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Harnessing the Power of Web Design for Wildlife Conservation With Elise Newman


The Oregon coastline, protected.

In this episode of the Nonprofit Thrive podcast, host Ben Freda sits down with Elise Newman, Executive Director of Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, to explore the intersection of conservation and the digital ecosystem. Elise reflects on her career path in conservation, discusses strategies for successful fundraising, and sheds light on the decision to revamp the organization’s website.

Today's Guest
Elise Newman

Elise Newman

Elise Newman is the Executive Director at Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, which protects the Oregon coast through environmental stewardship, education, advocacy, and community engagement. Her experience includes managing endangered species, organizing conservation events, and fundraising for various wildlife conservation projects. From raptors in Vermont to red pandas in New York and tigers and elephants in San Diego, Elise has worked tirelessly to safeguard animals facing extinction. Her journey into environmental conservation began at Cornell University, where she earned a BA in Biology and Society. Following Elise’s graduation, she dedicated over a decade to wildlife management and zoo conservation efforts.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • What attracted Elise Newman to work in conservation?
  • Elise reflects on her study abroad program in Africa and career journey
  • Effective fundraising approaches for wildlife conservation
  • The mission of the Oregon Shore’s CoastWatch program
  • Elise’s experience working for a zoo versus a nonprofit organization
  • Oregon Shores’ purpose for redesigning their website
  • Elise shares the RFP and web developer recruiting processes
  • The challenges of web redesign projects

In this episode…

The digital landscape plays a pivotal role in driving awareness, engagement, and support for critical causes. At the forefront of this digital evolution are conservation coalitions.

Elise Newman’s diverse wildlife management and leadership background, from zoo work to directing a conservation coalition, has brought challenges and unique insights. While zoos primarily emphasize public engagement and species preservation, nonprofits like Oregon Shores prioritize community outreach, advocacy, and habitat protection. The decision to redesign Oregon Shores’ website was driven by its mission to improve user experience, make information more accessible, and broaden its outreach efforts. By leveraging technology, organizations such as Oregon Shores can mobilize support, engage communities, and contribute to positive change for our planet’s ecosystems.

In this episode of the Nonprofit Thrive podcast, host Ben Freda sits down with Elise Newman, Executive Director of Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, to explore the intersection of conservation and the digital ecosystem. Elise reflects on her career path in conservation, discusses strategies for successful fundraising, and sheds light on the decision to revamp the organization’s website.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by BFC Digital.

At BFC Digital, we help nonprofit organizations thrive on the web so they can improve the world.

Our team of creative and tech experts understands that an online presence can help foundations and organizations accomplish their missions. That’s where we come in. Over the last decade, we’ve advised our clients on web design, front- and back-end development, and tech support.

We’re committed to supporting a select set of clients who continually inspire us with their vision for a better world.

To learn more on how BFC Digital can assist you in realizing your organization’s mission, visit, email us at, or call 646-450-2236 today!

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:06  

Welcome to Nonprofit Thrive, a podcast where we learn from the humans who are helping nonprofits succeed in the digital world. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Ben Freda  0:23  

Okay, welcome. I’m Ben Freda, host of the show where we share the stories of leaders in the nonprofit space. The people behind the organizations, foundations, and companies that help nonprofits change the world. So we’ve had a couple of episodes so far, this is Episode four. Past guests include, we have Ryan Ozimek, who is CEO of Soapbox Engage. So listen to that one. If you are curious about what a CRM is and why you should be using it and how to start. Another fascinating guest, Emily Culbertson, we had on. She is a specialist in putting out fires that occur in website projects, which is something everyone needs to know about. Fascinating to talk to her. The this podcast before we get into today’s guest, who is going to be equally fascinating, if not more, I need to read the sponsor message, which is the following. The podcast is brought to you by the kind folks at BFC Digital which surprise, surprise is my company. At BFC Digital, we help nonprofits thrive on the web. If you are working at a nonprofit and a communications department or in communications in general, I’m sure you know how important it is to have a website that looks and works and helps you further your mission. Also sure you’re familiar with how crappy websites can be and difficult and buggy and weird and hard to break into and hard to fix. At BFC Digital, our job is to make that easy. So we we can do everything from fixing bugs, doing maintenance, doing really simple stuff, all the way to strategizing, designing, building brand new big websites or web apps. And we’ll do it you know, while being friendly and without tossing a bunch of jargon. Go to to find out more. Okay, so today on the podcast, we’re talking to Elise Newman, who I personally got to know through a project we did together over the summer in the fall for her nonprofit Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition. I’ve got to know her and her team. They’re excellent people. They have a really unique set of programs there that I thought would be great for people to learn more about. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Elise is the executive director at Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition. Before she was in Oregon, she graduated from Cornell University with a degree in biology and society. She’s focused on environmental conservation and wildlife management since then. After college, she spent 10 years working in wildlife management and zoo conservation, managing endangered species, hosting conservation events, raising money, for raptors in Vermont, and for red pandas in New York, and for tigers and elephants in San Diego. And she is now thrilled to be working to protect estuaries and marine environments with Oregon Shores. So Elise, thank you so much for joining the show today.

