State of Giving

Stories of Oregon Volunteers, Donors, and Nonprofits

Copyright Kris Anderson

Behind Oregon’s 7 Wonders

Bandon coastline (C) Kris Anderson

Bandon coastline (C) Kris Anderson

As summer ends and a devastating wildfire and drought season continues, it’s difficult not to worry about the impact of a changing climate on Oregon’s stunning landscapes. It’s a cliché to say that we’re lucky here, but it’s also the truth: we live in a state of extraordinary natural beauty and diversity. But as we all know, it’s a fragile beauty that has been altered and eroded over the years by human habits and economies, and is now being threatened by what a global majority of scientists declare to be anthropogenic (man-made) climactic shifts. In looking at the scorched homes and forests and rangelands, and at the pervasive drought that’s been declared across much of the state, a troublesome vision of the future emerges, one in which Oregon’s natural wonders–and the qualities that make this a comparatively pleasant, easy place to live–become increasingly vulnerable.

But while we’re worrying about the future, it’s worth remembering the impact of all of the people who have worked and are working–donating time and money, devoting their livelihoods–to preserve Oregon’s natural world and to ensure it remains iconic, beautiful, and authentic. There are conservationists, donors, and volunteers working worldwide to combat climate change and preserve ecosystems, but there are also thousands of northwesterners battling to sustain some of places that we Oregonians consider to be at the very heart of our self-definition.

Earlier this summer, Astoria’s Fort George brewery was crowded with local business owners and journalists eager to speak with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden about tourism’s impact on Oregon. Sen. Wyden’s visit was part of his week-long tour of the “7 Wonders of Oregon,” a collection of natural attractions compiled by a Travel Oregon campaign that has been so successful (and so beautifully-promoted by Wieden+Kennedy’s videos) that it’s been extended well beyond its originally planned duration.

The “7 Wonders” campaign has brought attention and tourist dollars to our state and has helped resuscitate rural areas jeopardized by the decline of natural resource economies. The record-breaking $10.3 billion that tourism generates for Oregon, and the over 101,000 jobs it has created, have been widely welcomed, especially in towns that once relied upon timber and other natural resource industries. But it’s not just statewide publicity efforts that have been responsible for tourism’s growth here; nor is it solely because of the majesty of our geography. Oregon’s success as a destination is in large part thanks to citizens across the state who have worked to preserve and improve the natural assets that are so inspiring to out-of-state visitors and residents alike.

Let’s take Oregon’s 7 Wonders. The Painted Hills, part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, are sustained and conserved not only through National Parks’ system money, but also through the work of local nonprofits, such as the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute, and through the volunteerism upon which the cash-strapped National Parks system (and the similarly low-funded Oregon State Parks, for that matter) so heavily relies. If you went on a ranger tour, learned something from the library, visited Cant Ranch, bought something from the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center gift shop, or packed your kid off on a supervised “fossil” dig, the chances are very good that a dedicated volunteer provided that experience.

Smith Rock, another of the 7 Wonders, has less infrastructure: it’s more about getting out there and doing your own thing. But as almost 640,000 adventurers experience annually (the numbers have exploded in recent years, and there are worries about overcrowding), the visitors center yurt is staffed by folks who know everything about the geology, climbing routes, and hiking trails–they’re largely volunteers. So are the folks who annually pitch up for the Smith Rock Spring Thing, a gathering during which volunteers cleans up the park, maintain and develop its infrastructure, and ensure it’s a great spot for picnickers and sport-climbers alike. And of course the park itself wouldn’t be around if Harry and Diane Kem hadn’t donated their land to the State Parks system several decades ago, and if the members of the Oregon State Parks Foundation weren’t so enthusiastic about conserving and getting folks out into our state’s landscapes.

