“Keep project fees affordable.” This has been the mantra of Wilderness Volunteers since its founding in 1997 when just 10 trips were fielded with 120 volunteers.
Today, WV typically organizes 50 week-long service trips from coast to coast with more than 500 volunteer participants. WV accomplishes this with a very modest Flagstaff office and only two full-time staff members: Executive Director Ashely Northcutt and Program Manager Taryn Schreiner (as of Aug 27, 2018: Aidalicia Swertfeger). In early August, on behalf of our volunteers, Ashely flew back east to Washington, DC, to accept the “Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Non-Government Partner Award” from the National Park Service, an affirmation of the value that WV delivers to our public lands.
Over the years, WV has been able to keep project fees affordable due to many private donations as well as grants from like-minded organizations that support protecting America’s wild lands. Since 2011, our project fee has been unchanged at $299, although our actual costs per participant have been nearly $500. For many of those years, WV has been the thankful recipient of an annually recurring foundation grant of nearly $35,000. This one grant alone enabled the project fee to be $70 lower than otherwise needed. Unfortunately, 2018 is now the third year in a row for which we will not receive this significant grant. Furthermore, they have indicated that we should not expect as large an amount in the future as their resources have been spread thin.
Fortunately, withdrawals from WV’s modest endowment have been able to buffer this lost support. However, this solution is not sustainable. The Board of Directors would like to honor the mantra of the founders while prudently stewarding the organization as well.
Given the financial realities, we have no choice but to increase the project fee for 2019, while actively continuing to search for private donations and grants. We note that a large national organization that conducts identical service trips charged between $425 and $1,995 for their 2017 trips, with an average cost of over $700. If you have never served on a WV team, don’t let our affordable fee give you the impression that the value we deliver to the participants and public lands agencies is in any way sub-par. Indeed, we have been told many times by our agency contacts that WV delivers extraordinary value compared to many other volunteer groups.
We solicit your creative comments on how to share in our mission of keeping project fees affordable, while also keeping Wilderness Volunteers financially sound. We would welcome our supporters introducing WV to any foundations and corporations that can help fill the gap. Please direct your comments or ideas to WV’s Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.