
The longer time frame was hugely beneficial for Audubon, as well. It allowed us to recruit early career professionals who brought deeper experience and maturity to their roles. As a result, they were able to assume greater responsibility and demonstrate more initiative—leading projects, working with colleagues in different departments and functional areas, and helping to define and shape the fellowship position for future participants.
By engaging young people thoughtfully and providing substantive, skill-building experiences, we are helping grow a talented and diverse generation of future conservation leaders.
As board chair, you not only helped to fuel our national endeavors, but also continued to show local leadership through your support for Seward Park Audubon Center and Audubon Washington. We are grateful for your generosity—and for your willingness to leverage your own support by engaging others. As a passionate early supporter of Seward Park and the Tenacious Roots youth development program, you helped bridge opportunity gaps and forge real life conservation possibilities for hundreds of young people, inspiring new dreams. Your leadership advanced ideas into action and helped to build engagement with the broader community, inviting and encouraging others to participate, to give, and to spread the word.
This dual commitment to large-scale projects as well as investments in areas that are close to your home and to your heart represents a model for donors and board members to emulate. Several Audubon national board members have followed suit, and we are certain that others will see this as the norm for their philanthropy as well. Inspiring this type of donor engagement and cultivation has helped to evolve the culture of philanthropy at Audubon and played a meaningful role in the success of our Elevate campaign.