What Booster Officers Need to Know About Title IX

Published online at Boosterland.com

As schools continue to face shrinking budgets, funding for extracurricular activities is often first on the chopping block. Administrators increasingly rely on the hard work of booster clubs to keep these programs open to the students who benefit from them so very much. But while generous, donations from booster clubs can cause problems for school officials who struggle to remain in compliance with Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions, especially when funding athletic programs. Fortunately, there are steps booster clubs can take to make sure their fundraising and support efforts meet the needs of students and coaches and are Title IX compliant. Here’s a quick rundown of the law and how it affects booster clubs:

What is Title IX?

Title IX of the Educational Amendments prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs or activities. The law requires all students have access to the same education and extracurricular benefits. Today, Title IX’s impact is seen most often in high school and college sports programs. Athletic directors are responsible for making sure all students participating in extracurriculars are granted equal access to equipment and supplies, facilities, support services, and many other opportunities.

How Does It Apply to Booster Clubs?

Generally, schools have gender equity covered when it comes to things like balancing the scheduling of desirable practice times to meet Title IX standards. But when outside support comes into play it can get messy, especially when booster officers don’t work closely with school officials. While school, district, and genre-wide clubs may have an easier time with Title IX than genre-specific clubs, working closely with school representatives and understanding the law are important steps to ensuring compliance. Program directors have been forced to turn down donations from boosters because the disparity the funding would create between boys’ and girls’ teams would be too great for the school to even out.

When a booster club donation or event is specifically directed to one team or gender, it’s on the school to compensate other teams accordingly. While this doesn’t necessarily mean matching budgets dollar for dollar, the school is required by law to find the resources to provide equal benefits to all. Athletic directors anticipate the potential impact of the donation, and look within their own programs to find a way to provide the less-privileged gender a benefit of equal weight, making sure the athletic program overall is balanced. A gift of new shoes to a men’s soccer team might mean a women’s basketball team is moved to the front of the line for new uniforms, for example.

What Can Booster Clubs Do to Ensure They Comply With Title IX?

1. Consider their turf. District or school-wide umbrellas and clubs organized by genre put the power of funding distribution in administrators’ hands, and make it easy to follow Title IX guidelines. Single-activity groups can be very successful at fundraising, but one club that outperforms all others is a recipe for Title IX disaster. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office For Civil Rights, boys’ teams generally attract more sponsorship than their female counterparts. It’s often the case that it’s easier to whip up support for football than it is to get the whole town behind the cross-country team. While it’s understandable to want your efforts to benefit a program you are passionate about, spreading the wealth a bit may be the best way to make sure all students are legally able to benefit from your club’s hard work.

2. Communicate early and often, with one another and with school officials. A program director may have suggestions for boosters about what kind of donations or activities will have the biggest impact but create the least inequity.

3. Work together. Individual clubs can work to support one another, and even partner where they’d be more successful together. Umbrella clubs should make an effort to reach out to a varied group, to ensure all interests are represented.

4. Ask for Title IX Training. Your school district should have a Title IX officer who can break down the law, explain its benefit, and answer any questions your members may have. A close relationship with the Title IX officer can help boosters spot potential problems and make sure all members are onboard with any legally required changes to club operations or structure.

Ultimately, the best step booster officers can take to comply with Title IX is to stay informed. There are a number of great resources to turn to when in doubt, like TitleIX.info, and experts like those at the National Women’s Law Center who are eager to share their knowledge. The more booster club officers and volunteers know about the law, the better able they are to ensure their hard work has as much positive impact as possible.

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A New Kind of Bake Sale: Ditching prices for donations

Published online at Boosterland.com

If you’ve ever participated in an extracurricular program or know someone who has, chances are you’ve been to a bake sale. A classic, bake sales have been a staple fundraiser for teams, clubs, and groups of all kinds for many years. While they’re a reliable go-to event, they can come off as stale. And while some bake sales are very successful, many cost more in ingredients and effort than they’re worth. However, one elementary school shook up the traditional bake sale model, with amazing results. An elementary school group  set up a bake sale at a local street festival, but didn’t set prices for the baked goods, instead giving buyers the option to leave a donation of an unspecified amount in a jar. Surprisingly, the sale was a great success. And it wasn’t an anomaly; all over the country, pay-what-you-will restaurants, coffee shops, and retail stores have sprung up, and many are thriving. So what’s the secret?

A recent study attributes the success of the pay-what-you-will model largely to pride. Scientists found that we’re willing to pay much more for products when given the option to choose their price and we’re told their purchase will benefit a good cause. Giving generously of our own accord makes us feel good about our charitable spending, more so than if we’re asked for a specific donation. For example, a customer might perceive himself to be more generous if he voluntarily hands over $10 for a cookie than if he’s charged half the price for the same treat. Removing the set price makes the “sale” all about the donation and the giver’s generosity.

