2018 Year in Review: Ed Clark, President

It’s time to look back on 2018! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2018 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

Well, I have done it again; I have procrastinated in preparing my year-end blog post, with my memories of 2018.  Now that the holiday frenzy is almost over, I am sitting down to complete my assignment – my year-end blog post.  However, as is often the case, I may not exactly follow the instructions I was given.  Instead of looking back at 2018, I want to look forward.

Yes, 2018 was a very good year for the Wildlife Center, in a number of ways, in spite of the damaging ice storm and several other challenges with which we had to deal over the last 12 months.  But rather than simply recap what happened in the past, I want to mention just a few things that happened in 2018 that will set the stage for the coming year and beyond.    

As others have stated, we were again busy saving wildlife, healing the injured, and rearing the orphans.  Unfortunately, we were again confronted with the problems created by the amount of toxic lead getting into the food-chain of Bald Eagles and other scavengers and predators.  However, in 2018, we created some compelling new educational resources that seem to be making a difference.  More and more hunters are becoming aware that their lead ammo is causing a serious problem; more are making the switch to non-lead alternatives.   State wildlife agencies across the country are steadily joining the discussion and sharing information with sportsmen in their respective regions.  It is too soon to predict an end to this problem, but we see progress.

The number of Black Bears in our region becoming infected with sarcoptic mange continues to grow, with more and more bears being reported with extensive hair loss and disability related to this insidious skin parasite.  Our research and clinical study of the disease, and especially our development of a new treatment protocol, has shown wonderful promise.  By the end of 2019, we hope we will be able to provide new insights and tools for slowing or eliminating this threat to one of our most iconic wildlife species.   

Within the last month, we were overwhelmed when a very generous couple approached the Center and offered to fund all of the special expenses related the Black Bear mange project, including the cost of laboratory services, special medications, staff time and other related costs.   They love bears and they have stepped up to make a difference.  We can now continue this work, secure in the knowledge that it is paid for, in advance!  You cannot imagine how this has bolstered our confidence and enthusiasm for the work.

While it is always the most fun to talk about our work saving wildlife, my responsibilities include the part of the Center’s operations that are not always so glamorous, or so easy to put into a press release – finding the financial resources to keep our organization moving forward.  But, while not always exciting, it is, nonetheless, absolutely essential for our success … past, present, and future.  The role our donors play in the advancement of the mission of the Wildlife Center is every bit as important as the role played by our veterinary team or our outreach staff – maybe more.  We could do nothing without you!!

Many people laugh at what I characterize as my favorite saying – “Where there’s a will, I want to be in it!”, but I can tell you that generous donors who have included the Wildlife Center in their wills and estate plans over the last few years enabled the Center to truly cross a threshold of financial security in 2018.  

During the last two years, the Center has been the beneficiary of several extremely generous bequests made by people who loved wildlife, and who chose the Wildlife Center as the vehicle through which to create a legacy – their way to perpetuate their love of all things wild, long after they were gone.   While these bequests have not made the headlines, they may well have been the most important things that happened in 2018.  These unexpected gifts enabled the Center to complete some badly needed capital improvements at our facility, replace some outdated equipment, and – most importantly – to finally replenish the final reserves which are so critical to our ability to continue doing business, even in fluctuating economy.

Following the 2008 recession, and the dramatic slowing of the national economy, many of our donors found their own income streams reduced and their own budgets stretched; we experienced a significant slow-down in giving, particularly from foundations and others whose ability to give was closely tied to the stock market.  Charitable donations generally come from what people have left over, after taking care of their own expenses.  In a serious economic downturn, there may not be much left over, no matter how much our supporters believe in what we do.  To put it gently, we felt the pinch for many years.

Because of the loyalty and generosity of our donors, conservative financial management and cost-cutting here at the Center, and available financial reserves, the Center was able to weather those very lean years, and avoid the staff layoffs and program cutbacks that affected other nonprofit organizations nationwide.  However, this effort depleted our savings to an uncomfortably low level.  There was too little left in reserve for a seriously rainy day

Now that the economy is again doing well, we are receiving a very robust level of operating support.  With this level of support, we are able to confidently strive for excellence and branch out in new directions.  However, we are not predicating our plans for the future on the naïve belief that today’s economic conditions will last forever; we know they won’t.  So, while we are continuing to grow our programs and expand our worldwide impact, we are doing so with a firm grip on reality.  We know that a day will come when we will have to again tighten our already snug belts and weather another economic downturn … and that will require replenished reserves … something for the rainy day – or rainy years – that will inevitably come.  

That’s where our Legacy Society members, and others who have chosen the Wildlife Center as their means to touch the future, come in.

When we receive an unexpected bequest, we don’t just put it in the checkbook and use it up.  Our benefactors have included us in their estate plans because they want their love of wildlife to live on into the future after they have gone.  We feel a special responsibility to use this type of support in a way that will actually build a better future – for our wild patients, and for the Wildlife Center.

I know that it is a lot more fun to talk about raising baby bears and releasing Bald Eagles than it is to talk about drafting your will or planning for the dispersal of your worldly goods after you have gone.   But, the fact is, because a number of our supporters did take the time to plan their own legacy, and made decisions about their estates that included the Wildlife Center of Virginia, our organization is the strongest and most secure it has ever been.  We finally have enough in reserve to confidently face an uncertain future, secure in the knowledge that we can weather a storm. 

Yes, we still have to work hard to raise the resources we need on a day-to-day basis, for the care of wildlife and the education of the public, but thanks to a number of unexpected bequests, when we make plans for the Center’s future, decide to purchase some new piece of equipment, or launch some new program or research project, we can do so with the confidence that we will actually be able to carry out our plans, regardless of the political or economic volatility of the times.   You, as a donor to the Center, can give confidently, knowing that not only are our wildlife care programs and public education efforts strong and effective, but the organization itself is strong enough to remain effective, even if the stock market dips, or the economy slips into a decline. 

I can’t actually thank each and every one of the benefactors whose bequests to the Wildlife Center have had such a profound impact on us during the last two years; they have left this world.   However, I can thank those who have joined our Legacy Society – those supporters who have told us that the Center is in their estate plans – and I can thank those who are willing to consider it for their own future estate planning.  

So, while others look back on 2018 and recount the warm, fuzzy, furred and feathered successes we have enjoyed, I look back and remember that all of this has been made possible by people who care, people who give, and people who wanted to leave something important behind.  We take seriously our commitment to our donors, and we deeply appreciate each and every gift we receive – large or small.   We really do try to use every dollar responsibly and wisely.   Yes, it may be more fun to talk about happy, healthy wild animals being returned to the wild, but it takes a lot more than dedicated staff and the right medicines and food to make that happen.  It takes financial resources, not just for what we do today, but to plan for what will need to be done tomorrow.  The generosity of our donors provide the foundation upon which the Wildlife Center of Virginia has been built, and upon which we will continue to grow.

When I count my blessings from 2018, and those of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, I put our generous donors at the top of that list.  Without them – without you! – we could do nothing at all – not today, and not in the future.

So, again, what I want to say to you, as I look back on 2018, is “Thank you!”   With your continued support, we will continue to make a difference for wildlife, and for people – in 2019, and for decades to come.

Happy New Year!

--Ed

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!

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