The year 2009 was an unusually challenging one for MCLUS. The unexpected loss this past September of MCLUS’ co-founder, Rachel Crandell, has brought unexpected change and required more of all of us. Rachel and her husband Dwight (deceased in 2008) were both highly inspirational people whom we all miss greatly. MCLUS Board members recognize that the best way to honor their memory is to continue their conservation work with the same dedication, integrity and enthusiasm which they abundantly expressed.
Upon Rachel’s passing MCLUS Board members acted decisively to fill the many jobs which Rachel did efficiently and generously. The Board members, and dedicated volunteers, realized the importance of continuity. It is essential that donors have continued confidence in MCLUS’ ability to fulfill its mission.
With both the co-founders of MCLUS now gone, there is an urgent need to restructure and transition immediately from a founder based organization to one which operates with paid staff. MCLUS was exceptionally fortunate in that from its inception in April 2002 almost every expense incurred was donated, back to the organization. However, Rachel realized that this unique situation didn’t show the true cost of doing business as a non-profit. Also, as Rachel reported last year, MCLUS was too large for one person to handle. She intended to hire one or two people to assist her in the work. Her 2008 report mentions these needed changes if MCLUS was to continue.
In October 2009 a part time administrative assistant was hired to handle all correspondence, donations and other essential tasks. On January 18, 2010, I began as Interim Executive Director to transition MCLUS to a sustainable organization, meeting its’ mission and goals and assuring that core projects are moving forward. Our Board President, Jane Oliver, has provided us with office space and a phone at her business. Our monthly e-newsletter continues to reach approximately 2,900 people. The fall annual appeal letter was sent to over 2,000 people. With the dedicated efforts of new MCLUS Board member, Maggie Eisenberger, two eco-tourism trips are will again be offered to bring visitors to the BEN. A two week June trip, led by Maggie, is almost full. The Fox River Country Day School will return for another year to introduce students to the cloud forest.
In addition, a donor recently gave funds to create the “Rachel Crandell Ambassador Scholarship” program. This allows students at The Principia School to participate in an essay writing contest and the winner will join the June trip. Also, MCLUS Board members support local fund raising efforts by students and attend local festivals and give presentations.
Despite all of MCLUS’ strong steps of progress I regretfully report that 2009 was the first time in its eight year history that MLCUS donations declined from the previous year. In 2007 the LLPC saw an increase of 50% over 2006. In 2008 the LLPC brought in $246,000, or a 40% increase from 2007. In 2009 MCLUS saw a 24% decrease in donations to the LLPC. This decline mirrors a nationwide trend in the U.S. for 2009. The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University reported (Aug 3, 2009) the results of a nationwide study which showed a 29% decrease in charitable giving from one year prior. Donors are still recovering from economic troubles – the worst in 75 years. Nationwide charitable giving continued fairly to be strong until the last quarter of 2008, and fell off in 2009 when people felt the impact of their severe financial losses. This decline could be expected “given that [in 2008] endowments fell by as much as 40 percent, the stock market declined by a similar margin, corporations posted unheard-of losses and unemployment was rising at a fast clip.” (see NY Times 6/2/09).
As Rachel reported at last years meeting, “I cannot promise that next year will be as big as last year, or even half as big. Many of our donors have investments that have dropped by half. When you lose half of your savings, you become more cautious about giving so much away….I can tell you that MCLUS income is already less. I am afraid we will have less money to send you this year. I wish it were not true, but in the light of the global economic depression, we all must find ways to be more efficient, more economic, work harder and longer for less, or we will not make it through. It is a time of belt-tightening for everyone.” Her words have been proven true.
Part of our work in 2010 is to create new relationships with donors and deepen existing ones. We must also think creatively about new ways to raise funds, as well as refine what has worked well in the past. We must be economical with our funds so that we can continue to protect and expand the BEN.
On the positive side, we continued to have the strong support of our Board member Dr. Tom Newmark. He has, again, given generously of his company’s resources to raise funds for the BEN. Corporate donations, which he inspired, contributed to over 28% of the LLPC and Land Only Funds. Without Dr. Newmark’s consistent support, our income in 2009 would be have been much smaller.
We do have other good news:
• MCLUS received a large one-time gift from Bob and Margie Howe. In recognition of this gift, MCL honored the Howes at a lunch in November 2009.
• In collaboration with other conservation organizations in the Monteverde Zone, MCLUS was awarded a $22,000 3/1 matching grant by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to continue to buy deforested land and replant it, providing restoration of needed habitat. We are hopeful that this grant program will continue in future years.
• Across the U.S., school children continue to raise funds for the BEN. We received some funds from the sale of Rachel’s book The Forever Forest: Kids Save a Tropical Treasure book. MCLUS has given copies for free to MCL to sell at Bajo del Tigre for 100% profit on every book sold. We hope this can continue and are working out arrangements with the executor of Rachel’s estate.
• We will continue to give MCL postcards for free to sell in local gift stores and at Bajo del Tigre for 100% profit to MCL. These postcards, photographed by Dale Morris, share the beauty of the BEN with visitors.
Transparency and Accountability Procedures:
At last year’s assembly Rachel addressed the important issue of transparency, as well as accountability for funds given to MCL. She reported that in 2008, the MCLUS Board had asked her to develop a system of transparency between our two organizations. She wrote in last year’s report, “My friendship with the executive directors ever since 1989, with board members and staff members has been the basis of the trust that we have always had. But I will not always be here. The MCLUS board does not know you all individually. They want our work to be able to continue when I am no longer involved in this work.” The necessary paperwork steps were outlined in last year’s report and will continue to be what is required for the transfer of funds. This paperwork trail is a protection to our donors and to us as an organization under the rules of the U.S. tax service. This systematic, organized way of transferring funds and tracking donations will benefit MCL, as it makes donors confident of its integrity.
Simply put, MCLUS is accountable to its donors. In order to attract more funds we must be able to show that all monies sent to MCL are used for their intended purpose.
We are grateful for, and appreciate the dedicated and successful efforts by MCL Board and Staff members in 2009 to repay the $94,000 to the Land Only Fund. It was a remarkable achievement and shows the integrity and strength of MCL. This allows us to move forward and confidently tell donors that their funds will be carefully used for their intended purpose.
Land Purchase and Protection Campaign (LLPC):
In order to raise more funds, we must be able to show donors that there is a strategic plan to identify and purchase land for the BEN. We are delighted that Pipe Cruz’s 252 hectare farm purchase process has begun and that MCLUS can support the purchase of this prime piece of land. From her many years of collaboration with MCL, Rachel knew the overall strategic plan for land purchase. Now I must fully understand these priority purchases so I can communicate their importance to our Board and donors.
Most donors give money because they want the BEN to expand to increase wildlife habitat. The LLPC is central to our fund raising efforts. We also understand the requirements of MCL to provide adequate protection and cover administrative and operational costs. We will be looking at the entire picture carefully this year. Going forward we want to clearly understand how we can best support MCL’s priorities and goals.
The MCLUS Board is confident that it will make the transition from a founder based non-profit to a sustainable organization, with paid staff, that continues to support MCL’s important work for the BEN. However, because Rachel worked tirelessly and primarily alone after Dwight’s passing, there is much to learn about the internal workings of MCLUS. Equally there is much to learn about MCL. In the interests of unity and understanding, we must allow people to put together all of the pieces, while still moving forward with our shared goals. MCLUS will continue to clarify its goals and create strategies so that we can fulfill our mission to “support, protect, and expand the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest.”
Looking ahead, quoting the words with which Rachel closed her report last year, “we will continue to work together, as partners, for the good of the BEN.”