The Wallowas, that alpine wonderland in the northeast of Oregon, has its own champions. Wallowa Resources campaigns for environmental and economic sustainability to go hand-in-hand, and has helped strengthen both of those things. Wallowa Land Trust works to conserve both the working and the wildlands of the area, while arts and cultural organizations like the Josephy Center, Fishtrap, and the Nez Perce Interpretive Center, keep the community alive and dynamic to residents and tourists alike. And while all of these organizations are powered by individuals, everyday people have taken conservation into their own hands, too: take rancher Doug McDaniel, who undertook a riparian restoration project to redirect the part of the Wallowa River–which had been straightened many decades ago–that flowed through his lands back into its meandering original course, restoring fish habitat and native vegetation along the way.

Mt. Hood benefits from the Mt. Hood Stewardship Council’s efforts to preserve and restore its forests, rivers, and alpine environments; from the Pacific Crest Trail Association, which protects and maintains the entire length of the trail via donors and volunteer labor; the Mazamas mountaineering club, which not only teaches people to have an appreciation for outdoor activities but also lead trail maintenance and restoration expeditions; and cultural institutions like the Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum and Friends of Timberline, which preserves the historical integrity of one of the most awesome mountain lodges in the country. (More info on volunteer opportunities for Mt. Hood here.)

And the remaining three Wonders–the Coast, Crater Lake, and the Columbia River Gorge–all have their advocates and supporters. The volunteers (over 7000 of them) and staff of SOLVE have been cleaning the entire 363.1 miles of the Oregon coast twice a year since 1984, and plant trees and restore rivers and other habitat when they’re not trawling the sand. The Crater Lake Institute provides resources for those seeking to learn more about the geology, ecology, and human history of the deepest lake in America, while the Crater Lake Trust works to protect, promote, and enhance Crater Lake National Park. And the jaw-dropping National Scenic Area the Columbia River Gorge not only has Friends of the Columbia Gorge to ensure it preserves and grows its scenic status, but also organizations like the Confluence Project, a multi-site art, conservation, and heritage project that reflects the human and natural history of this stunning river system in order to inform its future.

Ultimately, these places are what makes Oregon Oregon, and their enduring appeal is at least in part owed to the actions of people who have seen their value and fought to preserve and sustain them. People plant trees, clean beaches, donate land, and conserve heritages, and all of their work helps to make Oregon’s amazing places more resilient and more remarkable. In coming decades, this resilience will be tested. But it’s heartening to know how many people are already working behind the scenes to keep Oregon full of wonders.

“Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it is my responsibility to make it better.”
–Tom McCall, interviewed by Studs Terkel
Wallowa Lake (C) Kris Anderson
Wallowa Lake (C) Kris Anderson


Road-Tripping Through the State of Giving

Reprinted from Oregon State University Press’ blog. Original text here. 

Road Tripping through the State of Giving

Kris Anderson is the co-author of State of Giving: Stories of Oregon Volunteers, Donors, and Nonprofits, along with the former president of the Oregon Community Foundation, Greg Chaillé. In anticipation of the book’s imminent publication in April 2015, we asked Kris to share some of her experiences writing the book, as well as her take on what makes Oregon such an inspiring place.

Researching State of Giving meant a lot of time on the road. So we can tell you this with authority: Oregon’s scenic byways host some iconic roadside attractions. Petersen’s Rock Gardens, Harvey the Rabbit, and the world’s largest pig hairball, to name a few.

But the Prehistoric Gardens on Highway 101 is one of the more arresting. Cruising along the southern coast’s wave-beaten monoliths and forested headlands, a bend in the road brings you face-to-face with a life-size T-Rex reaching with feeble arms and a cartoonish expression towards your car.

It’s a surreal moment, and a charming one. Like many of its roadside kin, Prehistoric Gardens seems a relic of a more credulous, less globalized era of travel. Its hand-painted sign has a typo; its concrete monsters have the lumbering, mud-tailed postures of long outdated paleontological theories. It’s less Jurassic Park, more Flintstones. And it’s a worthwhile stop, especially for fans of nostalgia and kitsch.