At the elementary school’s pay-what-you-will bake sale, a second factor contributed to the event’s success; the baked-good reward. Customers were rewarded with the positive feeling of having donated as well as given the tangible benefit of a sweet treat for their kindness, a bonus for their generosity. The baked good had no set value, and the donation was not being asked in exchange for the treat, so there was no limit to the donor’s spending. Instead of being asked to give enough money to get a cookie, donors were asked simply to give as much as they liked to the school, putting the cause front and center.

This simple and unexpected spin on the classic bake sale is an interesting way to boost the productivity of the old reliable of fundraisers, and gives it an interesting new twist that will catch a donor’s eye. Booster clubs can take this inspiration to consider how their own go-to fundraisers can benefit from a little shaking up. Could the pay-what-you-will model work for any other fundraisers? Is there another way that clubs could encourage and reward donation, instead of making a sale?

 

Should Your Booster Club Buy Insurance?

Published online at Boosterland.com

It was a booster club’s worst nightmare: A referee at a charity volleyball game injured her ankle when the stand she was sitting on collapsed. The booster club turned to the school district for help, only to be told that the district’s insurance would not cover the referee’s worker’s compensation claim, and that they considered the club financially responsible. The ensuing legal wrangling led to the dissolution of the booster club under threats of a lawsuit.

“I’m just a mom, you know,” Karen Trimble, the former club president, told the local newspaper. “I do think people are worried because why should you volunteer if [the school district] didn’t stand behind us?”

In another case, a booster volunteer successfully navigated the existing legal protections of the Volunteer Protection Act to avoid liability when a volunteer working for the high school sued him for personal injuries after a ticket booth they were constructing fell on her.

These cases seem to send conflicting messages about booster club insurance. Do clubs really need it? In some places, it’s required. A school district in Southern California recently announced that booster clubs would be required to carry liability insurance in the minimum amount of $1 million combined single limit. In places where the district’s liability isn’t clear, it’s a mistake to assume your school district has your club’s back, according to Sandra Pfau Englund of Parent Booster USA:

“Booster clubs and schools often mistakenly believe that the school’s insurance will cover liability and legal claims of its school booster clubs. School insurance policies, however, typically don’t cover the activities and liability of the officers and volunteers of the booster clubs because these organizations are usually considered separate legal entities from the school.”

What does it mean to operate without insurance?

Booster club volunteers are protected to an extent under the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997, and individual state laws protecting volunteers. However, only about half of the state laws protect volunteers beyond directors and officers, and both state and federal laws have numerous exceptions. The booster club volunteer who was found not liable in the ticket booth case would have been in a very different situation had he been towing passengers at a club-organized hay ride, for example. The Volunteer Protection Act provides immunity for volunteers only if:

  • The volunteer was acting within the scope of his or her responsibilities.

  • If appropriate or required, the volunteer was properly licensed, certified or authorized to act.

  • The harm was not caused by willful, criminal or reckless misconduct or gross negligence.

  • The harm was not caused by the volunteer operating a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft.

State and federal protections can be useful, but are not foolproof. So how might booster clubs without insurance ensure that their organization and volunteers are protected?

The National Booster Club Training Councilrecommends clubs form committees to develop risk management plans to identify, assess, and control potential risks, anticipating and planning to avoid risks too great to bear.

As school districts increasingly rely on booster clubs to bear the brunt of extracurricular financial needs (and close legal scrutiny follows), given the option many clubs choose to purchase insurance. In today’s litigation-happy society, there is no shortage of opportunities for your club to be held personally financially responsible for someone’s misfortune — Just ask the Dunbar Athletic Boosters Club, who faced a personal injury lawsuit when a woman slipped and fell on their premises.

What does it mean to have insurance?

There are five types of coverage booster clubs generally carry:

1. General Liability Insurance, which covers the club  in the event of claims from accidents and injuries to individuals. Generally, coverage limits of $1,000,000 or $2,000,000 per occurrence are the norm.

2. Property Insurance, which covers loss of property or assets of the club, like damage to facilities, owned and rented equipment, and property/inventory related to merchandising or fundraising.

3. Accident Medical Insurance, which covers out-of-pocket medical expenses resulting from an accident at a sponsored activity or covered event. If a child breaks his arm at the booster-sponsored carnival, your organization and members won’t be personally on the hook for the cost of his emergency room visit.

4. Bonding Insurance, which will cover an organization’s loss of funds due to embezzlement and other forms of dishonesty or theft.

5. Director and Officer Liability Insurance, which offers personal liability coverage for officers and directors in their legal responsibilities serving the organization. Board members make a lot of decisions, and can be sued for any that they make individually or as a club — everything from the management of funds, to where to hold the bake sale. Coverage of up to $1,000,000 per occurrence is common.

