Views expressed in the Executive Corner category may not reflect the official positions or thoughts of the Washington Association of Conservation Districts. We share various thoughts to help stimulate thinking and discussion within our conservation community.

How WACD Communicates

Tom Salzer
Tom Salzer

In the old days, we had three primary ways to communicate with WACD members: in person, on the telephone, and through postal mail. No faxes, no emails, no strange discussion boards or “apps” to contend with. Speaking in real time and through the written word were the only tools available to us.

My, how things have changed! Now we are all inundated with messages coming at us from a multitude of sources, using an incredible array of methods to convey those messages. If you find it confusing, I hope you also recognize you are not alone. All of us feel this sense of being overwhelmed. It’s hard to know which channel to listen to, much less which one to tune into on a regular basis.

Where once we had three fundamental ways to reach people, now we have many. Where once we focused on just one aspect of our community, now we include everyone. One result of becoming more inclusive within our community is different generations have more contact and more opportunities (and challenges!) in communicating across those generations. The corollary of this is we have more ways of communicating than ever before.

  • Baby Boomers prize fairness and individual rights, personal growth and freedom of expression. They are motivated internally when they can have ownership, receive recognition and feel needed. After feeling judged and deprived by their parents of the Veteran Generation, they are very sensitive to feedback and uncomfortable with conflict.
  • Generation Xers prefer diversity, fun, self-reliance, and nontraditional approaches. They are willing to work hard, but will not be taken advantage. Generation Xers were the first generation to have equally strong internal and external goal motivation. They seek guidance from their values and aspirations, and are equally adept at responding to a changing external landscape. They are both responsible and responsive.
  • Millennials are tenacious, heroic, savvy, and technologically advanced. They possess self-efficacy and a belief in their abilities to handle whatever comes their way. This could be why 72 percent of Millennials feel that their current organizations are not making full use of the skills they have to offer. Generally, Millennials are motivated by challenge, action, unconditional acceptance, and change.
Bridging the Gap: Improving Intergenerational Communication

Clearly, the old ways of communicating are not sufficient. To help reach more people in our community, WACD has incorporated several different communication tools. However, a downside of this approach is it can create a sense of confusion when people think they need to tune into every single communication pathway.

First, some context: why WACD exists

The larger context behind all WACD communication methods is this: WACD continually seeks to fulfill our mission, vision, and principles, which I abbreviate as our MVP. The WACD Board of Directors adopted our latest MVP in November 2020.

Mission

Put simply, our mission is why we are here, describing in the briefest terms the unique value that WACD provides:

serves as the collective voice of conservation districts to help them achieve their purposes.

Vision

The vision statement succinctly describes our ultimate desired destination:

WACD aspires to fully support conservation districts in their implementation of locally developed conservation programs.

Principles

Principles are descriptions of our most fundamental values. Our values frame and support specific goals and strategic approaches. Principles/values should be evergreen, i.e., not changing from year to year. They form the firmament upon which to build annual work plans and the signposts to guide our decisions along the way. WACD adopted ten guiding principles:

  1. We exist to advocate for, and support, member conservation districts.
  2. We serve people with dignity and respect, acting with integrity and operating with transparency and accountability to all.
  3. We continually seek to become more capable of serving members, including maintaining financial strength, enhancing board capacity, and improving staff capacity.
  4. We value and recognize our people for excellence in performance, including teamwork, innovation, timely completion of tasks, and support of others.
  5. Our responses to conservation issues are founded on proven methodologies and science.
  6. We form and support strategic partnerships to maximize our effectiveness and to reduce duplication of effort.
  7. We seek to conserve natural resources in the way we operate our organization.
  8. We believe in, and uphold, the practice of locally-led, voluntary, incentive-based conservation.
  9. Private lands – and those who steward them – provide unique and valuable conservation of renewable natural resources to be used today and by future generations.
  10. Because natural resources cross jurisdictional boundaries and ownerships, all lands – and the people and entities that manage them – are important in conserving renewable natural resources.

In principle #1, we advocate for conservation districts. That requires communication. In #2, we serve people; again, communication is necessary. As you look through the ten guiding principles, it’s hard to imagine following any of them without being able to communicate effectively. Communication is built into the work that WACD does for and with our conservation district members.

Next: What are WACD’s primary communication tools?

WACD uses several ways of providing information to, and hearing from, members and partners. Following is a list of the main tools WACD uses, including the type of content relayed in each tool and the intended audiences.

