For me, trips to Vermont in January usually meant a car packed with equipment and supplies for a ski excursion. I’ll admit it’s been a while since I have been to Vermont, but earlier this month I was lucky to find myself in Dummerston, just outside of Brattleboro. I was sitting in a cozy study talking about the trials and tribulations of non-profit communications in a house designed for Rudyard Kipling (yes, the Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling). Members of fellow preservation statewide groups joined me as we were debating the virtues of print newsletters vs. e-mail newsletters, which platform do you like, do you look at the analytics of email communications? Then it turned toward “what is your message” which lead into a discussion on development and fundraising. So, it only made sense afterward that the seven of us moved together as a group to discuss fundraising. That conversation was in the dinning room, policy and advocacy was being discussed upstairs in the billiard room (of course) and real estate and easements were the topics conversed in the carriage house.
The reason we were in Kipling’s house Naulakah* was for an annual gathering of the northeast statewide preservation organizations. Each January for the past several years, groups from Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and now New York have met for a concise 24-hour period that includes broad topic discussions, small group sharing on topics and general networking with colleagues. The format is very low key, and everyone submits topics that they want to discuss. It can range from big topics like the impact of tax reform on charitable organizations to more targeted issues like fostering relationships between local advocates and municipal leaders. The conversation is organic, and people ask questions and others share best practices or offer suggestions. It is a good sounding board for new ideas and really a breeding ground for non-profit creative thinking. We share successes, we share challenges. And we inevitably come away wishing we had more time, though this year we did create a Facebook Group to keep the conversation going.
Conferences and workshops are hugely important to any industry, whether you are a professional or a volunteer. They offer opportunities to learn, share and network with a broad community. But the thing that I have come to really appreciate about these annual northeast gatherings is the opportunity to be with and learn from people who are doing the same thing that me and my organization are. They know the challenges of working across a whole state (some larger than others), the pulls and tugs of having small staffs and limited budgets. So, throwing the inevitable frustration aside, it opens the door to be creative, maybe think differently about a problem, find what worked for one state and tweak it to serve ours and come out truly motivated.
It’s great that this convening happens in January. It really helps set the stage for looking ahead at the rest of the year with enthusiasm, positivity and new ideas! In fact, our 2017 Cruising the Commonwealth was an idea sparked from a listening tour that Preservation Pennsylvania had done in 2016, thank you PA!
Learning from others and sharing ideas I believe is one of the best ways to grow as a preservationist, advocate, administrator, director, fundraiser or whatever “hat” you happen to be wearing on that particular day. Getting together people who do what you do can be very empowering and beneficial. It does not have to be sophisticated or complicated. So, I say take a cue from this model, reach out to other groups like yours or even other towns, get a meeting room, sit together, talk for a few hours and see what great ideas will come.
Images of Naulakah and the Scott Farm in Dummerston, VT.
Naulakah is a beautiful shingle style home built in 1893 for British author Rudyard Kipling. Though he and his family only stayed in the house for a short time, the author’s presence is obvious. It was vacant (and fully furnished) from 1942 until the Landmark Trust UK purchased the property in 1992 and began a restoration. Now owned by the Landmark Trust USA, you can rent and stay in Naulakah. The Landmark Trust USA also owns several other historic properties in Dummerston close by Naulakah that are for rent also. It truly is a remarkable piece of history set in the idyllic Green Mountain State. Click here for more information about the Landmark Trust USA and Naulakah.