Booster clubs can purchase basic general liability insurance for $90 – $200. Assuming your club purchases more comprehensive insurance, the cost would be around $500 a year.

Insurance decisions can be tricky, and can make or break a booster club. Organizations like Parentbooster.org and the National Booster Club Training Council offer extensive resources for booster officials, and can help board members decide what (if any) insurance is right for your club. Regardless of whether or not you decide to insure your club, it is important to be aware of risks and safeguard the future of your organization, your volunteers, and the programs you support.

How To Raise Funds Outside Your Community

Published online at Boosterland.com

When it comes to fundraising, there’s no business too big or too small to approach for help. Some of the big-name businesses may seem out of reach for booster clubs, but you’d be surprised to know how many have programs in place for just such donation. From airlines to retail stores, many of the places you already shop are glad to lend their support and name to charitable causes. Some businesses offer contests and large sums in charitable grants, while others offer up gift cards and products as prizes for fundraising raffles or contests. Follow these tips to increase your chances of gaining funding from outside the community:

1. Start now, and work hard: You may or may not be thinking about spring fundraising, butlarge corporations will be. Many have formalized processes for donation requests, meaning your email or application will be added to a pretty large pile, which will take some time to go through. Fall is a great time to round up a few booster club members who will devote their energy to reaching out to these companies, ensuring donations will be awarded in time for spring events. Christy Forhan at PTO Today advises designating “one or two tenacious volunteers to focus on national donations. They should start early, about four months in advance, looking for possible donors and sending out your standard letter to those corporations that would appeal to your community.”

2. Standardize your request: Most national corporations have online request forms, but for those that don’t, be prepared with a well-crafted letter. A letter should include a brief description of your club, the purpose of your fundraiser, the event date (if known), and a club contact. Forhan recommends formatting the request on club letterhead, and getting it signed by both the club president and the school principal.

3. Do your research: Know which companies have established guidelines for requests, and follow them to ensure your application will get into the right hands. And while most larger businesses require donation requests go through their corporate office, keep in mind that locally owned outlets might have the freedom to make their own decisions — it can’t hurt to reach out!

 For more fundraising tips, see our post (tomorrow) on Fundraising Inside Your Community.

How To Raise Funds Inside Your Community: Partnering with local businesses for mutual gain

Published online at Boosterland.com

Local business can be a great fundraising source for booster clubs, and most are happy to help. Parents, friends, and fans of student clubs and teams are potential customers, and partnering with booster clubs can be beneficial for both parties — booster clubs can raise funds through established, profitable businesses, and business owners can expand their local client base. But many of these establishments are approached by numerous teams, clubs, and charities for donations, and end up having to make tough choices about who to help. Some instead opt to make a number of donations to multiple groups, but are forced to dole out many small contributions that can be almost ineffective.

The partnership can easily be limited to a single small donation if the exchange isn’t equally beneficial. Local businesses who agree to program sponsorship may simply see their logos on banners, and while that can be important to boosting their reputation in the community, it may not translate directly to customers in seats. On the other hand, if a business chooses to make  small, one-time donations, booster clubs miss out on the potential support of the business’s loyal patrons. Fortunately, there are a number of ways booster clubs can ensure that these partnerships are profitable for all involved, and lead to long-lasting relationships with local businesses.

Check out these examples for inspiration, and come up with a way for your club to foster support within the community through partnerships with much-loved local hangouts:

Dining for a Cause: This is a popular and easy way to work within the community for support. Local businesses partner with booster clubs and pledge a percentage of their profits to the club’s cause, sometimes offering supporters a special deal. Partnerships with restaurants and bars lend themselves most naturally to this fundraising model. For example, in Indiana, the Centerfield Sports Bar promised the booster club a dollar for each club supporter who spent at the bar, while the Cooper Booster’s Club asked supporters to bring flyers to a local Hardee’s restaurant. In exchange, 20% of each sale went to the club.

Targeting A Local Hotspot: Almost every town has at least one popular hangout where students shop, work, and socialize. Oftentimes these business owners have strong ties to the community, and are eager to support students. At Lane Tech College Prep High School, a member of the football coaching staff won Lane Tech a hefty prize from a national restaurant chain. His winning contest submission was a video that remembered the local outlet of the chain fondly as a meeting place for the team in his high school years. The partnership was definitely a win-win — both the restaurant chain and the team benefited heavily from the locals’ devotion. Think about the popular establishments in your town, and how you might team up to strengthen a connection with the community.

Drumming Up Business: Teams and clubs host dinners, meetings, and events at local venues, but often miss the opportunity to work with these businesses to build community support. A sponsored event at a local restaurant is a great alternative to the classic spaghetti feed or pancake breakfast (because let’s face it, supporters may be more inclined to cough up the cash for a restaurant-quality meal than for your home-cooked pasta). At the same time, business owners will be glad to see the real, tangible results of their support. Be sure to play to your strengths, and work within the community. For example, in Ohio, the Archbishop Hoban Boosters Club gave their fundraiser a 21-and-over twist with a beer tasting at the local brewery.

