By Ilana DeBare
Whether you count birds for your life list or simply count the days until your next bird outing, here’s a number that will impress you:
Each of whom gave money to sponsor Dan Harris in last year’s Golden Gate Audubon Birdathon!
Yes, Dan got 106 of his friends and family members to donate to Birdathon, raising a whopping sum of $2,526 – the most of any Birdathon participant in 2015.
Hearing a number like that, you might think that Dan has some kind of fundraising super-powers. Maybe a salesman by profession? Or a bundler for political candidates?
But no… this super-fundraiser is a normal guy who loves birds, volunteers with Golden Gate Audubon Society, and got over his initial fear of asking people to support GGAS.
“I was somewhat apprehensive at first asking family and friends for money,” Dan recalled, “but was pleasantly surprised, overwhelmed, and humbled by the tremendous support received from so many people.”
Dan, a retired environmental planner with the U.S. Department of Transportation, lives in San Francisco and started birding about seven years ago when his friend Jeff took him to see waterfowl at Las Gallinas Storage Ponds in San Rafael. He loved it and bought his own binoculars. Jeff would take Dan and other friends birding in Marin and Sonoma Counties and out to the Sacramento Valley. But after a while Dan realized, “Hey, I’m retired, I don’t have to wait for Jeff and my other working friends to go birding, I can go on my own!” and started taking part in Golden Gate Audubon field trips and classes.
Dan’s first Birdathon was 2013. He signed up for a trip to Coyote Hills and saw that the suggested fundraising goal for that trip was $500.
“I thought, ‘How am I going to raise $500?’” Dan reasoned, “I figured a $10 donation is not too much to ask, so I just need to get fifty people to give $10. I sent emails to 50 or 60 people. I was overwhelmed by their generosity and ended up raising $857.”
How did he come up with a list of 50 or 60 people? It wasn’t as hard as it sounds. He sent emails to various folks from his hiking group, his havurah (a Jewish family group), his friends and family, his wife’s friends and family, former co-workers, and fellow birders he’d met on Audubon walks.
“When I was working, people used to ask me for money for their kids’ school cookie sale or gift wrap sale,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Now it’s my turn to ask.’ When people found out what I was doing, they were more than happy to help.”
Dan approached them personally – describing his own involvement with birding and Audubon, and explaining what Audubon does to protect and educate people about Bay Area birds.
He did so well that first year that he raised his goal to $1,000 in 2014, and $2,000 in 2015. He sent requests to about 200 people last year asking them to donate between $15 and $50 – and got positive responses from 106 of them.
Dan makes sure to thank all his donors. He sends them a thank-you email when their name shows up on his Birdathon fundraising web page. And after Birdathon is over, he sends them another thank-you email with links to the photos he took on his Birdathon trips.
His favorite Birdathon trip so far was last year’s 101 Birds in A Day in East Bay Parks with East Bay Regional Park District naturalist Dave Riensche. (This year it’s being offered again, but the goal has been upped to 146 Birds In a Day!)
“I’d never been to those East Bay parks, and the energy that Dave had was amazing,” Dan said. “He even had his kids out there helping him before sunrise! I saw a lot of new birds.”
Dan’s involvement with Golden Gate Audubon isn’t limited to field trips and Birdathon. He also volunteers with our Eco-Education program, helping GGAS staff lead children from low-income elementary schools on field trips to creeks and wetlands.
“It’s fun to get kids out of doors to see nature,” he said. “Some are really focused on birds, others are just looking through binoculars at their friends. But they all go wild when Anthony (DeCicco, Eco-Ed director) turns over rocks and finds the little critters under there.”
What advice does Dan have for novice Birdathonners who are raising money for the first time?
Mostly: Don’t be intimidated.
“Don’t be afraid to ask 20 or 30 people for donations,” he said. “Just suggest a small amount. You’ll be surprised!”
Also, be sure to convey why birds and Golden Gate Audubon are personally important to you.
“I’ve really enjoyed Golden Gate Audubon. It allows me to learn more about birds, and about protecting their habitat,” Dan said. “There are so many classes, so many field trips with knowledgeable leaders, and the monthly guest speakers. Plus, I’ve met so many nice people.”
One final fundraising secret: When Dan sets up his fundraising page, he immediately donates $100 of his own to kick-start his fundraising.
“When your donors see your name on top of the list, they’ll see that you are not just asking them for money, but that you are contributing too and that you are serious about birds—and it may give them that last-minute push to contribute a little more than they would have.”
Join Dan and take part in our 2016 Birdathon! Whether you’re a beginning or experienced birder, we have great trips that will produce lifelong memories. And whether you’re a beginning or experienced fundraiser, we can offer one-to-one advice in setting up your fundraising page and getting friends to sponsor you. Click here for a list of Birdathon 2016 trips. Click here for a list of Birdathon participants. (In case you want to sponsor a friend or even Dan!) Or click here for general information on Birdathon, including how it works, the prizes for top fundraisers, and fundraising tips.