Generosity and understanding touch Godwit Days birding fest

Sue Leskiw
Godwit Days Volunteer Media Liaison 

When Godwit Days Board members (and I, as media liaison) met early on Friday, March 13 (not an auspicious date in normal times!), we dutifully sat six feet apart or called in remotely. We were faced with deciding what to do about the 25th annual festival planned for mid-April.

Our Arts! Arcata wine pour fundraiser that evening had been canceled. Our two keynote speakers had informed us that they were not traveling to speaking engagements. Several field trip leaders had expressed concern about hours of close contact during carpooling. T-shirt and poster printing needed a go/no-go choice that day.

After mulling whether to wait a week to decide – Humboldt happenings had just started to be crossed off the calendar – we opted to postpone the festival until undetermined dates this fall. Although we were able to void T-shirt and poster orders and cancel catering and Nature Joe with no penalty, many expenditures already had occurred (e.g., independent contractor time, website construction, postcard printing/mailing). 

As a nonprofit organization that would soon be returning registration, vendor and sponsor fees, it remained to be seen whether we would have the financial reserves to gear up for a fall festival. Especially because Godwit Days has operated in the red the past three years.

Someone at the board meeting suggested that we send a message to registrants asking them if they wanted to donate a portion of their fees back to Godwit Days. 

I volunteered to draft language and came up with: “The festival has been postponed due to concerns of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Plans for a fall event are in the works – we will keep you posted. All registrants will receive a full refund within three weeks. 

As many expenses have been incurred up to this point – and Godwit Days is a nonprofit organized solely to put on a birding festival – we will experience a significant financial loss. If you wish to donate any portion of your registration to our nonprofit organization, please contact us at [email protected] as soon as possible. All donations are tax-deductible.”

We had no idea how this message would be received by our 158 paying registrants. We’re so gratified to find that 39 percent of them chose to donate $4,302.50 back to the festival! Many included a message about how much they loved Godwit Days: “Please do not refund my credit card. I will donate what I paid ($80) as a small token of my appreciation for what you do for our community… Please keep my registration to help defray your losses. I am hoping you can have a festival this fall. It is a huge disappointment that you can’t do it this spring, so fingers crossed… Sorry about the festival cancellation and certainly it was the right thing to do. Please keep $150 towards your expenses when refunding our fees.

Looking forward to the Fall Godwit Days… I am disappointed but I completely understand. Thank you for all that went into the decision. It is a prudent one. I will donate the $35 basic registration fee. Thank you again for rising to this unexpected challenge… So sad to hear this but do understand. Please keep 50 percent of my registration payment as a donation towards your efforts. I look forward to joining the fall event!… Please accept my Godwit Days registration as a donation. Hope you are well and offer encouragement that this will pass and we will gather again.”

At least one vendor has donated its booth fee to Godwit Days. Many others have told us to keep their money as a placeholder for a booth at the next festival. (Sue Moore, who was in charge of vendors, points out that many of our exhibitors are small businesses or nonprofit organizations facing an uncertain economic challenge, so understandably would want their $55 or $110 returned.)

Most Godwit Days sponsors give in-kind donations or media time, rather than cash, but Friends of the Arcata Marsh had donated $500 to underwrite the Saturday keynote. I approached the FOAM Board about whether it wanted the money returned. When asked for details about the festival’s financial situation, I replied “I can share with you that Godwit Days was able to cancel some outlays, such as posters, T-shirts, hall rental, and catering and the keynote speakers had not yet booked air fares. However, most of the cost for the independent contractors and website has already been expended. We were hoping that the 25th year would put us in the black after 3 years of losses.” 

I also attached a copy of a financial article I wrote for the Times-Standard. FOAM Board members responded “These days call for generosity: I vote to give the money to them. It’s a good investment in our community and our goals… I am fine with leaving the money in the Godwit Days treasury.”

Other sponsors are being contacted and may follow the lead of Godwit Days Board chair Alex Stillman by not requesting a refund of their financial support.

Godwit Days likely will need to hold at least one fundraiser. Watch local media for an announcement, as we’ll be seeking volunteers, attendees, and silent auction donors.

One fundraiser that we know about is participating in Eureka Natural Foods Change 4 Change program. Over a four-day period, shoppers at the Eureka and McKinleyville stores are asked to round up their register total to the nearest whole dollar, with proceeds coming to Godwit Days. We were scheduled to do this in April, but owner Rick Littlefield and administrative officer Graigory Fillmore readily agreed to postpone it to later in the year.

Anyone can help secure the future of Humboldt’s birding festival by clicking the Donate button on our website ( We’ve already received one $100 donation.




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