Jun 24, 2020

Staff and program reductions announced

California Waterfowl took the painful step today of reducing our workforce in response to the massive loss of revenue due to Covid-19. We’ve laid off ten employees representing more than 20% of our workforce.

These layoffs constitute a heartbreaking loss of human capital – people who built programs, taught countless Californians how to hunt and fish, organized events, raised money and ensured that we served members and donors as efficiently as possible.

Some of these employees had been sidelined by Covid restrictions, unable to hold events because much of their work entailed bringing people together in close quarters. Most of our fundraising events and all of our hunter education camps have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

Others still had plenty of work to do, but the magnitude of our financial losses forced us to eliminate their jobs.

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What's changing
What's not changing
How you can help
Frequently asked questions

These layoffs follow across-the-board pay reductions, implemented earlier this spring, ranging from 10% to 30%, with the highest pay cuts at the highest pay levels, including the president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer. We have also severely restricted travel and all non-essential expenditures, and forgone or plan to forgo filling 10 seasonal positions we would normally fill for our education and hunting programs. Two other staffers who would normally be rehired each hunting season will not be rehired.

It is possible that further cost-cutting measures will be required – if there is one thing we have learned, it’s that the path to re-opening society and healing the economy is filled with uncertainty. We do not know when we can resume fundraising events, and we do not know how our members will feel about attending large gatherings before a Covid-19 vaccine or cure are available.

We have worked hard to make up for what we expect will be a 50% reduction in gross revenues. We applied for and received a PPP loan, which we have used to pay employees. We have used reserves that we built up after the Great Recession. Our fundraising team rushed to create new online auctions and drawings, and members have participated eagerly.

And when California Waterfowl sent an urgent call for assistance to members and supporters in May, the outpouring of cash donations was both breathtaking and humbling. Make no mistake: At CWA, we are very proud of the work we do for waterfowl, wetlands and hunting, but you told us loud and clear that you appreciate what we do.

The fact that we have had layoffs doesn’t mean that all of these contributions and assistance were for nothing. They actually saved us from having to make much deeper cuts.

The heart-wrenching decisions we’ve had to make have been driven by one goal: Positioning ourselves to rebound and rebuild as soon as conditions allow recovery to begin. We will use the coming months to design a path forward – one that will likely be predicated on increasing the cost-efficiency of all our operations. We are not banking on a swift and complete economic recovery.

The path forward is going to be difficult, but we remain committed to our mission: growing California’s waterfowl populations, wetlands and hunter-conservationist communities. And we are optimistic, if such a thing seems possible. “We created a blueprint that we believe was successful,” said Chief Operating Officer Jake Messerli. “So when we have the resources again, we know where we need to go.”

What’s changing

Here is how we expect our operations to change in the short term as a result of both layoffs and Covid:

Large, indoor fundraising banquets are off the table for now and we don’t know when they’ll resume.

We are beginning to schedule some outdoor fundraising events where appropriate social distancing is possible.

Hunter education events and hunts that involve food, lodging and close-contact instruction/mentoring are on hold indefinitely. This includes children’s, women’s and veterans’ events.

The Hunt Program will continue to offer self-service and hosted hunts to the extent possible, but with no overnight lodging included. Hunts on CWA properties will continue, although we will be unable to flood our Goose Lake property in Kern County; donated hunts will be offered to the extent that duck clubs are willing to continue donating hunt opportunities.

What’s not changing

We do not anticipate changes to our wetland restoration efforts – that staff remains in place and the majority of grant funding that pays for much of the work is still available.

Our waterfowl programs – banding, the Wood Duck Program, egg salvage and the new Delayed Wheat Harvest Incentive Program – will continue, albeit without the same level of seasonal tech support that our permanent staff has come to rely on. Volunteer assistance may be needed, or other remaining staff members may be redirected to help.

Our advocacy team continues its important work in Sacramento, Washington D.C. and across California’s regions.

We are still producing our magazine, though we are substantially reducing page counts to reduce design and printing costs.

How you can help

Questions and answers

Here are some of the questions we have heard as we have worked to reduce costs during this crisis.

Why isn’t your reserve/rainy day fund enough to save programs right now?
CWA created a prudent reserve policy following the Great Recession of 2008 and per industry standard set aside enough funds to cover core business functions for three to six months, depending on the extent of the financial crisis. We have and will continue to utilize this reserve to help us weather the COVID storm. Without the rainy day fund, program and staffing cost reductions would have been much greater.

Did you apply for a CARES Act Payroll Protection Program loan?
Yes, and we’ve used all of the qualifying funds provided to us.

Interest rates are at historically low levels. Why don’t you mortgage your buildings or properties to generate cash?
Taking on debt is an option, but we hope to avoid having to go that route. We’d much rather see our members’ contributions going toward paying for program activities rather than covering debt costs, which could hamstring the organization when the economy rebounds.

CWA owns six properties. Have you considered selling one or more of them?
Yes, but these properties generate revenue, and just as important, they provide a substantial amount of hunting opportunity for the public through our Hunt Program. As it is, we are concerned that many duck clubs that have donated hunts in the past may be less eager to welcome guests in the coming year, so being able to offer hunts on our own property will be an important part of preserving as much hunting access this season and for seasons to come. Additionally, some of our properties were acquired with public funds and are encumbered by easements and leases that prohibit or complicate our ability to mortgage or sell them in order to convert the land asset into cash. Lastly, our properties are unique and valuable to CWA programs as mentioned above and would be very difficult to replace.

Why are you laying off fundraising staff when you need to raise funds to support the organization?
Our fundraising staff or field reps as we often call them, are trained to host in-person fundraising events that have historically generated the vast majority of CWA’s revenue; unfortunately, our in-person social events have ground to a halt, and we don’t know when they will resume. We were also forced to reduce our development staff working outside of grassroots fundraising events, which is strictly a function of the need to reduce costs and overhead.

Why are you laying off program staff instead of administrative staff?
We’ve reduced costs within the administration by more than 30% to preserve baseline functions that will allow CWA to restart when fundraising events and social functions are allowed to resume.

How will these layoffs and program reductions affect CWA? Are the programs going away forever?
We’re losing a significant amount of capacity to provide programs and services to our members, but this doesn’t mean that the programs are being eliminated. We strongly believe in the programs that we’ve built and know that they’re important to CWA’s future. We’ll be looking for new ways to connect with and engage our membership and volunteer-led events and programs will be more important than ever.

Additional questions
Do you have other questions for CWA or ideas to help us chart a path forward? Contact President John Carlson, Jr., at jcarlson@calwaterfowl.org or 916-799-8869.