St. Louis Public Radio fundraiser takes flight for bird safety

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St. Louis Public Radio flew past its goal for a special fundraiser to equip its headquarters with bird-safety features that prevent window strikes. 

Earlier this month the station raised more than $26,000 during Give STL Day, an effort led by the St. Louis Community Foundation to generate support for local nonprofits. The total was about double the amounts raised in previous Give STL Day campaigns that focused on general operating support for the station, according to Development Director Maria Bradford. The goal for the one-day campaign was $17,000.

Proceeds will help cover the costs of adding decals that will make exterior windows of the station’s headquarters more visible to birds. 

The station will use a product from the Canadian company Feather Friendly that prevents birds from crashing into buildings. 

“This was a project that was important to everyone at the station,” Bradford said. “They all understood why we were doing this particular project. Everyone was supportive of it and … pulled together across departments to make this happen and to make this successful.” 

The idea for the campaign originated with STLPR reporter Shahla Farzan. Arriving at work one morning in 2019, she noticed a black and white warbler on the sidewalk outside the building. 

The bird had flown into a window and was laying on the ground stunned. 

Farzan brought the warbler inside to protect it from predators and released it outside after the bird recovered and regained movement. From that day on, Farzan began documenting each injured or dead bird she found outside the three-story, window-filled headquarters. 

St. Louis Public Radio headquarters (Photo: Greg Munteanu)

She later discovered that Greg Munteanu, STLPR’s midday host, was keeping similar records.

The two knew that bird deaths from window strikes were a problem in cities. A 2014 study estimated the number of birds dying annually from window collisions in the U.S. was between 365 million and nearly 1 billion. “What was disturbing to us is that it was happening right on our front doorstep,” Farzan said. “You would come into the office and have these dead birds lying right outside your office.”

Farzon and Munteanu also saw a wide variety of species, including migratory birds “that had flown hundreds or thousands of miles just to crash into one of our windows and die,” Farzan said. 

The pair reached out to the Audubon Center at Riverlands, a sanctuary for migratory birds near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Staff from the center, which has a public education and conservation mission, conducted a formal assessment of the building and recommended companies that could help address the problem. 

In June 2021, staff brought the issue up with management and found a fellow bird lover in interim CEO Tom Livingston, who is on the board of BirdNote. The independent media organization produces a two-minute public radio show and podcast about birds. 

Livingston told staff there wasn’t money in the budget for the project and suggested fundraising for it, Bradford said. 

Bradford saw Give STL Day as a good fit for the fundraiser, in part because it occurs in May, when birds are migrating. She figured May 5, the date of the 2022 campaign, would be “a perfect time to be telling people that we are doing this.” 

The campaign took about four months to put together. Bradford secured $7,000 in matching funds for the fundraiser, she said. One donor agreed to allocate $5,000 of their annual gift towards an incentive match for individual contributions. Another local foundation responded to a pre-drive email from the station by offering $2,000 in matching funds. Bradford said a staffer from the foundation told her, “This is exactly the kind of thing we want to support.”

Staff from across St. Louis Public Radio contributed to the fundraiser. Photojournalist Brian Munoz created a video for the campaign in which Farzan discussed her research on bird deaths from window collisions. David Kovaluk, the station’s visual communications specialist, came up with the idea for a graphic logo featuring a blue bird wearing headphones; Réka Szabó, a visual communications intern, created the graphic, which was then printed on tote bags as a premium gift for donors who gave over $25. St. Louis on the Air, the station’s midday news/talk show, produced a segment on bird strikes and the station’s campaign to deter birds from colliding into its building.

“Everyone at the station wants to make sure that they leave it a little bit of a better place than they found it,”  Farzan said. “And this was a project that really resonated with a lot of people on staff.”

Initial estimates for installation of the window decals came in at about $40,000, so St. Louis Public Radio is working with Feather Friendly to decide how to prioritize the work with the money that was raised. Since the station is licensed to the University of Missouri–St. Louis, facilities management may be able to help bring the costs down, Bradford said.  

One lesson that came out of this fundraising campaign is that “good fundraising ideas can come from any part of the organization,” Bradford said. 

“This was an idea that came out of a need that was seen by our employees,” Bradford said. “It wasn’t something that management said, ‘This was what we should do.’ It wasn’t something that fundraisers said, ‘This is something we can raise money for.’ It was something that people said, ‘This is a need.’ And … the leadership of the organization listened and said, ‘You’re right. …. Let’s see what we can do about it.’”

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