-By Mary Korkor (WSO President)-
The WSO Board of Directors spent much of 2020 exploring what it would take to make the organization more impactful and efficient and how to create a sustainable future. Our primary responsibilities and objectives? Protecting birds, providing opportunities for birders, expanding the community of citizens who are informed and concerned about birds, and becoming an organization that represents all of our diverse state, from Superior to
Sturtevant, while assuring that the Society’s future is secured for generations to come.
For its 82-year history, WSO has prided itself on operating as an all-volunteer organization. Most of our operational tasks are handled by individuals that not only acted as board members but also as organizational staff, handling finances, membership, publications, conservation advocacy and field trip. With 1,100+ members, many have cited WSO as the largest all-volunteer nonprofit in Wisconsin.
These leaders have overseen amazing accomplishments, including the creation and expansion of our 372-acre Honey Creek Nature Preserve; launching and helping fund both Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas I and II and serving as their fiduciary agent; mounting an annual schedule of well-attended and much-loved field trips; staging annual conventions that have spanned the state; and publishing a widely-respected quarterly journal and a monthly newsletter that now more-closely resembles a magazine.
There remains, however, a strong desire among both the general membership and our Board of Directors to see WSO take a larger role in advocating for bird conservation; providing educational opportunities for beginning as well as seasoned birders; strengthening our commitment to racial equity, opportunity and diversity; widening our outreach and communication to members – and nonmembers-- across this diverse state, while providing support for the organization’s committees as they work to fulfill WSO’s conservation-focused mission.
These are not small goals, and as the board struggled to recruit part-time volunteers to fill key positions in the organization, it became evident that much of what we were attempting needed full-time professional commitment. Our board looked to other successful organizations throughout the state and beyond to assess how we might change our strategy, and one fact became evident: WSO needs to look beyond our history and focus on our future.
At its Jan. 16th board meeting, WSO directors voted unanimously to hire an administrative assistant, who will assist directors and committee chairs with many of the day-to-day technical tasks of running the organization. Vice President Sunil Gopalan will oversee this position. Meanwhile, the board will conduct a “needs assessment,” which will include a review of our current Strategic Plan, which is due to be updated. From this process will emerge a detailed plan to recruit and hire the first executive director, tentatively by mid-2021.
The decision to recruit and hire staff is not one that was taken lightly or without a great deal of self-reflection and debate. The board took time and spoke with numerous consultants and similar organizations in an effort to make a sound and responsible decision. It is the hope and expectation that this approach will not only provide the necessary professional leadership needed to support and improve our current programs but will allow us to grow in membership and provide new and better volunteer opportunities across the state.
Guaranteeing that WSO has the necessary continuity and stability to achieve its essential long-term goals will assure that this organization is around for many years to come and that it will continue to be a leading steward and ambassador for Wisconsin birds and birders well into the future.
-- This is one of several timely articles in this month's Badger Birder newsletter; don't miss out on the latest birding and conservation news. Become a WSO member today! --