The following describes the activities of Michele Raffin, a relatively affluent California woman who has converted her back yard into a domain of bird aviaries. The aviaries have become the breeding ground for endangered species. The full story can be found in the New York Times.
Ms. Raffin credits an epiphany she had when a green-naped pheasant pigeon died unexpectedly and its mate would not stop crying. As she called around trying to find a new mate, she discovered that a number of the birds in her care, including the green-naped pigeons, had seriously dwindled in number thanks to the effects of climate change, practices like poaching and habitat destruction. Hers was one of the most robust flocks in captivity, it turned out.
There was rich genetic diversity in her backyard, she realized, and it was crucial to the survival of the species. “I had the materials necessary to make an impact in a way I hadn’t really thought about before,” she said. “I had gathered knowledge from the experts, and I really knew these birds.”
Almost overnight, Ms. Raffin began taking Pandemonium in a more professional, conservation-minded direction. There would be fewer, if any, softhearted rescues and willy-nilly adoptions, and tours were banned during sensitive breeding periods. She established a nonprofit organization with a board of directors, scientific advisers, a low six-figure budget, academic apprentices, 63 highly specialized volunteers and one full-time staff member. (Ms. Raffin doesn’t take a salary.)
The aviary now receives birds from some of the country’s most respected zoos for breeding and lifetime care. And Ms. Raffin hopes to establish satellite operations in warmer places like Puerto Rico, where she grew up, not just for breeding and mentoring, but because spreading out the collection serves as insurance against disease and natural disaster.
Now, while I do indeed appreciate exotic birds, the part of the story that peaked my attention was the conversion of Ms. Raffin's activities from her own personal focus to that of a nonprofit. And, more than just the conversion, her creation of a board plus scientific advisors plus a staff person. I would pose that many nonprofits develop this way. A founder attracts some select folks to "govern" and a nonprofit is born. Of course, founder organizations have lots of challenges including understanding or understanding at what point the "picked" board becomes true owners and the nonprofit achieves a life of its own. Given the history, when do you think Pandemonium will gain its own wings?