Elise Newman  3:12  

Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Ben Freda  3:14  

So obviously, first question. Protecting raptors in Vermont you mean velociraptors? Right.

Elise Newman  3:22  

I wish. Raptors meaning birds of prey. So eagles, and hawks, things like that.

Ben Freda  3:28  

Got you. Yeah. Okay, that that makes a lot more sense. I suppose. You know, I have an eight year old because it’s totally off topic. I have an eight year old who maybe I told you this. He was fascinated with dinosaurs for years and years and years and somehow became into football this year for some reason, and only likes the teams that are bird teams, because he words evolved from dinosaurs. So when he was picking his favorite teams, he’s like, What are the dinosaur teams anyway? There’s there’s no rap. There’s a there’s a Toronto Raptors. I think.

Elise Newman  3:57  

I’m not familiar with football teams, but good for him. I like that he’s combining his two interests now.

Ben Freda  4:03  

Totally, totally. So before this becomes a podcast about my kid, it sounds like you have been involved in conservation work since like the beginning, like at least from college. Is that something you always knew you wanted to do? Or is it something that came out of a college experience? Or what was what’s the history?

Elise Newman  4:23  

That’s a great question. Um, I went to college thinking that I was going to have one of two different career paths. I was either going to major in literature and study books, or I am a veterinarian, and clearly neither of those things happened. I’ved loved animals ever since I was a kid. My parents are very conservation minded. So I grew up being outdoors and being around animals all the time. But then I started working in a vet hospital as an assistant, and I realized that I liked my job better than the vets jobs.

Ben Freda  4:59  

Really? What was the name of your major? Again, it was?

Elise Newman  5:03  

Biology and Society. Yeah, it’s how biology is applied to society. So, at my college, a strict biology major was what you would choose if you were going into the medical field, or into research or something like that. So, you know, cells and organisms and things like that. Biology and society was looking at how biological sciences like evolution and anthropology could be applied to society today. So that’s where the Environmental Conservation lens came about. So I fell in love with with conservation sort of through that major, and through my soul. Yeah.

Ben Freda  5:45  

And what was your study abroad program?

Elise Newman  5:47  

I spent a semester camping in Kenya and Tanzania. Oh,

Ben Freda  5:51  

Wow. That’s awesome. Okay, camping, for like six months or four months or whatever? Yeah,

Elise Newman  5:57  

Yeah. For four months. It was really fun and not glamorous at all.

Ben Freda  6:03  

Yeah, I don’t know if glamour is the word that comes to mind. But what an experience So where were you? I was

Elise Newman  6:10  

in Serengeti National Park and outside of Sabo National Park, and Amboseli so moved around quite a bit. And I wasn’t by myself, I was with a whole group of of instructors and other students as well. But

Ben Freda  6:25  

it was like a contribution in what you were like that you were, it’s some sort of conservation related thing, or were you counting wildlife or reporting on wildlife or something like that?

Elise Newman  6:35  

All of the above. So I ended up turning my study abroad research into my college thesis. And my research was about the biodiversity of wildlife, in these corridors between national parks. So there’s these discreet national parks in Africa, just like there are in the United States. And wildlife doesn’t know that there’s a boundary to the National Park, right. So they don’t realize they’re protected here and not protected 50 yards to the left. So the local communities were trying to create these protected corridors between national parks to help the wildlife as they migrate and move for feeding and resources. And it would help benefit the local communities because if people were coming to see wildlife while these tourists were coming, the communities could benefit from some of that ecotourism money. So my research was to see if the places where the communities had set up the corridors was actually where the wildlife was moving. It wasn’t to be useful for the wildlife was using a path completely separate from where the communities had set up these protected corridors.

Ben Freda  7:44  

Sure. And what did you find out?

Elise Newman  7:46  

Um, most of them were in the right places, a couple of them needed to be moved, but for the most part, the community, their wildlife fairly well. Yeah, great.

Ben Freda  7:54  

Okay, that I can see how that is like an awesome experience for somebody young who’s like getting into this world and sees like, oh, my gosh, this actually can work. So you’re from Cali originally? Yeah.

Elise Newman  8:03  

Yeah. So I went full circle back to California to go to the warmest zoo I could find.

Ben Freda  8:10  

Yeah, good for you, man. Yeah, so

Elise Newman  8:12  

I was I was at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for about eight years. While I was there, I worked with Sumatran tigers and African

Ben Freda  8:21  

elephants. And for this are you like doing like work with the animals themselves? Or are you now focus more on like fundraising, and awareness and things like that. I’m

Elise Newman  8:30  

at the San Diego Zoo, it was all of the above. So I was with the animals and caring for the animals every single day. But as part of my position, I was also showing donors around the zoo and doing educational presentations for the animals appearing at special events to educate people about the animals or give them some sort of basically, like extra experience that they might have paid for for a private event. So I was with the animals every day, but I was getting to interact more and more with people and interact on the fundraising side and also take a stab at management as well. I had a large team and I had the opportunity to lead the team. So that was a great experience for me.

