WALNUT CREEK -- With donations to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum's rehabilitation hospital down 25 percent from a year ago, museum officials are asking for money before the busy spring season when the hospital is inundated with baby birds and mammals.
Short $100,000 for the 60-year-old facility, which costs nearly $500,000 a year to operate, the museum sent a holiday letter asking longtime contributors for donations and made pleas in this newspaper.
That brought some contributions, but more are needed, according to museum officials.
"I don't think we are unique in terms of what local organizations are facing," said Lizzie Coyle, individual and major gifts officer for the museum. "When there have been (economic) tough times for local organizations like ours, we are not top of the mind for donors."
This plea comes on the heels of news that the museum has hired an executive director -- Norma Bishop from the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, set to start Jan. 13. The museum has been without a permanent director since May.
More than 95 percent of the museum and hospital's funding comes from private donations, not government support as many think, Coyle said. The museum itself is also behind in its fundraising goals, though Coyle did not know exactly by how much. To help keep costs down, all open staff positions at the Lindsay have been frozen, she said.
Some longtime volunteers say that after a tumultuous year for the museum and hospital, which included the loss of several longtime staffers combined with a slow economy, the financial need comes as no surprise.
Some felt the museum was changing directions, prompting some people to withhold donations said Robin Pulich, a 25-year volunteer with the Lindsay. But she is confident things are turning around.
"We have a window of opportunity to make things better and come back to the table," she said. "The community has to come forward and make their wishes known."
To that end, she suggests people donate and earmark it for the hospital, museum or educational programs.
The administrative shake-up at the Lindsay reached the top echelon this year with the May 31 resignation of seven-year executive director Loren Behr, followed by the director of wildlife education and the wildlife rehabilitation supervisor leaving. These and other departures came after the hiring of veterinarian Dr. Serena Brenner in 2013. At a heated meeting last year, volunteers and staffers complained that Brenner lacked compassion and commitment to animal welfare and rehabilitation. Brenner resigned in October after such issues dogged her for months.
But Marilyn Fowler, Lindsay's board president, does not see a connection between the staffing issues and the donation shortfalls. Instead, she faults the slow economy, leading to fewer individual and corporate donations. There was also a series of natural disasters in 2013, which diverted some donations, she said, and fewer bequeathed donations.
"Those bequeaths, in past years, have helped us in rough spots," Fowler said.
Even though the wildlife hospital is one of the oldest in the country, many people still don't know about it, she said, making education and outreach necessary. Last year the hospital took in 5,500 injured wild animals, and 80,000 people visited the museum.
According to tax statements filed with the IRS for fiscal year ending 2012, the Lindsay took in $2.4 million and spent $2.2 million.
Fowler is confident Bishop will bring energy and new opportunities, she said.
Bishop could face some challenges early on as the Walnut Creek City Council begins its two-year budget process. In recent years, the council voted first to decrease Lindsay funding, and then to change how it funds the facility. This current fiscal year, the city offered a $75,000 challenge grant, contingent upon the museum raising that amount from new donors. It's unknown at this time whether that same grant or any other money will be offered in the next two-year budget, as the city faces a $2 million budget deficit of its own.
Donations can be made to Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek, CA 94597 or online at www.wildlife-museum.org (just click on "support").
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.