In Oregon, the North Bend High School Booster Club hosted a Poker Run, where motorists were sent from business to business collecting playing cards to make up a poker hand. Events like the poker run can be a great way to involve all kinds of establishments — stops can include the local hardware store, clothing shop, even orthodontist. In this particular case, the poker run began and ended at the local motorcycle dealership.

In both cases, the boosters met the locals where they were at, joining them in the places and activities they love. Equally important, the events drove customers into these establishments.

Showing Your Appreciation Online: While many local businesses still proudly display photos and plaques from clubs and teams thanking them for their support, booster clubs should think about acknowledging donors in the virtual sphere. Booster clubs should have an online presence, and they should promote their supporters there, as well. Again, this gesture can be mutually beneficial — if the local tire shop proudly displays the booster club’s logo on their website, they can link customers back to the booster page, and vice versa.

To raise funds and support within your community, think about the places your friends and family frequent. Is there a burger joint kids meet at after school? A market or drugstore that’s been around for years? Think of ways your club can join members of the community at their favorite hangouts, and forge long-lasting relationships.

 

For more fundraising tips, see our post on Fundraising Outside Your Community.

Donor Retention: Your booster club’s priority in 2014

Published online at Boosterland.com

The numbers have come in, and they don’t look great for booster clubs and other nonprofits. Recent surveys on charitable giving have found that engaging new donors will become more and more difficult:

  • Of the four generations surveyed, a majority in each group said they expected to give the same amount of money to charity in the coming year and to support the same number of charities.

  • Seventy-five percent of boomers said they would support the same number of charities in 2013 that they did last year.

  • A typical charity loses an estimated 50% of its donors between the first and second gift.

When the future looks grim, many nonprofits focus their energy on bringing in new donors — a worthwhile effort, but not when it comes at the expense of retaining existing supporters. And for booster clubs, who have more potential supporters appearing with each new class of students, it’s easy to forget the ones who’ve been around.

But it’s worth the effort: it’s estimated that improving donor retention by just 10 percentcan double the lifetime value of your donor database.

There is no shortage of resources for those looking to do so. A simple search for “donor retention” brings up pages and pages of tips and tricks to win the continued support of existing donors. All offer good advice, but most are band-aids on the bigger problem of declining donor loyalty. While many  bloggers are quick to dole out solutions, few make an effort to understand the problem itself, and in doing so perpetuate the issues that harm retention.

The importance of understanding donor loyalty can be understood by looking at direct mailing. A2013 study of the future of charitable giving provides some insight into how each generation responds to direct mailing. While mature donors are likely to give in response to direct mailings, younger generations very rarely do the same. At one time, direct mailing was the “answer” to donor retention — it solved the immediate problems that led to a loss of supporters. In truth, it addressed the bigger-picture problems in a specific context. But the context changed, and direct mailing is now considered outdated. It doesn’t prompt long-term commitment in the majority of donors.

With more and more families tightening their belts and cutting unnecessary expenses, it’s more important than ever for booster clubs to cultivate the loyalty of those existing donors who are willing and able to lend their support. A few gifts given while a child is in school or on a team won’t compare in the long run to the continued support of a parent or alum with strong ties to your club.

To truly improve long-term donor retention, we must understand what creates real loyalty to an organization. If you develop a feel for what inspires loyalty in your donors you won’t need to rely on top-ten tip lists, or the “next big thing” in donor retention — you’ll know what your donors need, and how you can adapt your efforts to fit the ever-changing context of their donation.

To learn more about keeping your long-term donors, check out our rundown of fundraising expertAdrian Sargeant’s three drivers of donor loyalty: satisfaction, identification, and active commitment.

Make donor retention and successful booster club operation a team effort: subscribe to boosterland.com, and share posts with your club to get the most from your members.

Fundraising Spotlight: #GotTurf?

Published online at Boosterland.com

In Southern California, one high school booster club has taken on an ambitious task. The Scorpion Athletic Booster Club (SABC) in Camarillo began fundraising this fall for their Turf Field Project, a $1.7 million plan to install artificial turf on the Camarillo High School athletic field and resurface the track.

While not alone in the scope of their donation, the SABC is one of a small number of booster clubs that have taken on projects of such size. In December, we discussed the club’s first steps in getting the project up and running: acquiring board approval, and working out the legal logistics. Over the next few months, Boosterland will continue to follow the progress of the SABC Turf Field Project, learning from the club’s planning and experiences.

After receiving approval from the school board, the SABC got down to business, extensively planning their fundraising campaign. In their third month of fundraising, the club has collected more than $26,000, of their $1.7 million goal.

So far, much of the money collected has come from individuals within the community.

