A couple of folks have asked me why I did not write a year-end blog post, like so many of my colleagues did. The answer is simple; as the saying goes, “Hindsight is always 20/20”, or in this case 2020. I would rather share my foresight and talk about the year ahead—our 2021 vision!
I don’t know anyone who was sad to see 2020 come to an end. We certainly have a long way to go before we are past the perils and threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will take time for the political wounds inflicted upon our nation to heal … if such healing is actually allowed to begin. The Wildlife Center of Virginia is still largely locked down, masked, and sanitized, but our team is coping, and planning to make 2021 a much better year! What I can say about 2020 and the challenges we faced is that the adaptations we were forced to implement were far more successful than we had any reason to expect; so successful, in fact, that we are not going back to the old way of doing things, even when/if things “return to normal”. Let me explain …
Because we were unable to continue face-to-face programs, meetings, and fundraising events, we moved our entire year’s activities into the virtual world. Online presentations, conference calls, Zoom meetings, interactive programs, discussions and chats, and our first online conference became the new normal. Because our Outreach Team has so much experience with online programming, they were actively involved in nearly all of our online meetings, training, relationship building, and even entertainment; they were the ones who knew how to make this technology work. These collaborations worked very well.
To institutionalize some of these new strategies for the advancement of our mission, we have realigned our programs and reorganized our staff. We learned that when our departments work together on a project, the end result is better in terms of messaging, technology, and engagement with our donors and supporters. The collaboration helps our educational, informational, fundraising and relationship-building activities fit together into a far more cohesive program. Our donors and supporters have given overwhelming feedback that live, interactive events, where two-way communication was possible, were very well-received. People liked knowing that they could ask a question and get an immediate response. They felt more involved and engaged because … well, they were!
We broke all records for our annual Gala -- people who have not been able to attend the traditional, in-person event were able to actively participate in this year’s Virtual Gala. We doubled the average attendance at our annual Call of the Wild conference -- people did not have to travel to attend, and we were not constrained by the size of our traditional conference facility. And we were able to engage speakers from across the country who could quickly and easily share their thoughts and insights without leaving home. It is hard to argue with success!
In 2021, we plan a lot more live, online events, activities, and programs. We are developing a series of educational presentations specifically for use by parents who are home-schooling their kids during school closings. We intend to plan live events to engage people in specific aspects of our work, or who want more information about specific animals … eagles, bears, others. We are investing in better remote production equipment so we can “take you along” for live coverage of releases, or when the staff is performing some interesting procedure that you would never be able to see otherwise. All of this is intended to give you a chance to get more personally involved with all aspects of our organization. We’ll even be having virtual Happy Hours, where you can just chat live and socialize with featured guests, including staff members and others. We want to be more accessible to you, and we have learned how to do that.
One of the changes we have made at the staff level, to assure that these new approaches will be fully implemented, is to promote Outreach Director Amanda Nicholson. Her new title will be Vice President for Outreach and Education. She will now supervise and lead the Outreach Department, the Wildlife Care Academy, and our Front-Desk team, coordinating all activities which constitute WCV’s interface with the outside world. We are all very excited to have this new focus. Please join me in congratulating her.
Please let us know what you would like to discuss in 2021, and with whom. Which members of our staff—or other friends of the Wildlife Center—would you like to meet and get to know? Even though we cannot get together due to safety and public health considerations, we will find a way to continue to be connected.
Of course, the foundation of the Wildlife Center of Virginia—our commitment to providing state-of-the-art care to sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife—has not changed at all. We are improving our procedures, filling vacancies on our staff, and rededicating ourselves to medical excellence. During 2021, we hope we will be able to give you an even closer look at what goes on behind our closed doors. After all, it is only through your support we are able to do any of the things we do.
Thanks for your support and Happy New Year. We will look forward to seeing a lot more of you in 2021.
-- Ed Clark, President