Ben Freda  9:14  

Cool, so I think a lot of people obviously in nonprofit world are interested in how fundraising works, how you know what works and what doesn’t. Did you have any and I’m just asking that and if not, that’s fine but I’m just asking this cuz I’m sure people are gonna ask. How did you get people to give funds to conservations? Does emailing work? Does targeting individual private big donors work? What worked? What didn’t? Do you have any stories that were terrible initiatives that went nowhere or great initiatives that were awesome.

Elise Newman  9:48  

Yeah, that’s a great question. So, the San Diego Zoo was a bit of a special case which I’m still now that I’m in Oregon learning the difference between the zoo world and the nonprofit conservation world, the zoo was still a nonprofit. But the benefit of the zoo was that we could target individual major donors, bring them to the zoo, show them their favorite animal, give them a really cool experience with this animal and show them like if you donate your name will go on this building or your your go on this program. I’m in the conservation world in Oregon, we don’t have buildings or a whole collection of animals that I can bring. Right? You have the Oregon coastline. But it’s much harder to show people, If you donate your name will go here.

Ben Freda  10:35  

Of course, yeah, totally.

Elise Newman  10:39  

So in the zoo world that worked great. People like putting their names on stuff, is what I learned.

Ben Freda  10:45  

Who knew? Who knew people love putting their names on stuff?

Elise Newman  10:48  

Yeah, so we had lots of buildings. You know, every room of every building was named after somebody some donor. Another really common donation incentive was naming animals after donors. Really? Yeah. Instead of having a tiger with a Sumatran sounding name from Indonesia. We had a tiger named Mitchell who was named after Majel Roddenberry, the wife of the Star Trek creator, because they were donors.

Ben Freda  11:19  

Wow! Exactly which, which is weird, but it’s also a great way of obtaining funds to do some really great stuff. So I mean, what Yeah, I hear what you’re saying. Yeah.

Elise Newman  11:29  

So it worked great. The development department at the San Diego Zoo was brilliant for thinking of that it just made us all feel a little bit silly when you were standing outside of the lion exhibit calling Miss Allen and Ernest to come in, feel at the end of the day, Miss Ellen and a lion as regal of a name as you would hope but you know, it’s still worth bringing funds to the zoo.

Ben Freda  11:55  

So, when you move to Oregon Shores, right, so you don’t have those sort of big buildings, you don’t have the names. The animals, you don’t have like an experience to show people I guess, although we could definitely get into CoastWatch, which is like kind of an amazing experience you guys have. But yeah, it what do you what do you do instead, I guess?

Elise Newman  12:17  

That’s a great question. So instead, we’re trying to tie people to the Oregon coast where our job is to protect the entire Oregon coast from the northern border to the southern border of Oregon. And what I’ve learned, I’m still very new as an Oregonian. I started in this position last January. So it’s been about a year now. And what I’ve learned so far is that people are very connected to the specific neighborhoods or specific communities on the coast where they live or where they vacation or where they have a second home. So trying to tie in our conservation messaging or our fundraising to those specific communities has been really helpful. So we have individual email lists targeted to specific zip codes or specific communities. We are trying to do more and more events targeted to specific communities so that people feel like we’re not just lumping the entire coast together, but we’re actually honoring the fact that there are differences up and down the Oregon coast. Just you know, half hour drive could be a totally different community with a completely different feel.

Ben Freda  13:26  

I guess. I guess that’s true. I mean, there are cities on the coast, right like Portland isn’t Portland on the coast. Is that not on the coast?

Elise Newman  13:33  

It’s about an hour and a half. There are some cities on the coast. There’s Coos Bay and Newport, Astoria, Port Orford, but they’re not cities the way New York City is a city.

Ben Freda  13:44  

Well, yeah. But but you still got like urbanized areas, and then you’ve I’m sure got deserted parts of the coastline as well that are just totally empty. Um, right. Not

Elise Newman  13:56  

much of the coast is really empty. There’s a lot of rural areas. And then there’s protected areas that are empty of people on purpose by design. But just like any coast, I think anywhere in the United States at this point, there’s a lot of pressure to build and to develop so that there aren’t deserted areas. Even even more rugged parts of the coastline are still really beautiful and have great property value. And what we’re trying to argue is that the beach bill that in 1967, made Oregon beaches, public property up to the vegetation line, we’re trying to argue that that should still stand and we’re trying to protect the beaches not only for public access and the longevity of the beach of themselves, but also for for conservation. Those beaches are habitat for so many birds and mammals and other species their habitat for vegetation. The beaches are also so important in the face of climate change with sea level rise bigger storms and global warming and all of the things that we’re facing right now, without these, these coastlines on these beaches, all of our cities and towns would start flooding and would be susceptible to all these climate change pressures. So it’s actually important that some of the beach remains deserted, quote, unquote, so that the beach can perform its its natural function and not have the mansions and riprap and golf courses and hotels and everything else that are getting in the way of these natural processes happening,

Ben Freda  15:32  

for sure. For sure. Yeah, that makes sense. So so every piece of the coast is kind of unique, and you found it sort of useful to use that in fundraising and messaging and targeting, do you get? I mean, and I would also imagine that, you know, this might be too much detail. But do you get sort of major donors in the same way that you would at the zoo? Like the Star Trek creators wife? Like, do you have like with that? Is it more of a grassroots effort for you? Or is it more like there are major donors who are interested, we

Elise Newman  16:02  

get major donors through foundations. So a lot of our funding comes from grants through foundations. And a lot of those foundations in Oregon have been set up by private people who have trust funds or family money or something like that. So in that sense, there are major donors in our funding pool. But the term major donor means something very different to me as an Oregon shores representative now than it did to me as a San Diego Zoo, representative. Gotcha. Very, very different tiers of funding. And that’s not to say there isn’t the same type of money in Oregon, we’re just a smaller a much smaller nonprofits smaller in terms of staff smaller terms of capacity. So one of my goals as executive director is to get more private donor funding. But for now, the way that I’m classifying a major donor is anyone who gives $1,000 or more, as opposed to at the San Diego Zoo, a major donor was anyone who gave a million dollars or more,

Ben Freda  17:09  

Right. Yeah, well, it’s gonna depend on right. It’s gonna depend on the audience and all that kind of stuff. Yeah.

Elise Newman  17:13  

Yeah. Same ideas, just very different definition.

Ben Freda  17:17  

Sure, that makes sense. So I do want to talk about about CoastWatch because it’s so fascinating to me, and I’ll just say what I think it is, and I’ll probably get it wrong. And then you can totally correct me. But this to me, it was amazing when we first met you guys, because, Oregon has how many miles of coastline? 200 and something right, 280 miles?

Elise Newman  17:36  


Ben Freda  17:37  

I should know this, because I just did it, anyway 360. Yeah. At least I’m in the right, you know, order of magnitude. So there’s 360 something of miles of of, of Oregon coast and what you guys have as a fleet of volunteers, I mean, you have a an amazing group of volunteers who have all agreed to adopt one mile, each of coast. And you have and what they do is they commit to walking that mile of coast at least once a quarter and filling out a report on the website, including photos of how it’s going on that mile, including things like is there a crowd? Is there a trash? Is there development, like what’s happening? What’s the wildlife situation in and then they and then you have I mean, you I know this because I had to migrate all of these silly things from deep Drupal into WordPress, you have more than 8000 of these of these reports stretching back 20 years almost, about the condition of the coast at every mile written in incredible detail by these people. Have I got that right? And if so, how did you get that going? Because it is amazing. Yeah, maybe? I mean, I know you’re new. So it’s it. But and you know, how did it start? How have you continued it? How do you use it? I mean, yeah, I’m really fascinated by this. Yeah,

Elise Newman  18:51  

you You are right, that’s a perfect summary of the program. So CoastWatch is the first program in the nation where the citizens and community members of a state have adopted every single mile of the shoreline. And the goal of this program is so that we can see how the shoreline has changed over time with either natural induced changes or made changes. And this program was originally started by my predecessor, Phillip Johnson. He pioneered this program in 1993. And then a few years ago, our CoastWatch Programs Manager Jesse Jones joined the team. And she’s taken over the program since and really expanded and evolved the program. And the program now includes schools and community groups as well. So individual schools can adopt a mile of beach line and use that that mile as a vehicle for outdoor learning and basically an outdoor classroom. So they can practice some science technology and math skills. They can practice close observations and things like that. So we have adults in miles, community groups like churches are adopting miles. And we also have schools that adopt miles. And you’re right, the program has been has been going since 1993. So our first versions of CoastWatch reports were all handwritten on paper and then mailed to us. And now, thanks to you, the the CoastWatch reports are all online and their volunteers can actually use a map tool that you built for us to see the reports and, and filter the reports by all of these different topics. So they can find something specific if they’re looking for something. And this year, because it’s been 30 years since the CoastWatch mile report program started, we’re actually hiring a contractor to do an analysis of the last 30 years to see if we have any trends or any data that’s worth worth reporting to other organizations to to governmental agencies. Our our reports, of course, weren’t, weren’t made using a scientific protocol. So we didn’t control for any variables or anything like that. But we have this 30 years of anecdotal evidence about the Oregon coastline that no other organization has. So we’re hoping that our analysis at least yields some sort of usable information or usable data, or it can at least correlate with some of the climate changes and and natural induced changes that have been happening on the Oregon coastline so that we we can offer this data to to researchers, and then hopefully, that data will let us know how we should change our program in our form for the next 30 years. So we know what questions to ask and what questions are useful to researchers and what questions maybe aren’t so useful.

Ben Freda  21:43  

I mean, it Yeah. That’s fascinating. Why? Now, how do you get people I mean, I people are, I guess passionate about the coast. Obviously, I grew up in California near the coast, and I love the coastal kind of stuff. But it’s the commitment to do this. I mean, you know what I mean? It’s not just, Oh, hey, you can say you adopted a mile coast, you actually are supposed to go there and walk that entire model mile every quarter. Do you? And how do you get like, do you? Do people just kind of, do you? Do you advertise this program? Do you have to go out there and try and get people to do it? Or are people pretty much clamoring to do it and in finding you I mean, I’m just curious,