“We are currently working on trying to get corporate donations because that’s what we have been missing,” club secretary Lisa Chishholm-Duran told the high school newspaper in late January.

While they’re far from meeting their goal, the club has done impressive work promoting their cause to supporters. The SABC focused much of their fundraising efforts on promoting a single, basic fundraising event, with a clear and consistent theme and message.

“Selling” the turf: Though exchanging symbolic ownership for donations isn’t by any means a new concept, the SABC came up with a fairly unique way of making the existing model a bit more exciting and personal. Many gymnasiums are bear plaques or paving stones engraved with donors’ names, an effective but expected way of thanking supporters. The multitude of names can diminish the intended feeling of importance in the donor, and can be easily missed. So the SABC took a different tack. Long before they received board approval, the club decided they would “sell” the new field by the yard. While many donors can still be involved, there are a finite number of yards that can be sold, making those who donate are part of an exclusive group. And selling “ownership” of the field itself creates a more powerful tie than a plaque or paving stone, as the yards donors own aren’t empty symbols of what their money helped to create. Donors will watch the student athletes run on their field, see it used at games, and will likely feel a strong and clear connection to what they helped create.

Promoting sales: The SABC decided they would need two slogans to promote the project and turf sales: One short  enough to fit on a bumper sticker, and a second longer phrase that would succinctly explain their goal. They came up with a long list of ideas for each before deciding on “Got turf?” and “Be a part of history, one yard at a time.” The short slogan keeps the focus on the most important part of the project — that the new field will be surfaced with durable, all-weather turf — while the longer clearly and easily supports the fundraiser.

Since the fundraiser, the SABC has been consistently promoting their message online using the same recognizable slogans — interspersing fundraising updates and donor thank yous with team photos and scores, all referencing the project. On Instagram, the club posts photos of football players covered in dirt, poking fun at the team’s “home dirt advantage” and calling for donations, or shots of donors holding checks.

The consistent message and tone is direct without being confrontational or pleading, and the connection to the health and happiness of students is made clear without inducing guilt or fear. Because the club started with a clear plan, it has been easy to consistently promote the project.

Though they’ve had considerable success with individual donors, the SABC does have a fundraising gap to close before they can break ground on the new field. Share their story to show your support, and subscribe (below) to the Boosterland blog to make sure you don’t miss next month’s post.

Sierra Magazine Bulletin: Sassafrass

Published in print and online by Sierra magazine, March/April 2014

Name: Jo Billups and Karen Harvil
Location: Lillian, Alabama, and Waveland, Mississippi
Contribution: Musical activist duo Sassafrass
Website: bit.ly/sassafrass_band

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS HAVE A REPUTATION FOR BEING A LITTLE INTENSE. ARE PEOPLE LESS INTIMIDATED BY YOU BECAUSE YOU’RE MUSICIANS?
Jo Billups: We’re holding guitars, you know? Holding banners is wonderful, we’ve done that, but guitars are instantly a different thing for people. Our goal is a healthy planet, so the hope is that the music will bring that forward, that through the music and the message more people will get involved.
Karen Harvill: We were raised by mothers who said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Our joke is “Okay, we’ll just sing it.”

SHOULD SOME OF US STICK TO HOLDING BANNERS?
Harvill: Whatever your natural talents are, there’s a use for them in the environmental movement.
Billups: We feel there are enough people singing love songs that our skills can be better used with an environmental theme.

We were raised by mothers who said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Our joke is “Okay, we’ll just sing it.”

WHAT’S THE BEST PROTEST LYRIC YOU’VE WRITTEN?
Harvill: I think our song “The Trees Are Dreaming” sums things up. The chorus goes, “How do we fix our polluted waters / Our shrinking forests or the madness in the air? / Until we mend the madness of our minds / There will be no solution there, there will be no solutions there.”

HOW DID YOU GET INTO ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM?
Billups: Well, I’m a big Bob Dylan fan, so I started with protest music as a teenager. And I grew up fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, so protecting the gulf was a natural thing that developed, and that spread out to a more global attitude and philosophy. The activism just kind of followed as I became more aware.
Harvill: Even though I’m older, I also was taken by political music in high school. And then I had children. And I began to look at things going on around me, watching things be degraded. It’s heartbreaking.

SO WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE SPELLING OF YOUR BAND’S NAME?
Harvill: We added an extra s. We figured there’s two of us, so …
Billups: There were already five groups called Sassafras, so we added the extra s.
—interview by Julie Eng

Read online at SierraClub.org

Why You Should Remember the Passenger Pigeon

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, January 27, 2014

An estimated 2 billion birds darkened the sky above John James Audubon’s head in the autumn of 1813, a flock of passenger pigeons more than 50 miles long that would take three full days to pass out of view. “The birds poured in in countless multitudes,” Audubon wrote. “The air was literally filled with pigeons; the light of noonday was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.”

