Where are you, Caleb? Or is it Clara??

By Dr. H. Ross Hawkins
Founder and Executive Director

The Hummingbird Society came into existence May 14, 1996 as a Delaware corporation.  When the official notice arrived (by mail, not by email!), it was an exciting moment, since before that no Society had existed for hummingbird conservation.

Not long after that, curiosity got the best of us, and we went to the Webcrawler search engine and entered "Hummingbird Society." Shock: we got a single hit, with a link to Professor Adam Corson-Finnerty's online posting of a chapter from his forthcoming book with Laura Blanchard. Entitled Fundraising and Friend-Raising on the Web, its emphasis was on the potential (remember, this is 1996) for nonprofits to use the web to describe their cause, gain members, and raise money.

(Back then—we're still talking 1996—the internet was in its infancy. Search engines were a new idea, just taking root; there was no Google; and people were reluctant to conduct financial transactions on the internet for purchase, donations, etc. Wow, haven't times changed?)

Here is the amazing posting from Chapter 3 that had triggered the search engine hit. Believe it or not, it read:

One day we will hear the news about Caleb Crabtree's online pledge of $5 million to the Hummingbird Society. You know Caleb. He lives in a shack, wears old clothes, never talks to his neighbors, and apparently doesn't have a dime. Turns out he spends all his time cruising the internet, and the Hummingbird home page caught his eye. Caleb was moved by the story of the loss of hummingbird habitat in the rain forest. When the "pledge now" icon appeared at the bottom of the page, he clicked and entered $5 million, plus his name and phone number.

Of course, anyone can enter any amount in an online pledge form, and the staff of the Hummingbird Society figured it was a joke. Someone called anyway, and—miracle of miracles—good-hearted Caleb has it all buried in a Charles Schwab account. He got it by turning in soda cans for the deposit money, and then played the market for fifteen years. Caleb is a stock-market genius, and the Hummingbird Society has struck it rich. (see note about Sylvia Bloom below)

Of course, this didn't really happen, but the story certainly got MY attention back then, 22 years ago, and still today!

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When I quickly sent an email to Prof. Corson-Finnerty, he was surprised to learn there really was a Hummingbird Society and that we already had a website! I asked him in earnest if he knew how we could get in touch with Caleb. Naturally, he just laughed!

Actually, the story could have been about a hypothetical Clara Crabtree: Studies show that women donate more to charities than men and are also more likely to chose causes related to the environment. As a case in point, on 5/6/18 the New York Times reported that Sylvia Bloom, 96, had made a donation of $8.3 million to her favorite NY charity, Henry Street Settlement. She had been a legal secretary all her life. She was very frugal...and a good long-range planner, I would say. Apparently, whenever her boss asked her to call his broker with an order to buy a stock, she would buy a few shares of the same stock separately for herself—in much smaller quantity, obviously, because of the disparity in their incomes.

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Speaking as an experienced director of a nonprofit organization, I would like to share my perspective on the Caleb story.

It isn't just that $5,000,000 is such a huge amount (although it is!); it's that it is a big surprise income. Compare it to how you would feel if you had personally received it!

Nonprofits are, on average, 'lean machines.' Operating primarily on donations, budgets are usually pared down to a bare minimum. Projects (and creative organizations usually have many!) go unfunded, not because they are unworthy, but simply because there just isn't enough money.

When a large donation arrives unexpectedly, its effect is wondrous, because it lifts the lid on what is possible. This is exciting beyond belief for a nonprofit organization.

Here at The Hummingbird Society, for example, we could consider the following possibilities (not a complete list!!), but we know how to dream big:
(1) Regular funding to aid protection of 1 or even 2 critically endangered hummingbird species for a period of several years;
(2) Hire more staff to deal with a workload that even now is close to impossible;
(3) Replace our tired and overworked computers; upgrade software;
(4) Rebuild our heavily-used website to make it mobile-friendly;
(5) Expand our Sedona Hummingbird Festival to make it the world's largest and most successful such event.(It's pretty close to that already!)

Even all these items taken together would require far less than $5,000,000.

So I pose this question to "Clara" and/or "Caleb":  Are you out there?

We are excited to think about how our mission of protecting endangered hummingbirds could be greatly enhanced by a quantum jump in donations. If you would like to help us, make a donation on our website, or call us at (928) 284-2251.

Dr. H. Ross Hawkins
Founder and Executive Director

Our website link for donations and memberships is:
www.hummingbirdsociety.org/join-renew-donate

link to view The Hummingbird Connection, member magazine of the Hummingbird Society











Photo: Wally Nussbaumer

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