The first week in August, a group of backpackers trekked 45 miles across Yosemite National Park to raise awareness and resources for the campaign to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley, currently buried under 300 feet of water. John Muir once advocated to preserve Hetch Hetchy and described this valley as “one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples”. Despite protests led by Muir and other conservationists, in 1913, a dam was built and the imperial, granite cliffs, grassy meadows, and twining Tuolumne River were transformed into a holding tank for the City of San Francisco.
Today, Muir’s spirit lives on in the work of Restore Hetch Hetchy, a group dedicated to returning the Hetch Hetchy Valley to its natural splendor while continuing to meet the water supply needs of all communities that depend on the Tuolumne River. From August 1-7, the group hosted their second Muir’s March across Yosemite which culminated atop the O’Shaughnessy Dam where the marchers were joined by activists from around California to rally for the Valley’s restoration.
Online Fundraising Today took the opportunity to ask Mike Marshall, director of Restore Hetch Hetchy, about the event’s success. It turns out that the second year was very successful. Marshall reported a 50% increase in participants, revenue up by 40% and costs were reduced by 45%!
Marshall went on to explain that in the past, Restore Hetch Hetchy’s donor base was much older and responded to direct mailings. The non-profit wanted to expand its donor base. They believed that designing an event that generated revenue by getting their participants to raise money and spread awareness would also be an excellent outreach tool. A year and a half ago, they came up with the idea of Muir’s March: a pledge event where backpackers would ask for support from friends and family to walk in the footsteps of John Muir, thereby raising awareness and resources to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley. Walking for a week through Yosemite requires good physical conditioning and appealed to many younger, outdoor enthusiasts. This helped to bring in their friends and families, a younger demographic, into the donor base. Furthermore, having pledgers raise money for the organizations, brings in people that the organization would never be able to reach on its own. In this year’s march, over 83% were first-time contributors to Restore Hetch Hetchy.
What’s next for Restore Hetch Hetchy? Mike Marshall is interested in sustaining and educating the donors. “They were probably supporting friends or family, but now we need them to believe in the cause.” Marshall hopes to create regular email communications and newsletters to build excitement around the issue. He’s also intent on doing a follow-up with participants who are even more invested now with restoring the valley than they were at the onset. Social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and University listservs facilitate communication which is crucial in maintaining energy around the cause. He plans on encouraging participants to send photos of the march and share what they’ve learned. He’ll be able to use all this information to further awareness and fundraising when Restore Hetch Hetchy’s year-end annual appeal letter goes out to ensure that next year’s march is even more successful than this one.