Volume 6, Number 2, 1997

Putting a younger face on the Audubon

When Nancy Fiske, Delaware '77, became national field membership director at the National Audubon Society last spring, she realized she had been preparing for the job most of her life.

Now, she's in the middle of starting a youth movement at the bird conservation organization named for John James Audubon, the famous 19th-century American ornithologist.

"My job was loosely designed. I was given the freedom to grab the ball and run," Fiske says from her office in New York's Greenwich Village. And, that is exactly what she has done, receiving an ACE (Audubon Certificate of Excellence) as the top new employee of 1996.

Because of her varied experience working with the environment and in education, Fiske is attempting to bring a broader membership to Audubon, which is known for its bird feeder watch project and winter bird counts. The society has more than 500,000 members, but most are single members in the middle and upper-middle class.

To expand the demographics of that membership, Fiske is targeting families, youth groups and young children. Her vision already has led to an agreement with Girl Scouts
of America and similar pending agreements with the Boy Scouts and Youth Hostel International.

Audubon has added junior memberships and created a youth-oriented product line, including binoculars, compasses and sunglasses. And, the society has pushed the Audubon Book division into the youth market.

"We feel if we can educate young people on the issues, they can do something about them," Fiske says. "The Audubon strategy is to create a culture of conservation, and it is important to our future to get young families involved."

Fiske says the targeted range for younger members is from pre-school to high school.

"There is so much energy there. We've got to stay connected with education," she says. "We've got to get into the classrooms and get those students excited about what's out there."

According to Fiske, many people within the Audubon Society are happy about the connection with Girl Scouts and school-aged children.

"It's a great direction for us to be going in," Fiske says. "By forming links with these organizations, we can organize real projects with real results, and the children learn that they are a vital link in understanding the environment and helping their community. Our hope is that as they become adults, they will continue to create change."

A storied past

Fiske's new job did not come together overnight. She has paid her dues at several educational institutions. As an elementary education major at UD, Fiske spent one summer with the Somerset County Parks Commission in New Jersey. She returned to school with a new focus on environmental education.

After her graduate work at Montclair State College in New Jersey, she landed a job as a borough supervisor in New York City's parks department. The newly incorporated system put Fiske on the front line, defining the program and the duties of an urban park ranger.

After a brief stint with the Richmond Town Restoration group on Staten Island, Fiske worked as director of education at the zoo there for 12 years.

"While I was at the zoo, I went beyond education into development and fund raising and started a travel program," she recalls, leading eco-tourism trips to Belize, Costa Rica and Kenya, as well as whale watches.

She also was instrumental in bringing major, temporary exhibits to the zoo, including a popular one on dinosaurs.

A volunteer educator on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, what she calls an "enviromental classroom." Fiske currently serves on the board of the Staten Island Sloop Club. She also is a founding member of the New York Harbor Lights, a lighthouse preservation organization that oversees the maintenance of nine lighthouses in New York harbor.

Back to Audubon's future

Fiske is taking her new vision of the Audubon Society across the country. Charged with the responsibilities of working with more than 500 chapters across the country, Fiske has visited nearly 20 states and plans to see the remaining 30 very soon.

"I'm traveling two times a month," she says. "I'm really seeing the country."

In less than a year, Fiske already has begun to put a new, younger face on the National Audubon Society.

"If we can get the parents of young children interested, then we will have appeal on an even broader level," she says. "We can move in and make a difference."

--David G.W.Scott