Executive Director’s Donor Report: August 2022


Greetings from Orion! I hope you are having a happy and rejuvenating summer. We are just over halfway through Orion’s celebratory 40th anniversary year. Here are some highlights of what we’ve been able to accomplish with your generosity in that time. Thank you for all you do for Orion.

Strategic Plan
Staff have been implementing the strategic plan which the board approved in January, which you may remember from my last report. The plan is keeping us focused on harnessing mission-driven growth, financial stability and more efficient work. A committee comprised of board members and staff has been meeting every quarter to evaluate our progress on goals related to:

  • establishing tools to track and analyze financial and fundraising trends,
  • reaching a larger and more diverse readership
  • forming more strategic partnerships
  • broadening our event programming
  • increasing operational capacity
  • clarifying staff roles
  • professionalizing the board, and
  • championing diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout every aspect of the organization.

While Orion will always be a print magazine, the strategic plan also calls for a reevaluation of our digital presence. To that end, we have begun the process of a major website overhaul, which will reduce inefficiencies in our internal workflows and make it easier for readers and donors like you to renew your subscriptions and support. I’ll share our progress on that front with you in my next report.

40th Anniversary Gala
Thanks to donations made at the end of December 2021 and early in 2022, staff were able to focus on crafting an extraordinary 40th anniversary gala highlighting some of the great writers who make Orion such an indelible part of the environmental landscape. A detailed plan for promoting the event was developed and executed. In the end we surpassed our registration and attendance goals, allowing us to raise more than $200,000 for Orion. If you weren’t able to attend the event or want to recapture the feeling of excitement it entailed, an edited version can be found here.

Much of what we will accomplish in 2022 and in the years to come stem from the success of the 40th anniversary gala. While no fundraising event could ever resolve all of our challenges, this one set us up to face them head on.

New Board Members
Orion welcomes two new board members this year, Lisa Funderburke Hoffman and Fiona McCrae, who bring a breadth of nonprofit leadership and publishing experience to the organization.

Lisa is the Executive Director of Artist Communities Alliance and a coalition builder, who has worked with residencies, foundations, and other nonprofits on developing effective strategy and improving the efficacy of teams and programs. A scientist by training, she has served as a herbarium collections manager and public school educator; and has held leadership posts at McColl Center for Art + Innovation and Charlotte Nature Museum, among others. She is currently on the Grantmakers in the Arts Individual Artist Committee, and serves on the board of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Rustle Lab, and Orion.

Fiona comes to us after twenty-eight years as the director and publisher of Graywolf Press. During her tenure there, Graywolf expanded its lists of poetry, literary nonfiction and criticism, fiction, and works in translation. Authors who have enjoyed notable successes under her watch include Anna Burns, Maggie Nelson, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Danez Smith, Claudia Rankine, Natalie Diaz, Percival Everett, and Tracy K. Smith. In addition to the Orion board, Fiona currently serves on the boards of the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota, and the literary press Fence, and also serves as the Vice-Chair of the National Book Foundation board. McCrae received the Golden Colophon Award for leadership from the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses in 2014, and in 2017, she received the Editor’s Award from Poets & Writers.

40th Anniversary Issue
After forty years of publishing the best in environmental writing and art, Orion decided to focus its anniversary issue on the meaning of time. This special issue brings together forty writers and forty artists to muse on what it means to live in the Anthropocene, broaching important questions about how to live well together and define the age in which we live. The issue is on track to becoming our most-sold issue of all time. We hope you’ve found it to be as beautiful and thought-provoking as we have.

The strategic partnership we formed with NRDC to publish this issue made it possible for us to deepen relationships with leading writers, artists, and scientists as well as attract a new cohort of readers.

New Book
Every year Orion publishes an anthology organized around themes that have resonated with our readers for decades. Our 2021 anthology, Old Growth, broke Orion’s sales records. This year’s anthology, The Book of Bugs, is following suit, garnering impressive pre-sale numbers in the three weeks leading up to its sale date, August 11th. This book brings together some of the best writing about insects and arthropods to appear in Orion’s pages, including work by Wendell Berry, Brian Doyle, Jane Hirshfield, Linda Hogan, Robert Macfarlane, Laline Paull, David Quammen, E.O. Wilson, and many others. In the months to come we will be hosting a virtual event free to the public to celebrate this book. The book is already available for orders on our website and will soon be available in bookstores around the country.

Our books bring Orion’s unique approach to environmental storytelling to new and expanding audiences, which in turn, helps us to bring our mission even deeper into the world. They also serve as a critical revenue driver for Orion. These books aren’t inexpensive to produce, but support from donors like you make them possible. Thank you.

This summer marked a joyous return to in-person workshops at the Omega Institute after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. It was our largest in-person gathering to date, featuring a new workshop dedicated to the study of nature photography. Participants and instructors alike frequently remarked how good it felt to be back at Omega, learning and creating together in person.

Our offering of virtual workshops will expand again this year to accommodate those who prefer virtual learning and/or find such workshops to be more convenient. Virtual workshops help Orion to diversify our cohort of participants as well as our roster of instructors, ensuring that we are engaging as many different people and communities as possible.

Thanks to your help in spreading the word about Orion and our 40th anniversary, our subscription rates are hovering at 25% over what they were at this time last year, outpacing even our most ambitious projections for 2022. Many people are encountering Orion for the first time and subscribing. Furthermore, an unprecedented number of longtime subscribers are renewing their subscriptions. Thank you for helping us reach new readers by recommending Orion to your friends and family and for keeping your own subscription active (though we know some people prefer to pick up a copy at their library or local bookstore). We are delighted and honored to see our unique approach to environmental storytelling in the hands of so many people.

Upcoming Issue
In a little over a month, our Autumn 2022 issue will land in mailboxes. This issue returns to a timeless topic that’s as relevant today as it was when we first launched Orion: reimagining our footprint on the land. Lacy Johnson looks back at the history of the longleaf pine in the American South, finding unsettling connections between the ownership of land and the ownership of people. We report on indigenous communities protesting coal mining by simply refusing to leave the land. Sandra Cisneros reflects on the inextricable connection between the land she inhabits and the work she produces. And Ross Gay celebrates pickup basketball, a game in which strangers commune on land they don’t own.

A Final Word
The board and I are tracking how the ongoing paper shortage and increasing inflation rates are affecting our bottom line. We have been able to weather these challenges so far. Using the strategic plan to guide us, we are preparing as best we can for whatever may come next. Thank you–sincerely–for your continued support of Orion. Your generosity helps us to continue pursuing our mission: to invite readers into a community of caring for the planet. We couldn’t do it without you.

Amy Brady
Executive Director

Download a PDF of this report here.