A few miles away is Port Orford, a small town that, like many small rural towns in Oregon, could easily be viewed by a stranger through similar lenses: as a quaint, appealing relic of something bygone—and as a nice tourist stopover. It has galleries on the main street, the ubiquitous myrtlewood shops, a beautiful adjacent bay and state park, a few derelict storefronts, and a message sprayed on the asphalt of a side road that reads “Ocean View This Way.”

That’s what you see when you cruise through at 35 miles an hour, at least, or poke around for the afternoon. But, as with many of Oregon’s rural communities, Port Orford deserves to be regarded as more than a roadside attraction for out-of-towners.

One of our key arguments in State of Giving is that across Oregon, there’s fascinating, inventive, and very contemporary work going on to enliven and sustain our state’s communities and landscapes. Much of it is entirely grassroots, created and championed by volunteers, local donors, and impassioned nonprofit and civic leaders. And some of the most engaged, progressive visions are coming out of tiny places like Port Orford: far from being sepia-toned backwaters, Oregon’s small towns are hotbeds of citizen activism and creativity.

State of Giving isn’t just about small town altruism and activism—its perspective is statewide, and it chronicles volunteerism, philanthropy, and civic leadership across many sectors and demographics. It is organized by sector, with each chapter detailing wide-ranging efforts to counteract what we regard as the key challenges facing Oregon: the urban/rural divide, education inequity, environmental degradation, poverty (and the hunger and homelessness it precipitates), dwindling support for Oregon’s cultural and heritage industries, and systemic social inequity and injustice. We profile organizations ranging from Basic Rights Oregon to the Jefferson County Historical Society to Albina Head Start to Wallowa Resources, a consensus-building environmental nonprofit headquartered in Enterprise. But while we outline why each organization is doing vital work, our profiles focus less upon the institutions themselves and more upon the volunteers, donors, and staff that are driving their work forward—first and foremost, this is a book about people.

Petite Port Orford, weighing in at a mere 1133 residents as of the 2010 Census, provides a number of outsized examples. Port Orford isn’t always an easy place to live: its once-vibrant forest products industry is now virtually extinct, its fishing industry has faced similar threats, it has an aging population, 54% of its residents are low-to-middle income, and it’s part of Curry County, which has one of the lowest tax rates in Oregon, meaning that investments in roads, schools, and basic services have all declined sharply. But the town also has a lot going for it: a stunning location, a temperate climate, a fertile ocean, a robust arts scene, a growing tourist economy, and most of all, a very close-knit, hands-on, git-‘er-done community.

Local artist and mom Allandra Emerson, for example, hated that the local schools had to cut arts education from their dwindling budgets but realized that the town had an untapped resource. “We have a healthy arts community here, but there’s not much overlap between the artists and parents of school-age children.” With her encouragement, the Port Orford Arts Council set up a Saturday arts program for children that eventually became incorporated—powered by volunteer labor from the arts community—back into the school day. “That way you can reach the maximum number of kids, not just kids whose parents are interested in the arts,” Allandra explains.

The Arts Council also runs a program at Port Orford’s library, itself the product of impressive civic leadership. For over seventy years, the Port Orford Library was just a room in a crumbling municipal building. But in 1995, residents of Port Orford formed the Library Foundation, a nonprofit established to find the library a permanent home. Led by the irrepressible Tobe Porter, the town raised over $1.8 million dollars and 70% of the community voted in favor a $450,000 bond to be used if needed. In 2008, on the day Port Orford Public Library opened it doors, “four hundred or so people lined up outside. They would just stop and look at it and cry with pride. It’s a library that the community built 100 percent,” Tobe recalls. Under Tobe’s leadership, the library now is a de facto community center, offering everything from job search training to yoga classes to town hall discussions.

The library has also hosted conversations that led to one of Port Orford’s most visible successes: the transformation of its fishing industry. Helmed by fisherman’s wife Leesa Cobb and supported by board chair Aaron Longton, a commercial salmon and black cod fisherman, Port Orford Ocean Resource Team [POORT] “arose out of necessity,” Aaron says. “Our town had lost its timber jobs, and the fishing was hit-or-miss… Everyone knew there’d be change, and that to weather the storms, we’d have to adapt [and] to organize ourselves.” With Leesa’s vision and with widespread support, including thousands of volunteer hours from local fishermen, Port Orford has taken a leadership role in marine conservation by creating a sustainable fishing industry and a locally administered maritime preserve. POORT has won regional and national conservation awards, attracted support from big-name funders, sells its sustainably-harvested fish statewide, and most of all, has helped place this little town on the cutting edge of triple-bottom-line solutions.

