Director’s Letter May 2021
I love the current RMBL staff...
I love the current RMBL staff. We have had some great people working for RMBL over the years, but this group is special, from top to bottom. Their collective experience includes serving on the leadership team on an international nonprofit going through a major campus expansion (Kelly Sudderth), running a field station on the North slope of Alaska (Brett Biebuyck), overseeing complex data campaigns from the Sahara to the Arctic in a corporate environment (Erik Hulm), running a construction business (Steve Jennison), and of course, being one of the world’s most famous hermits (billy barr). Even one of our seasonal employees, Bill McCormick, has extensive time serving scientists on the ice in Antarctica. This team rocks.
It is not just the experience of the team that I love. They combine strong technical skills with being thoughtful and inquisitive. They work with grace under pressure, of which there is little shortage in Gothic in early June. They are here to not just do their jobs but do them in service to research and education, an important distinction that can get lost by some.
Shelley Popke, profiled in the adjoining article, is the latest edition to the team and epitomizes how fortunate RMBL is. She has an MA in history and is an MBA candidate at the University of Denver, where she worked as a fundraising professional on their development team. Most recently she served as Executive Director of the CB Mountain Heritage Museum, leading the Preserve Tony’s Capital Campaign. She is passionate about RMBL’s mission and has a deep knowledge of Crested Butte, including the community and history. If you don’t already know her, take advantage of our summer programs to connect.
Sometimes the nonprofit sector gets the rap for being a simpler, less well-paid version of the corporate environment. Nonprofits and for-profits are each complex in their own ways. For-profits work in competitive environments. RMBL competes with other field stations for scientists, students, and staff, but I would guess most of them do not realize we are competing. That makes my job a bit easier. On the other hand, nonprofits have complex missions and it can be difficult to develop a clear and shared understanding of what success looks like. Furthermore, we must balance the interests of multiple stakeholder groups.
As for nonprofit pay, while we aspire to do better, I am proud we offer reasonable pay so staff can manage some of the highest health care costs in the country as well as exploding housing costs. My initial pay as director was less than what we currently provide entry level permanent employees; I was told that working for little pay was part of the nonprofit way, an approach that excludes a lot of potentially great, and diverse, employees. But our mission matters and we need the best. Our staff are way more important than any tangible asset, such as buildings, land, and money. Give me a choice between an organization with a fat bank account and one with great staff, and I will take the staff every time.
We are out to change the world, redefining what is possible in field science at a time when the environment is critical, from food security, to human disease, to clean water and air. Our staff are poised to make the world a fundamentally better place. You make it possible with your support. Thank you!
Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL