COVID-19 Impact on Conservation Groups

By Brodie SwisherSeptember 11, 2020

There’s no doubt the 2020 year will go down as one we won’t soon forget. It’s been a tough year. 

There’s been death, illness, job loss, fear, uncertainty and much more. 

There’s also been good things to come from the slower pace of life that we’ve rediscovered so far in 2020. Many hunters spent far more time in the woods than ever before this past spring. And unless something changes, there may be more of the same for fall deer seasons. 

But despite more time in the woods for hunters during the Coronavirus pandemic, some of our favorite conservation groups have taken quite a hit this year. It begs the question, “Will Covid-19 be the death of some conservation groups?” 

We decided to reach out and get some feedback from some of our conservation friends for a closer look at the impact COVID-19 is having on conservation groups. 

The pandemic has taken its toll on conservation groups across the country. How are they surviving?

Lindsay Thomas Jr. - QDMA

I reached out to Lindsay Thomas at QDMA for some input on the COVID-19 impact on the group, and he was quick to share that the impact has been greater than what the team initially anticipated. 

“The impact has been significant,” says Thomas. “We’re down on staff due to economic impact. We had to let people go that we needed. They were people we didn’t want to see go.”

“Like a lot of non-profits, impact on branch banquets have hurt. We had our Whitetail Weekend in March and then everything changed. Our team had to make decisions to cancel all in-person meetings for 2020, and maybe into 2021. That’s been a half million dollar hit.” 

Lindsay Thomas Jr. speaks at a QDMA event.

Unfortunately, the impact extends well beyond the fundraising side of things for conservation groups. The overall mission of these organizations has been restricted in one way or another as cancellations continued to ensue. 

“We’ve also had to cancel our hunter recruitment events like Field to Fork and new hunter training,” says Thomas. “We’re having to conduct much of our business online. We already had our Level 1 Deer Steward class online before, but we’re now having  to discover how to conduct online raffles, fundraising, and Zoom meetings for town hall meetings and grassroots volunteers. The good side of it is that it has forced us to be more innovative and build a better online presence. It has made us take a closer look at every way we operate.”

Matt Lindler - NWTF

I also reached out to Matt Lindler, Director of Conservation Communications for NWTF, for some insight on impact for one of the hunting industry’s most successful conservation groups. 

“As with many businesses and nonprofit organizations around the world, the NWTF is facing unprecedented financial challenges as a result of COVID-19,” says Lindler. “Prior to the pandemic, the NWTF was on track to complete the fiscal year at or ahead of budget. Fundraising was up. Membership was up. We had a record-breaking Convention and Sport Show with over 57,000 attendees in Nashville in February.”

The annual NWTF Convention & Sport Show saw a record crowd one month before the pandemic took hold across the country.

“The COVID-19 virus and social-distancing restrictions hit the NWTF at the beginning of our fundraising season in March, forcing us to cancel or postpone hundreds of Hunting Heritage fundraising banquets throughout the country. This has had a devastating impact on the NWTF’s revenue stream and the ability to deliver our mission.  As of the end of June, NWTF’s revenue was down more than $12 million over our three-year average at this time of year.”

“This historic pandemic forced NWTF leadership and our board of directors, made up of 18 elected and appointed volunteers from across the country, to act thoughtfully and swiftly to cut operational expenses to ensure the viability of the organization and the continuation of our mission. Part of this decision was to lay off 51 employees spanning nearly every arm of the organization and to cut operational costs by 25-percent. Internal austerity measures include streamlining operations based on current conditions, reducing the salaries of remaining staff and changes in benefits. The loss of so many talented and loyal employees was heartwrenching, and we continue to pray for them and their families.”

RMEF

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) has met the challenge faced by the pandemic in 2020, and keeps on kicking as they have formed new ways to keep conservation moving forward despite the current struggle. 

A report from the RMEF website shares the latest…

2020 has been one for the record books thus far! It seems that nothing can escape the grasps of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges that accompany it. Plans are as good as no plans at all, as things change daily. Challenges and speed bumps have appeared at every corner along the way. However, with the bright minds within the RMEF, these challenges have also created new ideas and tools. These tools will not only allow us to stay the course in 2020, but propel us into the future. The RMEF online auction system is one of these tools.

The RMEF keeps on trucking despite all the uncertainties 2020 has delivered.

Big Game Banquets are our bread and butter for fundraising, so we had to scramble to come up with new ideas when large gatherings were no longer possible. In very short order, our outstanding IT team created an entire online auction system from scratch. Staffers were able to build it to sync with our event management system, which houses all of our event data. When it was ready, field staff from all over the country picked up the idea and ran with it. As of July 10, we have held more than 40 online auctions, raising greater than $360,000 net, while maintaining a 55 percent net to gross.

Our online auctions can be found at auctions.rmef.org, and similar to our banquets, no one online auction is alike. The creativity of each and every RMEF regional director is alive and well within each auction.

How Can Hunters Help?

How can hunters help during these challenging days? 

Be sure to get signed up. If you’re not a member, now’s the time to join. If your membership has expired, be sure to renew. 

Help spread the word about online meetings, raffles and fundraisers through social media.  Be sure to follow the journey of conservation organizations through social media. Like and share when you find content from these guys worthy of passing along. 

And finally, donate to your favorite conservation group. There’s no better time than now to give. They need our support now more than ever. 

Brodie Swisher
Brodie Swisher is a world champion game caller, outdoor writer, seminar speaker and Editor for Bowhunting.com. Brodie and his family live in the Kentucky Lake area of west Tennessee.
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