Audubon is one of America's most renowned nonprofit organizations that has been working to protect birds and preserve their habitats for over one hundred years. Audubon recently "made the switch" to EveryAction, so we sat down with Audubon's Director of Digital Strategy, Porter Mason, to learn more about the important work they do.
"In your own words, what is Audubon?"
PM: Audubon is a more than century-old conservation organization, which focuses on protecting birds and preserving their habitats. Specifically, we're set up as a nationwide network of local offices, locations, and groups, instead of just a top-down organization.
Our 40+ nature centers and 463 local chapters do all sorts of different work and projects that engage people from all ages and backgrounds. Some of them are within cities and major metropolitan areas, so those groups may do things like birding walks, or host events in city parks, lead efforts to get people out of the city and into nearby wilderness areas, or maybe they host lectures and educational events at their offices. More rural or suburban Audubon chapters often get members together for birding events too, but also may be doing things like beach clean-ups in coastal communities, for example.
Citizen Science Projects
PM: Additionally, we have some really interesting programs regarding our Science team. They work hard to run several "Citizen Science" projects, which are big, grassroots efforts to gather data about birds, their habits, and locations.
The most famous and oldest of those projects is Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, which has been around for a long time – since 1900. In a nutshell, the Christmas Bird Count engages dedicated birders and bird lovers nationwide to form teams or “circles” and go out to identify birds.
That data collected by thousands of people then flows back up to Audubon, and we analyze and publish it. It’s an amazing source of data that allows us to see fascinating trends over time - from changes in the environment, how species habits and activities are changing, and unfortunately allows us to see firsthand the effects of climate change on bird species.
This data is essentially crowdsourced. Most people see crowdsourcing as a trendy new method being used over the past decade, but it's actually something Audubon has been doing with its Citizen Science projects for over a century!
We have a couple other similar Citizen Science projects, like the Great Backyard Birdcount, in partnership with Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada, which is targeted a little more widely so people can just track birds in their own backyards and report the data.
PM: In addition to our Citizen Science programming, another focus of Audubon, and something we do really well I think, is advocacy. We mobilize to have bipartisan bird lovers’ voices heard in red, blue, and purple states on pieces of legislation that affect birds.
For example, it’s almost the 100 year anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act - which is at times under attack and certain pieces of it are on the chopping block to be struck down. That’s a big national advocacy target for us. We often hear from our relationships on Capitol Hill and in statehouses around the country that when Audubon starts to speak about an issue, legislators really hear from their constituents. So, advocacy is just another way that we're trying to be a voice for birds.
"How is online organizing important to achieving Audubon’s mission?"
PM: Digital organizing is really important to us now. I think it’s essential to the work that we do. We recognize how much more central different digital communication tools are to people's lives, and Audubon understands that to really operate best, we need to operate like a network.
Now, through digital tools, we really have the potential to do that in a way that we maybe haven’t done before. It’s also extremely important to our advocacy work. We are able to use our tools like email and the web to get stories out about birds and foster a community among bird lovers.
Technology and digital tools can be used in a number of ways. For example, we know that the fact that nearly everyone has smartphones nowadays would be pretty perfect for recording bird identification data. A huge opportunity and a big area where we're looking to expand is our mobile app - we currently have a few, but our flagship app is our Audubon Bird Guide. We’d like to build on that app to be more than just a bird guide, but to become central to a user’s experience with our organization.
You recently made the switch to EveryAction. What were some of Audubon’s needs when it came to core software and technology?
PM: We looked at a lot of platforms, and many can do the basic functions that nonprofits need, such as providing a form to collect donations. But, I think what we started to look at when we were shopping for a new platform was "What is the guiding principle behind the tool?"
I think what we ended up being convinced by EveryAction was that its guiding principle was its focus on data - specifically data and interactions of an individual person. That focus could maybe be replicated in other systems, but in EveryAction it seems like it’s what everything is built around.
For example, the querying tool for figuring out which segments you want to email allows users to dive really deep and granular to build a list. That was really important to us. Although we are just starting to do more targeting and segmentation and trying to make our communications smarter, we thought we should look at where we aspire to be in a couple years.
We wanted to go to a system like EveryAction that can already do really detailed, granular things, with the idea that it will inspire us to have more thought about how we're doing segmentation and targeting.
And then, very related to that is the strength of EveryAction capturing and organizing the data around individual people. We’re not using it right now to necessarily talk to every individual one by one, but the fact that a person's whole history with our organization online can be put together and tracked in one simple place, and then allows us to deliver to that person the Audubon experience that’s best for them... that’s really powerful, and that’s what we want to be able to do.
On EveryAction’s commitment to user experience:
PM: Those are sort of the theoretical things about the tool that we felt made it right for us - but from a practical perspective, EveryAction 8’s user interface is so nice.
One of the things we want to do with the tool is to get more widespread use of it throughout our network... and that’s only going to happen if it’s a tool people enjoy using and find easy to use.
For example, we may be asking someone who's running one of our sanctuaries to send a targeted email out, and that may be one of the 20 things they need to do that day, so it needs to be easy to use and not complicated or time consuming to figure out.
We really like the look of EveryAction, but more importantly, we like the company's commitment to the user interface. That was definitely a huge factor in our decision to make the switch to EveryAction. And if EveryAction weren’t committed to that, we wouldn’t have considered it.
The fact of the matter is, everyone uses various digital tools like Facebook, or Twitter, or Google that have really great people working a lot on their user interface, so good design is something we've come to expect from good technology.
"What’s one aspect of Audubon’s work that you’re especially excited about or proud of?"
PM: I'd like to highlight again our online advocacy work. Our Director of Online Outreach, Liz Pomper, has been running that work for us for several years, and does such an amazing job. Every time we take a look at our email open rates, and click through rates, and other digital metrics, they're always way ahead of what we see from other organizations. She's done such a great job of finding and targeting people who are really passionate about birds and also willing to make their voices heard.
[Our online outreach work] has already been going great, and now we're really looking to make that work even better with some of the cool new tools provided by EveryAction like Social Advocacy. We’re excited to play around with that and see how we can best use those new types of advocacy tools to advance Audubon's policy goals. It's cool to basically be like “here are new fun tools to play with” and to see what will happen next.
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