The Future of Birding, Chapter 4: Survey Feedback Points Way Forward for WSO
One of the best decisions that WSO’s Strategic Planning Committee made early on was to invest in a subscription to Survey Monkey to help take the pulse of its membership. Not only were we thrilled by the overall response rate — 259 from among our roughly 1,100 members, far exceeding the 10-15% that most surveys hope to achieve – but we got some clear direction for our work going forward.
Indeed, the final two questions on the survey attempted to look ahead and asked our members to steer the organization’s future. No 17 asked: Looking into the near future, how important will each of the following be to you and your relationship with WSO?
When you looked at the answers turned into bar charts you found that while our members expect a lot of WSO in many different areas, two stood out in the VERY IMPORTANT ranking: “Addresses important bird conservation issues” and “Promotes scientific study of birds” (see accompanying chart). WSO’s web site, field trips, conventions and publications also rank as of significant importance to our members.
Question No. 18 then asked: For WSO to continue to be relevant, what is the critical issue or activity the organization should focus on in the years ahead? (Please list only one issue or activity.)
The most important word that occurred in those 259 responses was CONSERVATION. Sixty-three respondents, or 24%, zeroed in on that activity. But wading through those responses showed that conservation means different things to different people, e.g., pollution, cats, climate change, window strikes, tower kills, wintering habitat, migration routes, crane hunting, getting-the-lead-out of tackle and ammunition, nest-box building, invasive species. So many issues, so little time.
And then there is the question of how to address and fund the issues we choose to focus on: white papers, existing WSO publications, fostering scientific research, conventions, symposia, WBCI, WGLBBO, and Bird City Wisconsin.
So we intend to talk about all this at the convention and we also plan to use another survey in June to drill down on the conservation issue and ask our members to narrow the focus to those issues and strategies. But in the meantime, we aren’t standing still. WSO’s conservation chair, Michael John Jaeger, has been busy on multiple fronts. He has:
- Gotten out word on the Wisconsin Conservation Congress Spring Hearings and highlighted two ballot questions of particular interest to Wisconsin Birders, hunting/trapping in state parks and a test ban on lead fishing tackle in three northern lakes.
- Provided comments on DNR’s rulemaking to modify the endangered and threatened species list.
- Weighed in on the master planning process for the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area and arguing for low impact recreation and ecological restoration.
And our new scholarship and grants chair, Stephen Brick, working with his predecessor, Michael John, responded to a surge in small-grant proposals for ornithological projects by both amateur and professional ornithologists. and easily persuaded the board to more than double its budget to $6,500 to help fund 13 projects.
The other words that popped out in the final survey question were YOUTH, YOUNG PEOPLE and YOUNG MEMBERS, and that is an area that the planning committee also is attempting to focus on with new urgency, led by youth education chair Ed Hahn and Vice President Kim Kreitinger. The survey demographics themselves show that WSO needs to better serve and be more relevant to younger birders, from high school right on up through young marrieds with families with lots of competing pressures on their time and interests.
Part of that effort will involve recruiting a focus group of younger birders to join the strategic planning committee for some birding, brats and discussion at WSO’s Honey Creek property in the Baraboo Hills on July 20. Andy Paulios, Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative coordinator, has agreed to facilitate the event.
WSO also helped fund the Wisconsin Bird Education Summit as part of the 2013 WBCI Annual Meeting. There was high interest among partners on all three summit tracks: diversity, citizen science and festivals. A number of Bird Cities turned out and were heavily engaged in discussions on how WBCI can help the Bird Cities engage their audiences through festivals, IMBD events, and citizen science efforts.
The responses we got throughout the survey (and in the one we offered to non-WSO-members) already have spurred upgrades to WSO’s web site and launched WSO into the world of social media (you can and should Like Us On Facebook now). We have established communications and web teams, thanks to Rebecca Setzer and Paul Jakoubek, and you can see the results of their efforts on Facebook, our expanded http://www.wsobirds.org web site, in our eAlerts, and on Wisbirdn and the Wisconsin Birding Network. And all of these efforts happily work for members of all ages, as evidenced by the growing number of members who take the eBadger-Birder.
Finally, there was a strong thread through the survey responses that WSO needs to do more to assist and link up local birding clubs and related groups throughout the state, so efforts to be useful without playing Bigfoot are underway there as well.
So, in conclusion (and to show we are listening to both the praise and criticism), here are some of the survey responses the planners found particularly salient:
- WSO seems to be an organization of individuals that is of greatest service to highly involved Wisconsin birding professionals and/or experts. You don’t seem to work so hard at nurturing birders who are amateurs but wanting to know more. Organization growth perhaps could evolve by working to nurture those people. One way of doing this could be to strengthen your relationship with the numerous local bird clubs that exist in the State. Focusing on those local clubs, many of which are made up of amateurs who don’t feel worthy of being part of your Statewide organization, would go far toward strengthening participation and involvement in WSO…. It may help WSO if you provided a way for local bird clubs to be recognized within WSO and more directly involved…. You potentially could be linked to all of the local members via your electronic communications capabilities.
- A focus on young birders is vital to the future of WSO. We need more young blood. Young people have energy and ambition, and they will be what keep the organization moving, both literally and ideologically. A WI Young Birders Organization, similar to that in NY or OH, may go a long way to provide youngsters with a pathway to becoming active members in the organization. It’s not necessary that WSO lead such a project, but it definitely has the know-how and human resources to do such a thing.
- Reach out to beginning birders/ drop the Premier birding organization it screams “bird snob”.
- Get members involved on the board and committees especially “young” birders who will be around for another 20-40 years.
- WSO needs to continue to promote all aspects of electronic birding. It’s the fastest way information gets from birder to birder. It helps educate birders to better understand all aspects of birding here in Wisconsin. It helps promote the where, what, and when of birds found here. When birders have a better understanding of all that, it becomes more educational for them and easier for them to help promote birding to others.
- I would encourage creating a Wisconsin Young Birders Club, we already have a Facebook Page, but I think the WSO could do more to actively engage the young birders in the state.
This is the last of four reports on the survey leading up to the annual WSO convention in Ashland May 23-26, where it will be discussed at the business meeting. You can read the earlier chapters and take a look at the complete survey at this link.