Dear friends of Ruffner,
Over the month of December, you will hear us talk about membership, a lot. While we’d prefer to be sharing stories about George the opossum, native plants, winter birds of Ruffner, Shades Creek Restoration, and conversations about our bats, I’d like to explain just what membership is all about, and what you get out of it. But first, let me tell you a story.
Two years ago, I accepted the position of Executive Director of Ruffner Mountain. Prior to working here, I’d used Ruffner Mountain in a way that is probably very similar to most of you: hiked the trails, read a book at the back porch, perused the Nature Center, walked my dog; I would take friends and family to the overlook, attend an event or two. Some months I visited weekly, then six months would pass without one visit to the preserve. During my interview, I was upfront. Other than dropping in a few dollars at the trailhead, I’d never really donated to Ruffner or to any of the other places that I frequented. I’d never filled out a membership form.
By the end of 2016, one year into the job, I’d signed up for membership at Red Mountain Park, the Cahaba River Society, Birmingham Botanical Gardens and of course, Ruffner Mountain.
Once I understood that my use and love of these places, while wonderful, was costing money (yes, they are free to visit, but my use was not free; it cost something), I immediately signed up. By joining through membership I could know that I was covering my personal use, and maybe that of someone that could not afford it.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s and early 2000’s Ruffner averaged over 1,000 members. Membership covered about 25% of the nonprofit’s operating budget. The 2010 opening of the new Nature Center and public pavilion brought more visitors, programs, and exhibits, yet membership decreased drastically. While wonderful, the new facilities and new people meant increased cost and more maintenance. By January of 2016 Ruffner had only 100 active members.
That very same year we launched our new membership format and end-of-the-year drive with a long term goal of 1,500 members. When we realized that Ruffner and its mission are the same as they were 30 years ago, with free programming, trails, a possum that makes everyone smile, a few more acres added, and a LEED Nature Center we knew that the next step was to reconnect with the communities surrounding the mountain, to rebuild that original community of Ruffner members.
This membership drive is direct for a reason. The green signs you see on the mountain may cause a twinge of guilt from time to time, but this is simply because we don’t want there to be any gray area when it comes to membership.
We receive a lot of questions about membership: what is it for, what do you get, and why should I pay? Membership. The term itself is misleading. In actuality, it is nothing more than a use fee.
Membership pays for the parking lot where you park, the water from the sinks, the trash cans that are emptied each week, toilets that are cleaned regularly, the camera at the entrance, the insurance for the land, and many other expenses. It pays for your use of this place, however you use it. We are not asking first time visitors to become members. We are asking each of you who visit and attend programs, who profess your love for Ruffner Mountain, Turkey Creek, Red Mountain, or any of the green spaces of the Magic City—if you have the means, now is the time to become a member.
Thank you for reading.