Elise Newman  22:19  

all of the above. So we’ve had people find us just sort of through the grapevine. But we’ve we also actively recruit people. So Jessie are slash Programs Manager definitely gives presentations and tries to actively recruit people to this program. CoastWatch now it’s very prominent on our website, it’s prominent on all of our printed materials. And our flyers, whenever we table and an event, we’re talking about CoastWatch and asking people to sign up. Some volunteers are very dedicated and report the four times a year the once a quarter, on their mile from report even more, which is great. Some volunteers, we have to chase down a little bit to report on file. But the I think the benefit of CoastWatch is that you can pick your mile. And there’s no maximum number of people that can adopt a mile. So one of the most popular miles in in Oregon is on Cannon Beach right near Haystack Rock. It’s a very touristy spot. There’s a great town right there. It’s a very accessible beach, you know, nice and wide and flat and easy to walk on. So we have lots of people who’ve adopted that mile. And there’s no financial commitment. So the as many people can adopt as want to, right, there’s some other miles that aren’t even accessible by foot. We have a couple of miles of the Oregon coastline that you can only get to if you’re kayaking, or if you’re in a boat. Wow. Yeah. Because there’s there’s a cliff or there’s, you know, an estuary right there. No road to get there. So we do have a couple of very intrepid volunteers who’ve adopted those sorts of boat access only miles and and try to get there as frequently as they can to report but obviously, if there’s really bad weather, they can’t, they can’t get out there. So I would say the average is that we’re trying to get everybody to report once a quarter once a season, but it doesn’t always happen. But that doesn’t disqualify you from being a ghost watcher. It’s a very DIY program. So some people are, are not as involved. Maybe their lives are busier. They’re just don’t have time that season. Maybe they’re traveling. But then there’s other people who not only adopt a mile, but work with Jessie to participate in one of seven different community science projects that we offer. So they actually collect data for a researcher that Oregon Shores has partnered with so we do things like collect data on sea stars for sea star wasting syndrome project or map marine debris that’s washing up On the beach for a marine debris mapping project. So there are some some volunteers who are adopting a mile and walking their mile, the beach isn’t enough, they want to do even more so than they work with us to participate in one of these community science projects.

Ben Freda  25:15  

It’s so cool. That is so cool. And it’s funny because it’s, it’s such a good way of getting people. I mean, your mission, obviously, is to protect the Oregon coast, one of the great ways of getting people involved is to ask them to help you. And once they do, it sort of gets them even more. You know what I mean? Like, I think a lot of people are afraid of asking people to help in some physical way, because they don’t want to exhaust people or they don’t want to turn people off. But man, I sometimes find that programs like this, take low level volunteers or whatever, and get them even more involved. Right. Like, once you’ve given some of your time and effort to something, you’re sort of even more invested in the outcome. I don’t know, it seems like such a good way of of doing that.

Elise Newman  25:51  

I definitely agree. I mean, we have a CoastWatcher right now who’s been a CoastWatcher for years and have been so involved with Oregon Shores. And like you said, she she wanted to become even more involved. And she’s now a board member, because she got really passionate about this organization. And I think allowing people or enabling people to take action and to do something in their own lives, helps combat that climate change fatigue, where climate change just sounds so inundating and intimidating and just overwhelming. But by enabling people to actually get out there and roll up their sleeves and make a difference and show them what they can do to help or to make an impact in their own lives, I think really inspires people and helps them to feel like climate change is maybe a more manageable problem.

Ben Freda  26:41  

Yeah, I think there is. I mean, there was a big article in New York Times about about compassion, fatigue, not compassion, fatigue, that’s the wrong word. But yeah, fatigue, with issues issues, fatigue, just so much bad news coming down the pipe, I mean, constant bad news about, about things it can get really, really tough. But I love that. I love that, that that this program is kind of Yeah, they are helping you but but they’re sort of also it’s a good way of allowing people to feel like they’re, you know, that maybe there’s something they can do. And yeah, it’s such like a kind of a great feedback loop. I love that.

Elise Newman  27:11  

Yeah. So helping us but they’re helping their communities and themselves as well. So

Ben Freda  27:16  

yeah, it’s just it’s perfect. I really love it. What did you know about the program before you took the job as the executive director? Or is this like

Elise Newman  27:25  

I did, but just a very surface level? Look at it, I wasn’t a crosswalk mile doctor myself before becoming live in Oregon. I very long before this position. So I definitely didn’t have like a favorite mile of beach that I wanted to adopt before starting this position. So I knew about the program. But I didn’t know how great this program actually, is until I became the Executive

Ben Freda  27:53  

Director. Okay, so that’s good. I’m really glad we talked about it, because I just think this program is amazing. And like, people shouldn’t really be copying us. It’s such a good way of engaging people and accomplishing the mission at the same time. It’s just like such a great program people should be popping in I think. So now they will, hopefully with whatever their particular thing is. Before we get into like, I also want to obviously talk about website project because that’s a huge people get really anxious about doing web site projects and want to know how it’s gonna go and pros and con great things and terrible things and all that good stuff. But before we do that, I kind of also want to just talk about really quickly, you moving from the zoo to Oregon Shores, you become the executive director, you have coasts watching over the programs, anything but but I imagine being you know, doing, being the executive director of a nonprofit is a bit different from what you’re doing before in the zoo environment. Some differences we talked about already any other sort of big surprises that hit you when you move moved anything that was like, either, you know, a great success that that you were surprised by or something that was much more difficult than you expected? Moving jobs in sort of becoming more of that manager of a nonprofit versus, you know, in the in the division of a zoo?

