When an iconic species’ population starts to dwindle and natural habitats vanish, what can be done? And whose responsibility is it?
How are elk populations best protected against human expansion? Theodore Roosevelt had these concerns at the turn of the 20th century. An avid hunter, his response was to push for hunting regulations and the establishment of conservation groups to protect wildlife and their habitats.
His actions shaped a set of ideals now known as the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, which champions two basic principles — that fish and wildlife belong to all Americans, and that it’s our duty to protect and sustain their populations.
Roosevelt’s dedication still resonates through the hard work of groups like The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF).
At the end of its first year, in 1984, RMEF had just under 2,500 members. Today, membership has swelled to 235,000, with more than 500 chapters across North America.
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How a pastor, a realtor, a logger and a drive-in owner decided to be the change they wanted to see
The mission of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is to “ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat, and our hunting heritage.”
RMEF was founded in 1984 in Troy, Montana by four hunters with a shared love of what they saw as North America’s grandest game animal — elk.
Montana is “elk country” — they are the iconic species throughout the entire state. But the four friends had a distressing realization: the United States was losing its habitat for elk at an astronomical rate. And since no one was doing anything about it, they would.
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation founders, left to right: Bob Munson, Dan Bull, Bill Munson and Charlie Decker.
The RMEF founders set up shop in the back room of a trailer house and devised an organization that would directly benefit elk and other wildlife. The team members drained their bank accounts and borrowed funds, so that they could mail out 43,000 brochures to solicit members.
They received a dismal 233 responses.
But, committed, they borrowed additional funds to print 32,000 copies of the first issue of Bugle magazine, which they distributed to grocery stores and gas stations throughout the West.
Through the pages of Bugle, the RMEF calls for every member to “do more to protect and enhance elk country.”
By the end of 1984, membership had grown to almost 2,500.
Today, with a membership of 235,000 and 500 chapters, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has championed:
- More than 7.5 million acres of protected land
- More than 1.2 million acres of land opened and/or secured for public access, hunting, and other outdoor recreation
- More than 12,000 projects focused on:
- Permanent land protection
- Habitat stewardship
- Elk restoration
- Conservation education
- Hunting heritage projects
- Reintroduction of elk populations in:
- Kentucky – Eastern coalfields
- Missouri – Peck Ranch Conservation Area
- North Carolina – Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Ontario – Various locations
- Tennessee – Cumberland Plateau
- Virginia – Buchanan County
- West Virginia – Tomblin Wildlife Management Area
- Wisconsin – Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest & Jackson County Forest
It was started by four hunters with few resources beyond their principles and a mission. Today, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has more than 145 employees and 12,000 volunteers that make these conservation achievements possible.
The 5 tiers in the RMEF initiative program: permanent land protection, habitat stewardship, hunting heritage, elk restoration, and advocacy.
With so many members (spread across the United States) and multiple membership tiers, marketing has become more complicated.
In the digital age The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has turned to technology – so they can:
- Let members choose what emails they receive…and when they receive them
- Reduce the number of the emails they send (and make what they send more valuable)
- Increase revenue by segmenting their email lists
- Use automated surveys to improve fundraising events
How email segmentation helps wildlife conservation
“The automation side of it…segmenting multiple lists…it just works.” – Chad Carman, RMEF
Before they had ActiveCampaign, RMEF had trouble setting up a scalable email marketing program.
“Our Creative Services department would have to create everything (in Dreamweaver) and then upload the code,” remembers Chad Carman, RMEF digital media director. “It wasn’t user-friendly and it wasn’t mobile responsive.”
And everyone got every email.
“ActiveCampaign, more than anything, let us start segmenting our list,” says Chad.
If you organize your list based on what people have in common (like location and membership status), your emails are more relevant. Segmentation lets you give people what they want.
With ActiveCampaign, RMEF members can choose which emails they receive. They have several options:
- General newsletters
- Sponsored content from partners
- Membership updates
- New product announcements
- State/local events
- Video series
“We land a lot less in junk folders. We give people a better experience,” added Carman.
How RMEF uses conditional content to keep the focus on elk (instead of email)
It used to be that if RMEF wanted to send an email to a specific segment of its membership, it had to pull a report from the database to get a list of the right email addresses.
The process was complicated and took time.
And it didn’t always work.
“We’d have campaigns from different departments — sometimes five days a week,” Chad explains. “One department would want to send on Tuesday to new members. On Wednesday another department might want to send only to members in Colorado, but we might also have a newsletter going out to the whole list that day. So some people would receive all three emails.”
How did members respond when they got three emails within a couple days?
RMEF found an answer inside ActiveCampaign: conditional content.
RMEF produces several monthly video series to spread awareness about public access projects, habitat stewardship work, and hunting’s vital link to conservation.
The emails that promote the videos also target recipients with different call-to-action (CTA) blocks. Which block the recipient sees depends on two conditions:
- Non-members. The call-to-action prompts them to become a member, with copy that explains how membership fees help great causes (like the one showcased in the video).
- Members. The call-to-action asks for a donation. Members receive a donation incentive (like a cooler or flashlight) and a reminder that donations help fund public access projects.
“Now, we can target. We send more relevant content on a more reasonable basis,” Chad says.
Membership rewards are a great way to promote your CTA.
What effect does email marketing have on donations?
“The amount of revenue generated…I know last year was really good for us” – Chad Carman.
Looking at Google Analytics, Chad can see how much revenue email campaigns generated in 2018.
“For 2018 we did $90,000 in sales through almost no effort of our own. Just by adding calls-to-action that were targeted and customized.”
Nearly another $90,000 was raised from rmef.org.
“So almost $180,000 in those two avenues alone — and that’s directly traceable to ActiveCampaign,” says Chad.
When you host 500+ events every year, you need to know what people think of them
When you spend millions to host 500+ events a year there’s a question you really need to answer.
What did people think of your event?
RMEF gets the feedback it needs with an ActiveCampaign automation. Three days post-event, an automation triggers an email to attendees. The email thanks them for their attendance, and offers a discount if they fill out a post-event survey.
An example of a what a post-event survey automation could look like. You can import this ActiveCampaign recipe for free here.
Overall, this is a pretty simple automation – but the results have been impressive.The last year of using our old survey system we had a total of 700 responses. And then this year (with ActiveCampaign) we got 3300 responses.TWEET THIS!!
“It’s virtually priceless, getting that feedback from members. The feedback was immediate, by having a friendly, good-looking email.”
How do you know how much FUN was in your FUNdraiser? With a follow-up survey.
“There’s few things in America as majestic as a bull elk on a wild landscape”
The means by which the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation seeks to carry out its mission have changed over time, but the conservation of elk and elk habitat is still at the heart of its purpose. As Chad says, “Elk are an iconic American species — an aspirational hunt, the pinnacle of a trip out West.”
And as Chad points out, the work that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation does “flows out from elk to other animals.”