Just as support had reached unprecedented heights, the mutual dependency of Conservation and the Outdoor industry has been put to the test as a result of COVID-19. How are they coping during the pandemic?
With the shared interest of preserving wild places, Conservation and the Outdoor industry have been hand in glove from the start – a relationship that has only become stronger in recent years. What happens when conservation work is stalled due to lockdowns, and the purse-strings of its funders suddenly snap shut? Conor McElyea from The Conservation Alliance and Tanya Bascombe from EOCA describe the new reality facing conservation on both sides of the Atlantic.
SUSTON: Many businesses are going bankrupt and many more are just barely hanging on. How has the economic downturn, and cancellation of shows like OR and OutDoor by ISPO, affected membership and funding?
ALLIANCE: For brands that are facing an existential threat, there’s no avoiding the fact that they are unable to pay their dues and continue their financial commitment to our work. In all likelihood, our grant fund will take a dip this year.
That being said, there are a significant number of members who are facing significant deficits but remain committed to our work. A common notion that I’ve heard is that if they can’t afford to continue to support our work, then they can’t afford to be in business.
EOCA: Our invoices for the year’s membership went out just as lockdown came to many of us. Sadly, (but fortunately, only) a few members had to drop out immediately, and a large number have asked to delay payments.
The crunch will come in a couple of months, when we will see if those that asked to delay payments will actually be able to pay or will also drop out. We have therefore only funded 3 projects this spring as opposed to the usual 5 or 6, not knowing if we will have the funding for more.
In addition, our fundraising has been affected – we normally raise a significant part of our total budget at OutDoor by ISPO, and with it being cancelled this year that is a large chunk of money we cannot now rely on for project funding. We are currently organising our first ever online conservation fundraiser in an effort to plug some of this budget gap.
SUSTON: How have active conservation projects currently funded by your organizations been affected?
EOCA: All our ongoing projects have been hugely affected by this crisis as they cannot run many (if any) of their planned events involving getting volunteers and staff outside to work.
That said, many organisations are also finding new ways of working – organising the events they would have had for cleanup operations or replanting for instance, just for socially distanced staff. One of the best stories we heard this week was the face to face training sessions one of the organisations was due to hold were held instead as online training sessions – which actually meant they could invite entire departments / whole organisations to attend and be trained, rather than a much smaller number, as they were no longer having to pay for a venue and refreshments. It also meant that they had money left over to put into other parts of the project.
ALLIANCE: Private land acquisition through our land trust partners continues to move forward. On the other hand, many of our legislative priorities have fallen into a holding pattern as the government prioritizes restarting the economy.
The one exception to that is the Great American Outdoor Act. Yesterday, the US Senate took the first step towards voting on the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA)—a bill that includes full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and deferred maintenance funding for our National Parks, National Forests, and BLM lands. With bipartisan support in Congress, as well as support from the White House, this could be one of the biggest wins for our public lands in modern history.
SUSTON: What has been the greatest challenge as an organisation?
ALLIANCE: Our greatest challenge is the unknown. The Conservation Alliance and the majority of our members will make it through the end of this year, and while we feel optimistic about the future, the long term impact of this pandemic is a major wild card.
EOCA: Working with the uncertainties of budgets –these uncertainties make it very difficult to know how many projects to fund this year. The need for conservation and funding to enable it, is even more pressing and important at this time. The loss of habitat and our mistreatment of wildlife have been linked to the outbreaks of pandemics such as the one we are experiencing now – meaning that EOCA’s work to look after the planet’s wild places is more vital than ever.
SUSTON: Have there been any new opportunities, or silver linings, as a result of the pandemic?
ALLIANCE: The biggest silver lining for me comes from the brands and consumers who see that spending time outside is more important than ever. As a result, we’ve had a large number of brands commit to doubling down on their support – not only by continuing to pay their dues, but by getting involved in all of our program areas. That means being more vocal leaders in advocacy, exploring product collaborations to help raise operations funds, and sharing our content to educate their consumers about our work.
EOCA: The whole team has had to quickly learn new skills, particularly with regards to social media, holding online calls, creating videos and hosting legally binding remote meetings. This has been challenging and rewarding in equal measure!
We are very excited by the possibilities of the online conservation fundraiser – due to run 27/28th June. This is an exciting opportunity to hold a consumer facing campaign – engaging consumers in what EOCA and its members are doing.
And on a final, positive note, we have been delighted to welcome a new company into membership this week!