Meetings

  • The WACD Board of Directors holds monthly meetings that are open meetings. In this time of COVID, WACD has been holding these as Zoom meetings. The Board receives minutes and financial reports, hears from Area Directors, and discusses policies, programs, and actions. The primary audience is the WACD Board of Directors and staff with the secondary audience being anyone in our conservation community.
  • WACD presents an annual conference for our statewide membership. Before COVID, this was always an in-person meeting. During COVID, we have held virtual meetings. Members and partners come together to learn about specific topics, identify and discuss issues, and to experience fellowship around shared values and interests. Members advance resolutions brought forward to shape future actions of WACD.
  • WACD Board members and staff attend conservation district board meetings to hear firsthand how things are going with our members. We often share current information about WACD activities when we attend; however, we are usually more interested in hearing the conservation district’s needs and concerns. Before COVID, district meetings were usually held in person, with a relatively small percentage held as teleconferences. During COVID, districts are meeting virtually using platforms of their own choosing.

Workshops and Webinars

  • WACD does organize and host workshops and webinars. In the past, these have been in-person meetings or teleconferences. During our COVID phase, these are Zoom meetings and teleconferences. In the future, it looks like WACD will employ both in-person and remote/virtual workshops to reach and hear from members and partners.

Websites

WACD maintains two websites.

  • The site at https://wadistricts.org contains general information about WACD and conservation districts. Our target audience is really the general public and partners who don’t know much about us.
  • The site at https://hub.wadistricts.org covers current topics and announcements of interest to people in our conservation district community. The Hub is intended to pull information together from many sources and present it in one place. It is aimed internally at our member conservation districts and important partners.

News

  • WACD produces a weekly newsletter called the Five Things to Know, aka the 5 Things. We provide the top five things we think you should be aware of. Included is a list of recent articles posted to the Hub and a summary of additional items of note. We started the Five Things newsletter in June 2020 and intend it to be a primary source of information about WACD, our members, and our partners. Find the archive at Subscribe to the weekly Five Things at https://hub.wadistricts.org/resources/newsletters/ and subscribe at  https://hub.wadistricts.org/resources/newsletters/weekly/.
  • WACD also provides a monthly summary of news posted to the Hub. This is a fully automated newsletter provided for those who don’t want to follow the Hub website every few days. Subscribe at https://hub.wadistricts.org/resources/newsletters/weekly/.
  • There is a lot of information available online, and much of it is interesting to some members of our community. WACD staff monitors more than 100 different news sources every day or two. Not everything gets posted to the Hub but we capture those items in an online bookmarks archive that we call the WACD Reading List.
  • We also track mentions of Washington State conservation districts. This is a great resource to get ideas about conservation activities and projects. Those links are posted in a  Flipboard magazine.

Collaboration tools

  • We have a lightly used discussion board (also called an online forum) on Groups.io. While we make this available, it has not been a primary pathway for sharing important information.
  • We also have a Slack instance through the Washington Conservation Society that provides for real-time communication. It is lightly used, primarily with conservation district staff, and WACD staff use it to stay in tune with each other when we are working remotely.
  • WACD staff uses Freedcamp for developing project plans and for tracking progress.
  • From time to time, WACD also uses SurveyMonkey and Google Forms to survey community members.

Social media

  • WACD has a WACD Facebook page which is occasionally used to relay information to our conservation community.
  • The WACD Plant Materials Center also has a PMC Facebook page where information about operations and plant availability is posted.

File sharing

  • WACD uses an account on Box.com to hold important Board meeting documents and to help coordinate the work of WACD committees.

Email

  • Email continues to be WACD’s primary mechanism for sharing information. For example, the 5 Things newsletter is sent by email. WACD maintains the District Directory, making it available to member and partners on the Hub. From time to time, WACD sends urgent information directly to lists of conservation district board supervisors, district managers, and others.

Telephone

  • The telephone also continues to be a core tool for WACD. For example, WACD’s staff in Olympia have desk phones and cell phones so that we can be highly responsive when needed.

Feedback

What communication tools should you use?

Subscribe

We encourage conservation community members to subscribe to the 5 Things newsletter. Published weekly, this communication vehicle helps keep you updated on current information about your Association as well as about events and issues in our community.

Interact

If you wish to have communications with community members, try the Groups.io board or Slack.

Respond to surveys and polls sent at various times during the year.

Throughout the year, WACD will continue to focus on email and telephone to reach community members and to hear your needs. We also welcome your participation at monthly board meetings and during WACD’s annual meeting.

Closing

If you subscribe to the 5 Things weekly newsletter, you’ll be up to date as we move through our conservation work together. If you let us know your concerns and questions, we can be most helpful as we work toward addressing your needs.

Tom Salzer, WACD Executive Director