Audubon employees donate to own non-profit in hard times

DALLAS (Reuters) - Times are tough for U.S. non-profit organizations, so tough that some employees at one are donating their own money to help stave off layoffs and keep their projects going.

Bird watchers in a file photo. REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman

Employees at the National Audubon Society, an environmental group dedicated to habitat conservation, have pledged about $800,000 through voluntary payroll deductions in an internal donation drive to help see it through the recession.

Like many non-profits, Audubon has been squeezed by the severity of the economic downturn.

“We have frozen salaries for 2009 and 2010 and we anticipate that there will be cuts in other places, including layoffs,” said Phil Kavits, Audubon’s spokesman.

“Staff knows that there will likely be layoffs and/or furloughs soon, yet collectively, they have responded with pledges,” he said.

Audubon employs about 700 people and Kavits said that 154 employees had so far donated through payroll deductions, which are kept anonymous.

Non-profits are often staffed by activists passionate about their cause so this behavior is unlikely to be repeated in many other places.

“We depend on the support of our donors and in this time of recession ... it is all the more important for us to make a compelling case as to why a foundation or individual should give to Audubon instead of anybody else,” Audubon president John Flicker said in an interview.

“We realized that we were all victims of a recession we didn’t create but our staff said we don’t want to act like victims. We want to go out to our donors and say we need your help now more than ever and how can we do that? ... The best way to raise money is to first give yourself,” he said.


The recession’s impact is not immediately apparent in the annual reports of many conservation or animal welfare groups. But several financial statements examined by Reuters are until the end of 2007 or for a financial year that ended in mid-2008 -- just before the recession began to bite.

Trout Unlimited, which works on watershed conservation, saw its revenue in the fiscal year to the end of September 2007 grow to $23.3 million from $20.5 million.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal welfare group, saw its total revenues grow in its 2008 fiscal year to $34.3 million from $31.2 million the year before but sees tough times ahead.

“PETA has had a number of donors cancel their pledges,” said spokesperson Marissa Angeletti.

Audubon’s total revenue grew to $104.2 million in the financial year ending June 30, 2008, from $82.4 million the previous year. But the outlook is grim for 2009 and 2010.

“So far, ‘09 is pretty close to flat on direct mail donations, but is lagging behind last year in ad Audubon magazine revenues and licensing as royalties are down and at least one major licensee has actually gone out of business,” said Kavits.

“Membership renewals are also down. Commitments from major foundation and individual donors are being kept, since the money had already been set aside. But we, like many other groups are planning for a significant hit in fiscal year 2010 when the impact of decimated donor portfolios will take a toll on their giving,” he said.

Editing by Alan Elsner