Elise Newman  29:02  

That’s a great question. I think the things that were the most striking for me, were the size of the nonprofit San Diego Zoo is this bureaucratic behemoth of an organization. It’s still a nonprofit, but there are so many levels of management and middle management, it structurally it’s more like a corporation than a nonprofit. That makes sense. So coming to Oregon shores, which is a much smaller nonprofit, and being Executive Director for the first time instead of just a team leader. It was surprising to me in the beginning that I other than the board, there’s nobody above me there’s no levels of bureaucracy, which seems obvious, but still surprising. So that took some getting used to.

Ben Freda  29:56  

That’s funny.

Elise Newman  29:59  

The size of the organization took a little bit of getting used to as well. Like, like at the San Diego Zoo because it’s so large there was somebody to do every tiny facet of a job. And here, I would ask the board, okay, well who does this? And they’d say, you, you do that you do this, you do that, like, oh.

Ben Freda  30:20  

that’s you also that is also you.

Elise Newman  30:22  

That’s all me. Okay. Um, so I think what I’m learning at Oregon Shores is that every staff person does the work of about six people. So that’s very different compared to the San Diego Zoo, I think the other really big differences of the conservation and fundraising principles are exactly the same. But I have, I had entirely new environments to learn about, I was an expert on African elephants and Sumatran tigers, I could tell a donor everything there was to know about a tiger. And now coming into this space, I’ve had to learn about estuaries and about marine environments and about shoreline habitats. And I’m still learning there’s so much that I still don’t know. So it’s been a fun challenge learning a brand new set of environments.

Ben Freda  31:12  

Yeah, totally, totally. It’s funny that you say that most of the fundraising principles and stuff are the same, even though now you have to do all of them. Or not all of them, but a lot of a lot of them that that you’re still you’re saying this, you’re still doing email list, and you’re still doing events, and you’re still doing sort of general like the same same kind of stuff.

Elise Newman  31:31  

Yeah, meeting with donors, hosting events. We’re pursuing business sponsorships now. So all of those ideas are still the same. But instead of having an entire development department, it’s me. I’m it.

Ben Freda  31:48  

Yeah, for sure. That makes sense. Okay, so I do want to transition to talk about website. Because, you know, obviously, that’s near and dear to people’s heart. So can you talk a little bit about, you know, you guys just redid your website. I know that because we helped you do it. But I want to kind of get into like, the entire process, like how how it was for you as the client, as the person who as the organization, right, like, what what were the stressors, what were the good points or the bad points? And and to start really, what made you realize you needed to redo it in the first place?

Elise Newman  32:22  

That’s a great question. So um, I was hired in December, I started last January. So 2023, the decision was made to redo the website before I came on board, which is great, because I, the website really needed redoing, and it needed redoing, because there was a lot of information on the website, a lot, a lot of really great information, but it wasn’t very user friendly. Somebody reading our, our old website really needed to wants to dive into the nitty gritty and understand all of the ins and outs of a specific case or a specific issue. In order to digest what was on our website, it was sort of a barrier to new people joining or new people learning about an issue because the the amount of information was just intimidating. It also wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing. There was a lot of text, not a lot of like pictures or videos and things like that, and in this age, have shorter attention spans and lots of you know, great online content, it’s hard to keep people’s attention with pages and pages of text.

Ben Freda  33:34  

Plus the fact that you guys have incredible photos? Yeah, of the Oregon store, which are amazing, and should be a major part of what you’re doing? Sorry to interrupt you.

Elise Newman  33:44  

Oh, no, not at all. Our CoastWatch mile reports also weren’t searchable. Once the reports were published and on the website, you could scroll back through years and years of reports, but you couldn’t search for a specific topic. So you couldn’t find like every report that had a stranded whale on it, for example. You would have to read through 30 years of reports to find the ones with the stranded whales. So that was kind of a barrier to using those reports. And then our old website was on a Drupal platform, which is it was basically like, expiring, I guess it’s hard for it like it was it was not going to be updated very well. And it was really difficult for the team to make any updates ourselves. We had to use our web maintenance team and our web developers to put even the smallest change on the website. And that was kind of a barrier to keeping the website fresh and new and up with the times. So we knew we needed to update the website. When I started there was already funding for a new website. Well, most of the funding for a new website but I needed to work With the team to help write the RFP, the request for proposals, and then send it out to everyone. So I really started on the ground floor other than some of the fundraising and the decision to redo the website. Those predated me.

Ben Freda  35:14  

Did you hire a contractor to help you with the RFP process?

