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Sunday, December 16, 2012

What’s In Store for FNPS


Kellie Westervelt at Corkscrew Swamp
Kellie Westervelt started as the FNPS Executive Director in January of 2012. Now that she’s been with us for a year, we decided it was time to sit down with her to see what her vision and goals are for the Society. So last week Ginny Stibolt sat down with Kellie over lunch in Gainesville and they had a wide-ranging discussion. Here are some of the highlights:

Ginny: Why did you apply for this job?

Kellie: I’ve been fan of the Society since I worked for the Florida Park Service over 20 years ago. The Society was such a great resource for my work in ecological restoration. They provided boots on-the-ground as well as technical advice that served the restoration project well. There are so many smart people who are doing terrific things for Florida’s natural heritage within the Society. Really, when it comes down to it, the Society is the best organization for promoting our state’s natural diversity. Whether you’re background is in academia or consultancy; whether you’re a teacher or a practitioner; whether you’re a local activist, homeowner interested in native plants, or a student concerned with protecting natural habitat; or, perhaps, just someone who relates to Florida’s wonderful ambiance conveyed by our native plants and natural landscapes. The Florida Native Plant Society addresses all of these concerns. Ultimately, we all care about Florida’s natural heritage and our future moving forward. It’s what binds us.

That said, I was not an FNPS member when I was receiving all of those benefits from the Society’s involvement in our restoration project. To this day, I’m amazed by that. The reality is, no one asked me to join! Thinking back on it, that’s awful. Why wasn’t I at least donating to the Society? I had gotten so much intelligence and volunteer support from this group, I simply can’t imagine not making a contribution myself. Again, I’m embarrassed, but I would never have said no had I been asked.

Ginny: So what can we do in general terms to increase membership?

Kellie: Well, first and foremost, ask people to support our organization because we have an incredibly important mission. I think this is critical. Ask people to join whenever and wherever we see them.

We help so many people, organizations, and agencies. We must let them know that we are a charitable conservation organization that counts on their contributions to advance our mission. That’s first. With an increased support base, we can do so much more. With broader based support, FNPS could work on even more projects, increase our outreach, have greater influence, and engage a broader cross-section of the public. Everything builds on more members. It doesn’t matter if they are passively supportive or passionately supportive and attending monthly meetings. The key is that they support us.

One big step we’ve made this past year to increase our membership was to move to Donor Perfect Online, a new database to better record our members’ interests, analyze contributions, and better plan our fundraising efforts and program development. This will give us a real opportunity to stay in better touch with our supporters and grow our organization according to our members’ interests.

Ginny: When you were hired what was the highest priority task given to you by the FNPS board?

Kellie: Well, I hope it was for capacity-building. The Society has so much potential. Not only does it have a track record of success as a promoter of native plants and natural communities and a reputation as a brain trust for all things ecological in Florida, but also the Society also has been really smart about its financial oversight. It’s one of the things I looked at before signing on. I am so impressed with the discipline and commitment to its fiduciary responsibilities. I believe we can build on this solid foundation and grow our organization in a very sustainable fashion. We received a grant from the Elizabeth Ordway Dunn Foundation earlier this year for strategic planning to help us do just that: grow sustainably.

After an exhaustive search, we hired Bristol Strategy Group out of Miami to oversee strategic planning for the Society. We have already begun the process with organizational assessment and over the next several months, we will work with Bristol to analyze the results of assessments, perform interviews, facilitate a two-day strategic planning session, and draft a plan as a result. Ultimately, we will have hashed out any “trigger” issues of great concern and revised any material, including by-laws, which will need full membership support in time for our annual meeting in May.

Ginny: Wow, this is a big step into the future.

Kellie: The Florida Native Plant Society has an amazing history, an interesting and quirky nature, and an important mission. We can’t lose sight of any of these important elements. I love our distinctive character. All of those ingredients are central to who we are and how we grow. Yes, strategic planning should help us become more streamlined, focused, and organized, but how it shakes out, that’s for all of us to decide, collectively. It all depends on the consensus agreement, but I think we can all agree, that the best of the Florida Native Plant Society is concerned with protecting our unique natural heritage in all of its amazing splendor.

Ginny: I think our chapters with all their outreach are so important for FNPS. What could happen to better support their needs?

Kellie: I think the chapters are the strength of our organization because they represent the Society in every Florida community. Yes, it’s important to think about the statewide implications of native plant conservation, but what can we do locally to further this? Well, in my thinking, everything! It’s all about local action. We do live locally, and hopefully, we do think globally. In this sense at least, we’re thinking about statewide implications of our local actions or inactions. Do we have a community that supports native plants in our yards or do we get fined? Does our city or county have ordinances that promote native plants in our yards and public landscapes? What can we do as a potent statewide organization to help your local community? My question is, does the Florida Native Plant Society do enough to support the work of our local chapters that are on-the-ground advancing our mission? I think we can do more. I know we can do more. I want us to do more.

Ginny: Thanks very much Kellie.

Kellie: Thanks for lunch, Ginny! It’s been a pleasure. Next time, lunch is on me!


Posted by Ginny Stibolt

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