An Interview with Sean Scanlon, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a world leader in the study, appreciation and conservation of birds. According to its website, "Our hallmarks are scientific excellence and technological innovation to advance the understanding of nature and to engage people of all ages in learning about birds and protecting the planet."
Its annual operating budget is $21 million, and it has a staff of 240 people.
Here, FundRaising Success talks with Sean B. Scanlon, senior director of development and philanthropy, at the organization.
FundRaising Success: How does The Cornell Lab of Ornithology fund its mission?
Sean Scanlon: Somewhat surprisingly, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is completely self-funded. It is not financially supported by Cornell University. Of the $21 million l raised annually, 40 percent comes from research grants by our faculty, about 35 percent from philanthropy and 25 percent from all other sources, including a small endowment, program income, contracts and some licensing revenue. The diverse sources are a real strength of the organization and a credit to the program directors here.
FS: What are the Lab's fundraising strengths/weaknesses?
SS: The Lab's strength in fundraising begins with a broad and growing base of national support through our membership program. In total we have more than 45,000 annual donors, 95 percent of whom have no affiliation with Cornell University.
Because of our leadership on the Web (see www.allaboutbirds.org and www.ebird.org, for example) and the Lab's scientific authority on birds, we have been able to generate tremendous Web traffic with more than 9 million unique visitors each year. I cannot say enough about our communications team at the Lab. They are the best in the nonprofit world through Web communications, print magazines and unmatched multimedia. In addition, the Lab has a very strong national administrative board that has provided amazing leadership and support for the past 30 years.