Elise Newman  35:18  

Jonathan is our external contractor but he was helping us with so many other Oregon chores related things. He helps with hiring me. And then he’s been helping with coaching me and helping with fundraising and all sorts of other things. So helping me with the RFP was one of the things on his scope of work, but we didn’t hire him specifically to do that. So shout out. Shout

Ben Freda  35:40  

out to Jonathan. By the way, one of the things we can do on the podcast is like shadow people. Jonathan Poisner, I think, is that how you pronounce his last name was Jonathan poisoner got that to Jonathan Poisoner shout out to Jonathan. He was he knew what he was doing. I mean, I, you know, and when we came on the project, he was clear, he was like, you’re sort of, you know, yeah, he had been through the process before he had done website projects before he knew what to expect and what to ask. Yeah, he was he was good. So good job with that.

Elise Newman  36:09  

thank you, Jonathan has been invaluable. And the other person we had helping with the RFP was a previous contractor who is also a volunteer for Oregon Shores, that name is Michael Coe.

Ben Freda  36:21  

Oh, Michael, I remember Michael too. Shout out to Michael also, yes, for sure.

Elise Newman  36:25  

He was the person who worked with the developers of our previous website to implement that website. And he was sort of our IT guru who communicated with the developers every time we needed a change on the site. So he knew a lot of ins and outs of our current site and helped with the RFP as well. Um, we went through many versions of our RFP and the one we ended up sending out was actually drastically simplified from the original version, because of me, because I am not a very technological person.

Ben Freda  37:00  

Oh, come on, you could you could fool us, you could

Elise Newman  37:04  

do basic things. But I don’t know like the back end of how to build a website. So a lot of the the technical lingo that was in our RFP originally, thanks to Michael and Jonathan, who do know a lot more of the technical end, I actually worked with our then communications coordinator, Katie Russell, and we stripped a lot of that out and just said, We want these things from a website, and left it up to the developers to pitch us on how they would implement those things on site, rather than spelling out what we were expecting. I don’t know enough about websites to tell a developer, this is what I want from you, I just know what I want it to look like and how I want it to be. So our RFP ended up being it was like two or three pages, I think instead of the 20 pages that it was originally. Sure, we left it up to the developers like you guys to tell us how we can best do these, these different features on the site. And then we ended up interviewing, I think, six different developers. And we actually did two rounds of interviews. And I think that was the hardest part. For me, I had a whole spreadsheet with the rest of the team of which developers could offer which things and the prices and the color coding based on how much we liked each developer. And at a certain point, it was, it was so technical, like the spreadsheet was comparing, you know, like this little thing is slightly different than this little thing on the platform. And I ended up choosing you guys at BSC digital, because I liked the samples of your work, all of your previous websites that you designed and the work samples that you showed us were beautiful and amazing and looked like what I was hoping to have for Oregon shores. And you were easy to talk to and easy to understand and to work with. And some of the developers I felt like, I couldn’t follow anything. They were saying it was so far above my head, and was thinking like, oh my gosh, if I have to meet with these people, you know, twice a week for six months, and I can’t understand a word they’re saying how am I going to communicate like what we need and want out of this website?

Ben Freda  39:16  

Oh, that’s so funny. Because I do think that you guys that is a really good approach. That maybe that’s I’m just saying that because those are the people that we vibe with but but I do feel like people sometimes focus on technical requirements or the technology behind what you’re trying to do right but your your the nonprofit, like you know, your audience, you know, what your goals are, you know, what your vibe is, and you need to be able to communicate those things to us. And you know what I mean? Like it to be able to choose, you know, when you’re choosing a partner to me, being able to communicate them with to them with them, like number one, just being able to speak the same language, because we need to we’re we’re coming into it from the agency side. We’re coming into it with some experience doing nonprofit websites, but we don’t know what you guys are all about. You know, and you need to be Well, that that needs to somehow get from your brains into ours, you know, and that’s like a hard thing to do, we can read your mission statement, you know what I mean? But it’s really like, there’s a whole lot of communication that needs to happen. And for that, to get from your brain to ours, you know, that’s what the entire process is about. That’s what the wireframe process is about. The design process is about, it’s just communicating that bringing that in. And so yeah, if it’s hard to talk to the people, you know, or you don’t enjoy it, you know, or, or they, or they want to do the communication in a written form. And when you really want to talk or vice versa, you know, it can be really tricky. So, anyway, but um, yeah, I think what Yeah, I think your idea of stripping out the technical stuff, focusing on the communications angle, focusing on that and past, you know, what have they done in the past? Does it look like stuff we would like? That sounds smart to me. Right.

Elise Newman  40:46  

Well, thank you. I’m glad. And it clearly worked out great. I mean, I’m, we’re thrilled with our current website. And clearly we get along well, we’re enjoying the podcast together. So. And that’s not to say that any of the, you know, other developers wouldn’t have worked great, but I think I chose correctly.

Ben Freda  41:08  

I say so I’ll say, ya know, we love working with you. It really was a great project for us, too. It was just really you guys are very great to to work with easy to get along with, we really vibed I don’t know if the end result was awesome. I’m really happy with how it worked out. So. So did you get? So when you sent the RFP, how many proposals did you get? You had to wade through? Just curious,

Elise Newman  41:28  

um, the first time we sent it out, I think we only got three or four because we only sent it to a specific a few specific developers. And then Jonathan and Michael helped us send it much more widely for a second distribution, we eventually cut it off. I think we got like 30 some odd proposals. And then Jonathan and Michael did the legwork. Since they had gone through this website development process before they went through the legwork of reading every proposal and eliminating the ones that right off the bat were not worth interviewing or, you know, we’re way out of our price range, or we’re way below our price range, I think because the developers didn’t necessarily understand the scope of the project. So you know, the the people that were bidding like $2,000 to do our entire website, their proposal, because there’s no possible way to do that.