When Dr. Andrew Stern visits schools to teach children about the now-extinct passenger pigeon, he slowly dims the lights, turning up a radio until the sound of white noise shakes the building.

“It’s a little scary,” Stern said. “That’s what it was supposed to be like. More [birds] than is imaginable. The fact that they were gone in a little over 50 years is astounding.”

The passenger pigeon, now 100 years extinct, was once one of the most common birds in North America. Probably the largest number of birds of a single species that has ever existed on earth, says Stern. Naturalists of the time describe the enormous migrating flocks being more than a mile wide and 300 miles long, a billion birds passing overhead for several days at a time.

“That intense experience of witnessing a flock is gone,” Stern says. “No one will ever experience it again.”

In just 50 years they were hunted to near extinction. The last passenger pigeon alive died in captivity in 1914.

As executive director of arts-based environmental nonprofit The Lost Bird Project, Stern leads his team in their 2014 Fold the Flock campaign to share the birds’ story. The group calls on participants to fold their own origami passenger pigeons, symbolically recreating a flock of the lost birds. Participants can download the pattern from the Fold the Flock website, and add their own creations to the virtual flock, now numbering 7,829 paper birds.

The passenger pigeon is one of the five birds memorialized by sculptor Todd McGrain in the 2013 documentary The Lost Bird Project, the nonprofit’s first undertaking. McGrain now works with his brother-in-law Stern as creative director of the organization.

Unlike other groups that focus on extinction, Stern and his team have no plans to save a species. They instead hope to help America consider its loss. Fold the Flock is not a call to action, but a call for remembrance.

“The nature of memory for the natural world is very short,” he says. “There’s a thing that’s called ‘environmental amnesia,’ where you sort of assume unconsciously that the way the environment was when you were young is the baseline. And if it needs to be restored it should be restored to that. But that’s a completely artificial concept.”

Rather than place blame or induce guilt, The Lost Bird Project hopes to educate by preserving and sharing the memory of what’s been lost.

“Nobody alive has ever heard [a passenger pigeon], ever seen one. It’s gone, and most people know nothing about it,” he says. “So this is an attempt to shake up the amnesia, and say ‘We remember this. We remember the passenger pigeon and its lesson.'”

The colorful paper birds are intended to be a fun, family-friendly medium through which to spread the word. Most important, Stern says, the project creates much-needed community among participants.

“Separation is the cause of the whole thing,” he says. “We’re separated from each other, we’re separated from nature. So we create community, have everyone fold a paper pigeon so they feel like they belong, like they’re doing something together.”

Purchase the Fold the Flock passenger pigeon oragami kit for $12.95 or download a free folding pattern at foldtheflock.org

Read online at SierraClub.org

Green Stocking Stuffers for Everyone on Your List

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, December 17, 2013

Green Stocking Stuffers for Everyone on Your List

With only a few shopping days left before the holidays, most people have their big presentswrapped and ready to go. But don’t forget that sometimes great things come in small, stocking stuffer-sized packages. We’ve collected small gift ideas for everyone on your list, from the outdoor adventurer to the environmentally conscious shopper. Hang your stockings by the chimney with care, and fill them with a few of these green gifts:

For the budding environmentalist: Amateur artists will love recycled crayons from Crazy Crayons ($3-$10), which can help teach children about the importance of sustainable living, and to be conscious of what they consume and discard. If your youngsters are the more adventurous type, give them the tools to explore: try magnifying glasses, binoculars, and guides to your backyard flora and fauna. Gifts like Wild Republic’s plush birds play real bird calls, and encourage your little ones to get outside and start exploring. 

For the die-hard cyclist: Even the most devoted athlete has to take a break every so often. For a beer after a long ride, they’ll love Resource Revival’s recycled bicycle chain keychain bottle opener ($12). If your cyclist is a foodie, try Anna Brones’s beautifully illustrated cookbook The Culinary Cyclist (Elly Blue Publishing, 2013, $9.95). Beyond delicious and easy recipes, Brones’s book gives readers genuinely useful lifestyle tips, explaining how to shop by bicycle and have “an impromptu picnic without breaking your champagne glasses in your bike pannier.” (Check out a few of Brones’s recipes here on the Green Life.)

For the outdoorsy type: Practical and perfectly stocking stuffer-sized, the Lifestraw personal water filter ($19.95) is a great gift for campers and backpackers. If the hiker on your list has a favorite park, opt for Liberty Bottle Works’ Topo water bottles ($11.99-$26.69), which come printed with topographical maps of several American wilderness areas. 

For animal lovers: Animal lovers of all ages will appreciate a wild animal adopted in their name ($25-$100), or the sponsored care of a rescued farm animal, from Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary ($10-$50).