Allandra, Tobe, Leesa, Aaron, and many more like them have ensured that there’s more to Port Orford than meets the roadtripper’s eye. While it has tourist attractions and bygone industries, it’s no quaint throwback—it’s no concrete dinosaur. Rather, Port Orford is just one of hundreds of Oregon communities benefitting from the altruism and activism of folks who give time and money to help transform economies, conserve valuable ecologies, and improve lives.

If you want to hear more from Leesa and Tobe, if you want to learn more about the seminal challenges facing our state, if you want to read about vanguard citizens and organizations working to combat these challenges, if you run a nonprofit or are a volunteer or donor, or if you just want to glean some ideas about how you can engage more deeply with your community, State of Givingmight be right up your alley. We had a blast writing it—world’s largest pig hairball notwithstanding—and hope it makes for an entertaining, illuminating, and mobilizing read.

—Kris Anderson

Photographs courtesy of Kris Anderson

Southern Oregon Veterans’ Benefit

Southern Oregon Veterans Benefit was started in 1996 by a couple of veterans who wanted to help veterans with employment and educations barriers. For the first few years, S.O.V.B. was able to raise between $8000.00 to $12,000.00 or more each year by running golf tournaments. Over the years, this organization has helped thousands of veterans with the small things they needed to continue their college education, continue working, keep a roof over their families’ heads, repair their cars, and move to new locations for work.  S.O.V.B. staff and board members do not receive any income for their volunteer work. In fact, go to our web page ( and read some of the stories of the help our organization has given to veterans.  There’s one story I’d like to tell you about: I’ll never forget this one.
Last year, our board members and voting members agreed to help a veteran and his family for the Christmas holidays. We pick a family each season to help. This family was really struggling and needed a car repaired, food, and other items. Their income was very limited and they wasn’t sure if they would have a Christmas for their 1 1/2 year old and their 3 year old child.  Our members voted to help fix their car, and get them some food; plus we sent them $250.00 so they would have a Christmas.
A few days later, we received a Christmas card from the family.  In the letter they thanked us for helping them and in the bottom of the letter, they took the foot of each child and made a print from each one and then made them look like a snowman.  It was incredible for us to receive a thank you from families who appreciate our support and assistance.  We can’t help all veterans and their families but we can make a difference for a few of them.
One other item, we are the organization that will be bringing a Replica of The Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall with all 58,000 plus names to Jackson County and it will be permanent at the Don Jones Park in Central Point.  Read about on our web page.  Thank you.
Russ McBride
President S.O.V.B.


ARCS Foundation – Portland

There will be a time when renewable energy is abundant and affordable, when cures for common diseases like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and HIV/AIDS will be found, when clean water will be accessible by all and clean living will be ubiquitous, when mankind will be safe in the face of cataclysmic forces of nature. And the people who will make that happen are researching now to understand the root causes of problems and to apply their intelligence and ingenuity to answer the great questions in science, engineering and medicine. 

ARCS Foundation Portland supports and nurtures young American women and men in doctoral programs at Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University and the University of Oregon to take on the science challenges of today and tomorrow. Oregonians are, by nature, pioneering and tenacious, looking for new ideas and ways of improving our lives.  More than 100 women in ARCS Foundation Portland are drawn to the bright light generated by the brilliant students we are helping to attract to Oregon. 

ARCS Foundation Portland is one of 17 ARCS Foundation Chapters nationwide, operating independently under the umbrella of ARCS Foundation National. The Portland Chapter incorporated in 2004 and since then has awarded more than 150 scholar awards totaling $2.5 million.

