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Banding Together for Waterfowl

The Ducks Unlimited Story

Over the past 75 years, generations of DU supporters have worked together to safeguard the future of North America's wetlands and waterfowl 
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Fundraising Takes Flight

Just as it had at the inception of Ducks Unlimited, drought once again hit the prairie nesting grounds with a vengeance during the early 1960s. As waterfowl populations plummeted to the lowest levels since the Dirty Thirties, severe regulatory restrictions hit waterfowlers in America. Duck stamp sales tumbled to a low not seen in 24 years, dropping to 1,140,987, which barely surpassed the total sold back in 1938. 

Duck numbers weren't the only thing on the decline. In 1963, DU saw its revenues drop for the first time. DU leaders worried that if the restrictive seasons continued, it would erode support and funding for habitat work. It was clear that all of these trends needed to be reversed. As they had in the beginning, DU's leaders resolved to roll up their sleeves and invent something new. 

In 1965, DU hired Dale Whitesell as executive vice president. He was the first person to hold this title; Arthur Bartley had served as DU's executive director from 1938 until 1962, when he retired and was replaced by William Thorn. In addition, a new headquarters had been found outside Chicago, centralizing operations east to west and putting the organization near states that had strong waterfowl hunting traditions, and thus enormous potential for new membership. Ben Anderson was hired as regional director (RD) for the Midwest, the first of many RDs to be hired by DU to seek out conservation supporters and organize them into chapters. Together, Whitesell and his staff would soon conceive and then implement a bold campaign that would put DU chapters in virtually every town of any size in the United States.

The key to Ducks Unlimited's success has always been, and always will be, the volunteers who give so much of their time and effort to make sure its conservation work is funded. Before RDs were hired, though, state chairmen and their committee members saw to the development of chapters and organized fundraising events. While DU's growth had been steady under the guidance of these volunteers, it was inconsistent. 

Under Whitesell's leadership, new staff oversaw and organized DU's fundraising efforts in partnership with the volunteers. The year after Dale Whitesell was hired, DU had its first $1 million year. Two years later it broke $2 million. Helping the cause was the welcome recovery of duck populations during the early 1970s, when wet weather returned to the prairies. During this heyday, DU grew at an astounding rate of more than 20 percent a year. Regional directors soon covered every state in each of the four flyways. By 1976, DU would pass the $50 million income milestone. Membership soared. By the end of 1985 DU had nearly 580,000 members and 3,700 committees across the nation. 

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