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Chris Fanning is the Executive Director of the Outdoor Foundation. Having served as the Vice President of Marketing and Partnerships for the Case Foundation and the Vice President of Marketing for the Conservation Fund, Chris has a strong record of developing exceptional outreach strategies and marketing practices for cause based organizations.
Josh: Hi all, we are here today with Chris Fanning, the Executive Director of the Outdoor Foundation and a former Vice President at the Case Foundation. Ms. Fanning, after working quite some time for both the Conservation Fund and the Outdoor Foundation, you must be quite the outdoorswoman. What’s your favorite outdoor activity?
Chris: Kayaking is by far my favorite outdoor activity (but don’t tell the other sports). From paddling river rapids to exploring quiet coves, the experience can be as exciting as a rollercoaster or as relaxing as a cup of tea – it’s all up to you! Living in Washington DC, I really love that I can be playing on the Potomac River in less than 20 minutes and back before anyone notices.
Josh: We’ll be sure to keep your secret from the other sports, don’t worry. Now, the Outdoor Foundation is dedicated to inspiring outdoor enthusiasts and reminding future generations of the importance of life outdoors. Why has the foundation taken up this fight, and what kind of forces are they battling?
Chris: Not so long ago, it was serious punishment for a young person to be “grounded.” Few things seemed worse than having one’s freedom and ability to play outside taken away. Today, in the age of extreme video games, infinite television and online options, many young people seem to actually prefer to stay inside, moving little more than their fingers and thumbs.
Some see this trend as a new generation of kids being kids. Except the consequences of being an inactive insider can be serious: obesity, depression, diabetes and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are all on the rise among young people. In fact, there are new predictions that say today’s youth will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. We need a cultural shift in this county – one that goes beyond diet and traditional exercise. Nature should be the first prescription we give our children.
The Outdoor Foundation is working with a diverse coalition of partners to pioneer new initiatives that empower young people to reclaim, redefine and rediscover the outdoors. After all, if the goal is to reconnect youth and the outdoors, shouldn’t young people be leading the way?
As a Case Foundation and Social Citizens fan and disciple, I believe that the most effective way to engage youth is by investing in them and their ideas. The Outdoor Foundation is providing the tools, training and social support that will enable Millennials and their younger siblings to lead a next-gen outdoor movement.
Josh: What is the Outdoor Foundation doing to achieve these goals?
Chris: One of the most exciting initiatives, which the Outdoor Foundation and its partners plan to launch this year, is Outdoor Nation. The multi-faceted, multi-platform program is designed to empower thousands of young ‘Outsiders’ to join together and demand outdoor reform – from greater access to parks to increased investments in environmental education to organized outdoor outings.
Outdoor Nation online will launch in early January – providing a platform and social infrastructure for young people to coordinate, communicate and collaborate with one another and with external audiences. This site will enable the Outsiders community to speak with one powerful voice – influencing private and public sector programs and policies. In June of 2010, Outdoor Nation will gather in New York City’s Central Park to hold a two-day event that will celebrate the outdoor lifestyle as well as set an actionable agenda.
We have already attracted some of the biggest names in the entertainment, outdoor, healthcare and travel industries – in addition to top public and nonprofit organizations. For more information, visit www.outdoornation.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook – www.facebook.com/outdoornation. More information coming soon!
Josh: Wow that sounds like an amazing event, we’ll be sure to check it out. Moving on, it’s hard not to ignore the explosion of social media and internet activities - applications which might keep people indoors and on their computers. Do you have recommendations on how people can incorporate these activities into our outdoor lives?
Chris: I truly believe that technology can be a powerful tool that helps get young people, of all ages, outdoors. In fact, one of the goals of Outdoor Nation online is to help people who have similar outdoor passions get together and get outside. Beyond social networks there are now lots of cool mobile apps that provide great information – from surf and snow reports to river levels to trail maps. Digital cameras and flickr are a natural for individuals that want to capture and share the wonder of nature.
The outdoor community must realize there’s great value in exploring ways to incorporate technological advances into outdoor experiences. We can’t let digital divide us – but rather we should all find a healthy balance between our on-line and on-land worlds.
Josh: Chris, you’ve done a great deal of work with marketing for non profit organizations. In the current economy we’ve seen that often when companies need to make cuts, marketing is often the first thing to go, especially with nonprofits. Do you have any advice for organizations trying to keep outreach and fundraising alive while fighting the recession?
Chris: In many ways, the recession has actually benefited The Outdoor Foundation. The challenging economy has forced us to focus on our core competencies and value proposition. We were able to take a step back, streamline our work and get back to basics – concentrating on only those things we could be truly great at.
This renewed strategic direction allowed us to improve our programs, better communicate our impact, and build upon our relationships with key funders. We’re now in a great position to emerge from the recession with a renewed organization that is stronger than ever. As they say, never waste a recession and I believe there are great opportunities in this economy for every charitable organization.
Josh: Chris you’ve had many important roles at world changing institutions; it’s hard to put a finger on your most heroic actions. If you had to pick, which hero would you say you identify with more: Captain Planet or Wonder Woman?
Chris: How about Mother Nature – her combined powers are greater than all the other superheroes combined.
Josh: Just don’t tell the other superheroes... Thanks so much for your time and knowledge Chris. I think your words can go a long way towards inspiring people to take a break from their computer monitors and remember that there is a whole world going on outside their walls; and it needs to be explored! We’ll be sure to check out Outdoor Nation and look for the Outdoor Foundation making headlines online and outside.