by Bob Luck
I’m not asking for money (not today!), but I’d like to provide some thoughts on donating to TU.
TU is a decentralized organization with local chapters (such as TCTU), State Councils (such as the Minnesota State Council--MNTU), and a National Headquarters (TU National--or TUNA for short). For a more detailed description of TCTU, MNTU and TUNA, you can check out our website. Chapters, State Councils and TUNA all make fundraising appeals, which can be confusing to members. I hope to provide some clarity, with the disclaimer that this is my opinion, and any errors are my responsibility.
Except for a nominal rebate paid to chapters (described below), membership dues are retained by TUNA. These dues account for only about 10% of TUNA’s budget, but they are important because the money is unrestricted and because they show the commitment and size of our membership nationwide. TUNA conducts additional fundraising activities with its individual members (as you can see when you open your mailbox) and corporate sponsors. It also gets much of its funding from grants—government and otherwise. TUNA uses the funds it raises to support paid staff (many of whom provide valuable services to MNTU and TCTU), maintain critical infrastructure (such as their website), advocate for cold clean water on a national basis, publish TROUT Magazine, and support conservation projects of national importance such as preservation of Bristol Bay. They do a bunch of other stuff, too, but these are a few of the things that stand out to me. TUNA does not provide much direct financial support to MNTU or TCTU, other than an annual rebate of $1 per member to each local Chapter. TCTU has somewhere in the range of 2000 members, so we get an annual check from TUNA of about $2000. That is a fraction of the money needed to run our chapter, but TUNA provides great support for us to conduct local fundraising. For example, they provide us with our online silent auction and donation sites free of charge.
What stands out to me about the State of Minnesota is the generous funding it provides for Habitat Improvement and Environmental Education, primarily through the Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Minnesota also has some generous foundations and corporate donors. TU has been very successful in tapping State funds, which has helped Minnesota to become a national leader in Trout Stream Restoration and Youth Education. The credit for this goes to our State Council, MNTU, who have written grant proposals to obtain funding, and have created a track record of successfully implementing projects, which has given us credibility. MNTU can use a portion of the State funding to pay its staff and contractors to administer projects. But MNTU can’t use State funding to apply for the grants, nor can it access State funds to do advocacy work. I view Advocacy as a critical need in the coming years. To make a difference in such areas as agricultural runoff, feedlot impacts and removal of fish passage barriers, we need to increase State Council resources so that we can lobby at the legislature, collaborate with like-minded organizations, and harness the grassroots power of our local chapters. The primary way to fund our State Council’s advocacy efforts is via donations from TU members in Minnesota, and you have no doubt seen appeals via email, postal mail and in the quarterly newsletter Trout Unlimited Minnesota.
TCTU incurs modest expenses to support its member engagement efforts: paying for our email system and Zoom account, renting a mini warehouse to store our trailer and supplies for habitat and education projects, etc. We fund these expenses through contributions from our members, and the roughly $2000 we receive each year from TUNA. Being volunteer-driven, we have no staff expenses. TCTU does conduct fundraising campaigns for specific purposes. In the past few years, there have been two major efforts. The first is the project to remove the dams on the Kinnickinnic River and restore the riparian corridor. TCTU (and KIAP-TU-WISH) members have provided critical seed money to attract a large amount of Federal and State (Wisconsin) funding. The second is our Youth Education efforts. We support summer fishing skills programs in the Metro area, and we also provided some bridge funding to statewide education programs in the 2022-23 school year when MNTU was unsuccessful in obtaining a State Grant. The primary purpose of our recent Oktoberfish fundraiser was to contribute to the creation of a statewide “Sustaining Fund for Education”. Each of Minnesota’s five chapters will contribute to this fund for the next two years. It will be used as seed money to attract corporate and foundational funding that can supplement or, if needed, replace State funding for Youth Education.
How much should you donate to TU and where should you donate it? My philosophy about the “how much” is that you should donate a personally meaningful amount. We all have different financial circumstances, and we care in differing amounts about various aspects of cold-water conservation; whether you donate $10 or $1 million, if you find it meaningful, it is the right amount. “Where to donate” is also personal. I care deeply about the Kinnickinnic River—it is a beautiful, threatened river and I learned to fish there, so I focused most of my TU donations in 2022 on the Kinni. This year, I have shifted most of donations to MNTU because I believe we need to fund a strong advocacy effort in our state. I have been an enthusiastic participant in TCTU’s Silent Auctions for Education the last couple of years. I believe that with the number of kids in the Metro area, our chapter has a special responsibility to support Youth Education. I have not donated a significant amount of money to TUNA in the past few years, but I believe they do terrific work, and I will consider donating to them in future.
I hope that this overview has been helpful, and I encourage you to join me in considering a personally meaningful donation to TU as you make your year-end giving plans.
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