Ben Freda  42:24  

Yeah, they’re thinking something else think. Did you understand what one great and sorry, I do need to, gosh, this conversation, this conversation is going so fast. I’m just realizing what what time it is. What I want to ask one quick question, though. Did you there’s a debate now about whether nonprofits should put the budget in the RFP or not. Did you guys, I can’t remember if you guys did or not?

Elise Newman  42:45  

I think we did. Um, your proposal came in right at the top of our budget, it was actually slightly over our budget. Our initial budget was $40,000. And I ended up doing a little bit of extra fundraising to raise money to make a def That’s right. I remember that. Yeah. So we didn’t put in the budget, because we were actually hoping that a proposal would come in below. And we were worried that if a team saw what our budget is, they would budget for that amount and not for what the project would really take. Again, maybe it would be a smart idea to put the budget in the RFP so that companies knew whether or not this project was even feasible for them.

Ben Freda  43:32  

I am too, I’m really on the fence about it. I mean, I know from the agency side, agencies want you to put the budget in because they don’t wanna waste time putting together something if it’s never not Not gonna happen. But from the nonprofit side, I don’t I’m really on the fence about whether it’s better for you or not, because like you said, what the budget comes in at in the proposals also tells you something about whether it’s a good match, you know, like the $2,000 people, you know, we’re not a good match the $200,000 people, you know, are not a good match, you know, but if you say what the budget is, everyone’s gonna say that, you know, and so I wonder, I wonder if you’re eliminating one of the decision points, I don’t know. Anyway, maybe that’s short sighted. Anyway, there’s a kind of a debate, there’s an image to do. There’s a debate right now on progressive exchange on the email list about whether to do it or not to do it. So interesting. Your feedback. Okay. Well, we have like, oh, yeah, go ahead. No, sorry.

Elise Newman  44:22  

I was gonna say in this case, I, I feel like if we’d set our budget, you could have toned down your proposal and eliminated things to match our budget, but then we would have missed out on some great content and we were actually able to fundraise that that difference to meet you at your proposal amount. So, I think it actually worked out well that we didn’t say a budget.

Ben Freda  44:41  

You might have to Yeah, I think that might have been the right approach in this case. And anyway, I find that really interesting, but. Okay, so as as I said before, this is going really fast. Can you just tell me, rapid fire, any surprises and I want I want to see one good surprise and one bad surprise, something that didn’t go as well during the project something that surprised with how difficult it was to execute something that went wrong or, and then something that went well, there was also surprised if there’s nothing on either side. Great, but but if there are, you know, interested to hear them.

Elise Newman  45:12  

Something that didn’t go as expected would be the fact that a lot of the content from our old website, it had to be rewritten for our new website, because it wasn’t a one-to-one migration of pages. We redid our strategic plan at the exact same time that we were redoing this website so that the sort of point of view of the organization shifted a little bit. So there was a lot more staff time involved on our end, having to write content and dig up photos and find videos and actually create content to put in this beautiful website frame that you’ve given us. More than I had expected. So that was tough, but we got through it. On the good end. We loved using Basecamp and communicating with you guys. And I can’t even count how many times I emailed you or emailed Shana and just said help. I don’t know what’s happening, but this isn’t working. Please, please solve this, we’re panicking. And you all solved it within a day or within an hour sometimes. So the communication was just such a pleasant surprise. It just everything went so smoothly and seamlessly with with working with you guys as partners. That was wonderful.

Ben Freda  46:22  

Well, that’s good to hear. That’s good to hear. The content thing makes total sense. Yeah, I think most people are surprised, writing content is hard and it takes a long time. And then takes a long time. And as you’re planning a new website, we’re going through that strategic process and that wireframing process and you think actually we do need a page about this other thing? Oh, yeah, we do need to have a section on this, this audience that we help that haven’t really talked about? And then you’re like, oh, no, no, I have to write that or write that and write that anyway. Okay, any last questions? First of all, where can people find more information about you? And what you do? Okay, great. And any last questions? I did not ask you. We should probably leave it to one because of what time it is. Any last question? I did not ask you that. I should have asked you there. I can think of about 20 million and would have continued to ask them if we had more time. But any one important question I did not ask that I should have?

Elise Newman  47:17  

I don’t think so. If anyone is interested in hiring you, they definitely should. BFC Digital was amazing. We highly recommend you guys. But I don’t think there’s anything that that you didn’t ask that you should have asked.

Ben Freda  47:29  

I appreciate that. I was not fishing for a compliment when asked that. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been super interesting, and I’m sure super helpful people. Go to Find out more about this. And thanks again.

Elise Newman  47:43  

Thank you so much, Ben, this was a lot of fun.

Outro  47:48  

Thanks for listening to the Nonprofit Thrive podcast. We’ll see you next time and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.

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