Director’s Blog 11/08/19

Director’s Blog November 8, 2019
By Ian Billick, PhD

Giving by scientists matters.

I just signed 700 letters asking people to donate, including scientists.  When I played baseball I lost my ability to throw accurately.  Unlike baseball, which I had to give up, I kept signing when my hand got shaky.  Forgive me if you can’t read my name when you get the fundraising appeal.

Why do we fundraise?  RMBL made no financial sense 20 years ago.  Most of our money came from renting cabins.   While we had to maintain buildings year-round in a complicated and intense environment, people only rented cabins about 8 weeks/year.  That was enough to pay for minimal staff and keep the lights on, literally, for about 2 months.

It was not enough money to operate.  In 2001 RMBL’s cabins included a converted chicken coop and buildings with bare electrical lines.  You can still see the burn marks in Barclay Cabin.  Ignoring inflation, my 14 year-old Cormac made more per hour this summer in Gothic’s coffee shop than I did as director in 2001.  He got tips.

I now feel good about putting small children in cabins; we spend about $400k/year on facilities, the entire budget in 2001.  At 1 Gig, internet access has improved dramatically.  We offer useful data products.  We have plans for increasing fellowships, improving facilities, reducing public pressures on research, archiving historic data, and providing livable wages (and health care) for employees.

RMBL has achieved a stable financial model through increasing fees, spreading fixed costs across more people, and being creative about finding revenue sources.  Hosting one wedding dinner covers about 2 months of work crew staffing.  Adding a development office in 2009 was a game-changer; 1/3 of RMBL’s operating costs are now covered through donations.

Fundraising starts with the scientists and alumni!  We are fortunate to have scientists and alumni in the Marmot Club; thanks to Ken and Katie Armitage, Diane Campbell, Virginia Dodson, Anne and Paul Ehrlich, John and Mel Harte, David and Bonnie Inouye, Brian Inouye and Nora Underwood, Carol Johnson and Russ Miller, Doug and Kim Johnson, Kristina Jones and Peter Hecht, James and Barbara Thomson, Nick Waser and Mary Price, Rick Williams and Rosemary Smith, and the Wissinger Family for unrestricted donations at the $5,000+ level in 2018!

The absolute size of the gift is less important than that the donation is personally meaningful.  I know students that have stretched to make a $25 donation.  That dedication matters.  Donations by people who are closest to RMBL, and who have benefitted personally and professionally, inspire others to give!  After all, if our community doesn’t believe in the importance of field research to the future of the world, why would others?

You can donate online at  Your donation, large or small, matters!

Feel free to shoot me questions or suggest ideas for blog posts!  I love hearing from you.


Ian Billick, PhD