For gardeners: Greenaid sells small seed bomb tube kits for the guerrilla gardener on your list, packaged by themes like garden herb and golden poppy ($4.99-$11.99). For the more festive, check out Earth Easy’s Christmas tree grow bottle kit ($19.95). The green-thumbed recipient can raise their own Scotch pine for holidays to come.  

For conscious consumers: If your loved ones don’t yet own a reusable shopping bag, this should be first on your list. Pick up a pack of four from the Sierra Club ($15.99), or buyclassic Chico bags individually ($5.99). Reusable hand towels are another everyday essential for busy environmentalists. People Towels sells two packs of beautifully designed towels and a handy carrying bag for $15.99, or individually towels from $6. 

Read online at SierraClub.org

Book Review: EarthArt

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, December 12, 2013

Book Review: EarthArt

In Bernhard Edmaier’s EarthArt: Colours of The Earth, (Phaidon, 2013) we learn that chemical weathering is responsible for the vivid, highlighter-hued yellow of the Crozon Peninsula in France. Flip a few pages, and we read that the rusty-red shade of crusted salt lakes indicates the presence of halophilic bacteria, microorganisms that thrive in saline conditions. A few chapters back, electric blue seas are explained by the depth of their water, jade green wetlands by their algae, and on and on as Edmaier and Dr. Angelika Jung-Hüttl take readers through the rainbow.

A number of things make EarthArt much more than just a coffee table book, chief among them the geologists’ succinct and engaging scientific explanations of the colors and textures seen in Edmaier’s aerial photos of the earth’s surface. Accompanied by a quick introductory overview of color theory from Aristotle to Newton, the authors’ brief descriptions of the science behind the natural hues in each color chapter add a depth to Edmaier’s photos that make the book not just a work of art, but a genuinely good read.

Flip through the pages for a view of our planet as few have considered it before, jewel tones fading into deep and dusky hues, bumpy mountain ranges into smooth ribbons rivers and flat matte oceans. Grouping the images by color offers the reader an unusual and arresting picture of the earth’s surface as a whole. Seldom are we given the opportunity to see the world as a progression of color, from glaciers to lava and back again. The grouping highlights the unique textures only aerial photos can capture: were it not for the Pared Norte glacier’s velvety surface, its reddish browns would flow seamlessly across the page into the dusty, craggy mountain range of the Dolomites. For geology buffs and artists alike, EarthArt is a window into a very unique and fascinating picture of the earth’s surface. 

Read the full post online at SierraClub.org

New Styles for Fashionable Cyclists

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, December 6, 2013

New Styles for Fashionable Cyclists

The number of Americans commuting by bike continues to rise, and fashion designers are sitting up and taking notice. Neon spandex generally isn’t considered appropriate office attire, but the fits of most slacks and dresses don’t lend themselves neatly (or safely) to pedaling. Anyone who’s caught a pant leg in their gears or toted an wardrobe change in their backpack knows the importance of stylish cycling clothes. Fortunately, the number of sartorial options for style-savvy bike commuters are now numerous. Check out these designers for fashionable duds with your eco-friendly commute in mind:

Vespertine: Having had their reflective safety vest featured in Vogue, this company has certainly earned their “Haute Réflecture” label. Vespertine pieces are woven with threads that are invisible indoors but shine under a car headlights, making you visible from within 2,000 feet. In addition to reflective and work-friendly shirt dresses, trench coats, and jackets, the company sells a number of chic and shiny accessories. Choose from belts, scarves, bow ties, and jewelry, all designed to keep you fashionable and visible on the road. 

Outlier: The New York-based company began with a basic pair of sturdy commuter pants, inspired by “the intense feeling of exhilaration and liberation that comes from riding in the city.” Since then they’ve added blazers cut to allow greater range of movement, air-forged women’s button downs that defy sweat, and a number of other elegantly designed basics guaranteed to withstand whatever your morning commute throws at you. 

Iva Jean: Anyone who’s ever tried to ride a bicycle in a pencil skirt will be blown away by the company’s Reveal Skirt, which discretely unzips to reveal extra fabric, allowing for a greater range of motion and easier pedaling. To sweeten the deal, through December 15, 2013, 10% of all online sales at Iva Jean will be donated to World Bicycle Relief.

Levi’s: While the original Commuter line received some mixed reviews from the critics, shoppers seem to love the Commuter Trousers. With reflective cuffs, a high rise, and reinforced water-resistant fabric disguised as work-friendly khakis, these slacks have earned some serious fans in the commuting community.

Yakkay: The Danish helmet manufacturer has caused quite a stir since their high-fashion helmets hit the U.S. market last year. Yakkay offers traditional hard helmets with a number of interchangeable covers, from herringbone riding caps to striped fedoras, all U.S. CPSC certified. Obviously safety always trumps style, so do your research before you buy.

Read online at SierraClub.org

Slow Cycling Gains Momentum: 5 Ways to Slow Down

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, December 5, 2013

Slow Cycling Gains Momentum: 5 Ways to Slow Down

There’s a new cyclist in town, and he’s eschewing spandex and speed for comfy clothes and picnics. Slow cycling — intentionally setting out for a leisurely ride, with the goal of socializing and exploring — has become organized. Groups have cropped up in cities all over the U.S. as the slow cycling movement has picked up speed, and some even vie for last place in slow bicycle races.

Though bicycling at a leisurely pace is nothing new, organized rides have traditionally been the domain of those riders looking for a serious workout. But as urban transportation changes more and more Americans are taking to their bicycles as means of everyday transport, increasing the number of competent but casual cyclists on the road. 

“It’s getting really expensive to drive in the city,” says Sarah Murray, founder of Chicago’sSlow Bicycle Society, where dapper duds are preferred over lycra, and speed is capped at 8 mph. “To have something to do where you’re kind of getting around by bicycle and meeting different people is a win all the way around. It’s just an easy thing to do.”

When Murray started cycling, she was eager to share her new hobby with others, but had trouble finding her place in the bicycling community.

“I stopped driving, and I was exuberant about my new bicycling world,” she says. “I looked to see what groups I could join to sort of get in the mode and meet people, and everything was for fast [riders]. They’d say ‘Oh, we’re having a slow ride, it’ll be 15 miles per an hour.'”

Murray began gathering her friends for slow rides to restaurants, bars, and picnic spots, taking their time to socialize and explore the city. The rides caught on, and now the official Facebook group boasts 343 members of varying ages and backgrounds. 

“People are usually excited to participate [in part] because they’re afraid to cycle in the city — and that’s one of my goals, to get people not afraid to ride their bicycles in the city,” Murray says. “The streets are theirs too, and it’s so much better for the environment to jump on your bike to ride to Target versus getting in your car to go half a mile.”

Thinking of taking up slow cycling? Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Choose a comfy bike. Racing-style bikes have low handlebars that will leave you with a sore back after a long, leisurely ride. If possible, find a cruiser or other upright frame to take slow cycling. 

2. Stay safe. While you may not be rocketing down hills, safety still comes first on your bike. Bring your helmet, make sure to stop and signal at lights, and consider your clothes. Long, flowy skirts or loose pantlegs can still get caught in gears, even at a slow speed.

3. Choosing a theme isn’t necessary, Murray notes, but it certainly is fun. Some groups choose costumes, themed destinations, or specific geographic areas to explore as a way to bring their riders together. “The goal is to create community,” she says.

4. Remember to share the road, especially when in groups. Leave room for others to pass, and be prepared for faster cyclists to do so.

5. Keep an open mind, and welcome newcomers to your group. “There’s space for everybody on the road,” Murray says. “You don’t have to be any particular type of cyclist, just show up and ride.”

Read online at SierraClub.org

Give Green, Fight Waste, Make Change

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, December 3, 2013

Give Green, Fight Waste, Make Change

Black Friday has made the news in recent years for the frenzied and sometimes dangerous enthusiasm it incites in the nation’s most devotedshoppers, many of whom gather outside malls and big box stores as soon as they’ve downed their turkey. But the Environmental Protection Agency gives us another reason to think twice about having participated in the biggest shopping day of the year: the estimated25 percent increase in household wastein the United States between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That translates to about 1 million extra tons of gift wrapping and product packaging (including those endlessly frustrating plastic blister packs in which all electronics are packaged). A number of groups have come together to fight the waste that seems to come hand in hand with the Black Friday, claiming the holiday week for less wasteful and more sustainable causes. Here are a couple ways to give sustainably this month: 

Giving Tuesday: #GivingTuesday began last year as a charitable response to Black Friday, and had a pretty big impact. According to event organizers, 100,000 people across the U.S. came together to celebrate the day after Thanksgiving by making charitable contributions to more than 2,500 participating organizations, donating an estimated tens of millions of dollars online.  

This year, more than 7,000 charitable organizations will participate in #GivingTuesday, rallying their supporters to give generously on December 3. Charitable partners are listed online, and even sorted by cause and location, and you have almost 200 environmental partners to choose from. Help the Sierra Club Foundation fight dirty fossil fuels, protect ecosystems, and promote clean energy. Then check out the #GivingTuesday partner databaseto find more causes close to your heart.

Fair Tuesday: Another movement inspired by Black Friday, #FairTuesday aims to inspire conscious consumerism this holiday season by encouraging shoppers to buy fair trade, ethical, and eco-friendly brands this Tuesday. In its first year in 2012, the movement reached 3 million people and brought together 135 partners in 13 countries.

searchable database of partners accompanied by a handy map allows participants to browse for fair-trade and eco-friendly gifts and services, and in many cases enjoy special #FairTuesday discounts. You’ll find everything from organic and sustainable foods to clothes and home goods, all gift-worthy and benefiting a worthy cause.

Read online at SierraClub.org