Oregon is a land of lush landscapes, environmental conscientiousness, out-of-the-box thinking and fanatical foodies that spawns a welcoming populace, great neighborhoods, community activism and gargantuan local pride. The Portland Chapter is an organization of generous friends fiercely determined to stimulate our intellectual curiosity.  We do that while advocating for groundbreaking discoveries and for placing American scientists at the forefront of their fields.  

– Anonymous ARCS Member/Donor

– See more at:


On Tour to Medford

L-R: Greg Chaille, Kris Anderson, Rob Esterlein, Jim Walls, Mary Ferrell

L-R: Greg Chaille, Kris Anderson, Rob Esterlein, Jim Walls, Mary Ferrell

The folks of Medford are always hospitable, but they exceeded themselves this past week. The Oregon Community Foundation held a fabulous reception for the book, and Jackson County Library Services threw open the doors to their Medford branch, hosting us for a fascinating panel discussion featuring Jim Walls of Lake County Resource Initiative (LCRI) in Lakeview, Mary Ferrell of Medford’s Maslow Project, and Rob Esterlein, of the Southern Oregon Historical Society (SOHS).

We assembled the panel with an eye to sector diversity: each of these organizations represent very different corners of the nonprofit world. As most Medford residents will know, the Maslow Project provides wraparound services–everything from clothes to ID cards to student support and housing–to homeless children and their families. Mary spoke about Maslow’s successes, the generosity of the local community, and its continued needs for funding, donated goods, volunteers, and community advocates.

Jim Walls discussed Lake County Resource Initiative‘s varied initiatives in Lake County. They’ve done remarkable work: primarily a renewable energy advocacy organization, they have successfully installed extensive solar arrays and converted many of Lakeview’s public buildings to operate on geothermal power. They have also worked with the Collins Companies and other forest products stakeholders to advance sustainable forestry practices and harvesting techniques, and to use timber byproducts and waste to produce biomass energy. They have also helped bring higher education back to Lakeview: students can now get associates degrees and bachelors degrees without leaving their hometown, thanks to a partnership with Oregon State University. And LCRI has placed Lake County on course to become the first carbon neutral county in America, a goal that they will reach very soon.

Finally, we heard from Rob Esterlein, of the Southern Oregon Historical Society. In existence since the 1940s, SOHS is today a shell of what it was: from the 1990s onwards, its public funding has dropped precipitously to zero now, which means its had to relinquish its museums and most of its historical properties. Its extensive and valuable collection, boasting well over a million treasures of regional history, now languish in a climate controlled warehouse: they have no museum in which to display them, thus leaving the community disconnected from its past and its place. They still have Hanley Farm, a beautiful 19th century working farm and historical property, and their archives are extensive and open to the public. They also display much of their museum collection online–a terrific resource for those of us who believe that history is central to community building and to self-belonging. But to have collection of such value unavailable for the public to view and experience in person is a great tragedy, and SOHS deserves to have its public funding restored as well as its ranks of private donors and volunteers grow. Unfortunately, it’s hard to grow a donor and volunteer base without having a museum with which to attract and educate them, so SOHS needs all of the help it can get. Go visit Hanley farm, help SOHS find the volunteers and donors it deserves, and help it bring southern Oregon’s long and varied history back to life.

Earth Day 2015

On Earth Day’s 45th anniversary, we should give thanks for the many organizations and people working to ensure that we have a home that continues to be livable and biodiverse. In State of Giving, we profile a diverse range of seminal Oregon eco-nonprofits and people, including:

Whether you’re in the book or not, a big shout-out to all you watchdog, policy, legal, research, conservation, sustainability, renewable energy, recycling, consensus-building, species-specific, educational, and awareness-raising environmental orgs out there. Keep up the good work! ‪#‎sustainability ‪#‎conservation ‪#‎triplebottomline ‪#‎environmentalnonprofits ‪#‎healthyplanet ‪#‎resilience

We thought we’d leave you with some of our favorite photos from the book that reflect just how important it is to protect what we have here in Oregon.

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

Copyright Kris Anderson

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