Pandemic Takeways: Carolina Raptor Center Goes Digital

In Strategic Planning by lisavgray

Second in a series of conversations with Charlotte-area nonprofit execs about
the pandemic takeaways making their organizations stronger

Carolina Raptor Center logo

Carolina Raptor Center ignites imaginations and inspires engagement in the natural world through the exploration and rehabilitation of birds of prey. The ¾ mile Raptor Trail and Edna S. Moretti Environmental Education Center welcome over 35,000 visitors a year. The Jim Arthur Raptor Medical Center treats 900+ birds a year, releasing almost 60% back into the wild. Founded in 1981, the Carolina Raptor Center (CRC) has been located at Mecklenburg County’s Latta Nature Preserve since 1984.

CRC closed its facilities in mid-March 2020 in response to the pandemic but quickly re-opened in July 2020 for five days a week. Customer Engagement Director Michele Miller Houck offers up these pandemic-inspired activities that the organization has taken and will likely expand going forward.

Build-out Your Digital Content

Pre-COVID, CRC had launched a YouTube channel and used Facebook Live. During the pandemic, these channels became primary engagement tools. Check out the weekly Avian Adventure videos, produced by volunteers and staff and posted to YouTube. These videos, typically 5-7 minutes in length, range from the basics (What is a raptor?) to the sublime (How do vultures keep clean?). Michele reports they have more than 600 subscribers to CRC’s YouTube channel and more than 30,000 views.

The Production Team is comprised of staff and volunteers who shoot and edit video, write and voice scripts, and employ cost-effective/free tools like Doodly (for drawing board illustrations), Pixabay (for free video) and Epidemic Sound (for licensed music). Says Michele, “We’ve focused our videos on typical visitor questions,” and there’s no chance they’ll run out of topics anytime soon. These videos show the organization in action, delivering on its promises of inspiring “wow” and helping viewers understand the “how” of birds. CRC is working now on monetizing this video content, including pursuing corporate sponsorships and exploring paid subscriptions via Patreon.

CRC has committed other valuable content video, including staff and volunteer onboarding basics, continuing education opportunities for staff, and a continuing-education curriculum of animal husbandry expertise available nationally (for a fee) to avian wildlife education professionals.

Carolina Raptor Center's Customer Engagement Director Michele Miller Houck
CRC Customer Engagement Director Michele Miller Houck
Update Your Tech

In March 2021, Apparo chose Carolina Raptor Center as one of the ten nonprofits included in the first G.A.I.N. cohort. G.A.I.N. is Apparo’s two-year nonprofit accelerator that drives Growth, Agility and Innovation for Nonprofits. Powered by Lowe’s, G.A.I.N. equips nonprofits with modern technology to overcome challenges that limit them from reaching their full potential. While there are numerous expected outcomes from CRC’s G.A.I.N. grant, Michele points to the new suite of customer relations software programs as a game changer. During the pandemic, CRC moved to Bloomerang’s Kindful donor database, enhanced by Square’s point-of-sale software and Simple Tix for ticketing. As they integrate these systems together and with their accounting systems, CRC gains valuable new insights into their visitors’ interests and saves hundreds of staff hours.

Get Serious About Trying New Things

During the pandemic, CRC launched its Innovation Team, a cross-disciplinary group asked to propose pilot initiatives that could further CRC’s mission and test new ideas. The organization has learned a lot from this effort, and Michele offers a couple of tips for those considering a new focus on enterpreneurialism.

• Ask yourself and your staff: who has the passion for innovation? Give those folks space and support.
• Make sure someone on the team is responsible for The Big Picture: how do new ideas fit into the organization’s mission and business plan?
• Build trust and democratize: this isn’t an easy task, but it’s crucial to create a safe environment where staff can try new things quickly and learn.
• Collaborate with external partners: In May 2021, CRC hosted Theatre Charlotte’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
• Collaborate with internal partners: In support of its content-creation efforts, CRC launched a Content Collaborators Channel on Microsoft Teams so any/all staff could suggest ideas for new videos, social media posts, and programs.

Carolina Raptor Center has used the pandemic to undertake some big-time strategic moves, and Michele is quick to acknowledge how much more work there is ahead. If CRC’s entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring, but you’re not sure where to start, let’s talk about it!

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