Mike and Jill Fanning courtesy Elinor Fanning

by Cory Davis and Linda Winnie

Flathead Audubon wanted to take a moment to appreciate the efforts of two long-time board and committee members, Mike and Jill Fanning. For over half the life of FAS, Mike and Jill have been there to support us however they could, including with their unique sense of humor. Mike and Jill will still be involved in FAS, but they are giving up their last post as our long-running Membership Committee chairs.

Jill joined the board in 2000 and has played a crucial role in enhancing member services at the chapter meetings. For many years she greeted new visitors and provided them with chapter newsletters, brochures, and served on the Hospitality Committee in various additional capacities. For over 14 years, she was in charge of the chapter’s Sales efforts, offering a variety of bird-themed items such as note cards and calendars for sale at chapter meetings, and generating some welcome income for FAS. Jill’s special project was to promote the use of shade-grown coffee to help preserve the habitat in Central and South America where “our” neotropical migrants spend our winter months.  

She wrote articles on the topic for the Pileated Post and talked about the issue at meetings. She arranged for Montana Coffee Traders to donate shade grown coffee for the refreshment table at FAS meetings so folks could try it out and so the coffee served at our meetings was bird friendly.

Mike first joined the board in 2002 and served a term as FAS President in 2007-09. During those years, the FAS Education Program was significantly expanded, which caused the FAS budget to double, and then triple. Several years earlier FAS had taken the big step of paying a small stipend to a part-time nature educator to carry out the chapter’s Education Program. Just as Mike became President, the stipend was increased to make this a half-time position and Mike led the effort to generate funds to help cover the costs. He spent long hours researching grant opportunities and writing and submitting applications and talking with local non-profits who could help FAS with these costs, even after his term ended. A Finance Committee was formed to address this funding need, and Mike served as its chair for over 10 years. Eventually a group of grant writers was assembled to help with the effort. It was Mike and this group that carried the chapter through this difficult period and put the funding of our Education Program on a solid foundation.

In particular, we want to acknowledge their contribution to our Membership Committee. Mike and Jill became the Membership Committee Co-Chairs in 1999, and only now, 23 years later, are they stepping down from that position. What started out as a simple job has become increasingly more complicated and demanding. In 1999, the only members an Audubon Chapter had were the members of National Audubon who happened to live in the membership area assigned to it by National. Each month National would mail us address labels for our members, and the Membership Chair had to stick these onto copies of the chapter’s newsletter, and mail them out. At that time, National supported the chapters financially by sending each chapter a portion of the dues it had collected from the chapter’s members.

Then in 2001-2002 National decided it needed more funding for its own projects and started shrinking the amount it sent to the local chapters. Finally in 2002, National announced that to help chapters make up for this reduction in revenue, they would allow local chapters to recruit their own members and keep all of the dues paid to the chapter by these local members. Mike crunched the numbers for Flathead Audubon and saw that setting up a local membership program would more than make up for the reduction in support coming from National. He advised the Board to give it a try. He would build a database to keep track of all the membership information the chapter would now be responsible for, and figure out how to make it work. Luckily for us, keeping track of this kind of data is exactly what he had been doing in his job at Boeing before he retired; it was his area of expertise.

In March 2003, Mike announced in the Post that FAS had a new “Local Chapter Membership Policy” and provided a form folks could use to join the chapter in this new way. Flathead Audubon was the first chapter in Montana to make this move, and one of the first in the nation. Other chapters watched to see how we would do, and many sent letters or emails asking how it was going, or to get advice on how to set it up. The recruitment of local members went slowly at first, but Mike ramped up his appeal and the number of local members grew to over one hundred, then to two. It became clear that local people liked contributing to local projects and supporting the local chapter. At about the same time, another complication was introduced. In 2003, FAS began producing two different versions of the newsletter– the usual paper version, delivered by mail, and a digital version, delivered by email. Mike had to keep track of who wanted which kind and work with Jill to get the paper version mailed to the members who wanted paper. He and Jill recruited folks to help them with processing the paper copies each month. Jill became expert at the special sorting required for bulk mailing.

There is not enough room here to list all the other ways Jill and Mike have served Flathead Audubon and its members over the years. Where they have seen a need, they have stepped in to meet it – sometimes for just short periods until a more permanent volunteer can be found, sometimes for longer periods. FAS owes a huge debt of gratitude to Jill and Mike for all they have done for Flathead Audubon – from membership to president to hospitality and sales to serving on the board – and all the rest. Among “the rest” is a very special and unique activity that they created for Flathead Audubon. In 2008, Jill and Mike put together the first FAS Warbler Weekend at Tally Lake, now morphed into our current Warbler Days, and they went on to organize and host this event for another 13 years. This year’s 15th Warbler Days will take place this June. The event gives FAS members the chance to camp together for a couple of days and nights in June to enjoy each other’s company and the sights and sounds and warblers around the Tally Lake Campground. It is yet another extraordinary contribution by Jill and Mike to Flathead Audubon and its members.

Flathead Audubon has been fortunate to have Jill and Mike Fanning as part of our team for over twenty years! Thank you, Jill and Mike, for your many contributions to growing and sustaining Flathead Audubon over this period, and for the thoughtful and energetic and innovative leadership you have provided to support the chapter and its members.