Just as the oceans' tides ebb and flow, the life cycle of a Ducks Unlimited chapter often experiences ups and downs. This cycle has been especially notable in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, over the last few years, as decreased committee engagement and poor event timing led to falling attendance and support. The all-time low came in 2011, when just a handful of dedicated volunteers showed up for the chapter's sponsor banquet.
The local volunteers and DU field staff knew it was time for a change. That's when Director of Development Chad Manlove and Regional Director Jason McKey approached renowned Baton Rouge business leader and philanthropist Richard Lipsey about becoming an event chairman.
"I guess I have the reputation that when I get involved with something, I put my whole effort into it," Lipsey says. "I did that for the Baton Rouge sponsor event, but it was really the concerted team effort that made it a success. Between the existing committee members; 10 new members; my co-chairmen, Stephen Babcock and Michael Patterson; and me, everybody did their jobs and made things run smoothly from start to finish."
It's no surprise that Lipsey's reputation for success preceded him. As the president of Lipsey's Inc., built from the ground up to become one of the largest wholesale firearms distributors in the country, and after more than 45 years serving on the boards of many charitable and civic organizations, Lipsey has become well known throughout the Baton Rouge community. He was also chosen as the 70th winner of the Golden Deeds Award in 2011, an honor bestowed to local philanthropists by the Inter-Civic Council and "The Advocate."
Lipsey's commitment to hard work started early, working summers and after school at his family's sporting goods store, Steinberg's Sports Center. After graduating from Louisiana State University in 1961, Lipsey served in the U.S. Army as an aide to the Commanding General of the Military District of Washington and for President John F. Kennedy. When he returned to Baton Rouge, his father was ready for him.
"My parents set a great example," he says. "Both of them were very active community leaders, and they passed that tradition on to us. I remember, literally, the first day I went to work for my father after getting out of the army. He had been on the Boy Scouts board for 20 years, and he said, 'OK, it's your turn now.'"
So when Manlove approached him about chairing the Baton Rouge Chapter of Ducks Unlimited, Lipsey, already more than 40 years into his commitment as a DU Major Sponsor and a past chapter and state chairman, was ready to take on the challenge.
"My father first took me duck hunting when I was six years old," says Lipsey, now 73. "I'm a big advocate of the out-of-doors and especially DU, because that's what I enjoy doing most. It is so evident from my being involved with DU what great work the organization does, and that if we want to hunt ducks in the future, we have to make sure this work gets done in the present. No other organization does what DU does for the landscape."
Once Lipsey was on board, the first order of business was to address the timing of the chapter's sponsor banquet, which typically occurred in the fall—prime time for the avid waterfowl hunters that support DU's conservation mission.
"The banquet was just too close to duck season," Lipsey explains. "Many of the guys were elsewhere preparing their duck camps and weren't around for the event, so the committee had lost touch with many of their key sponsors. We needed to change the timing, re-energize the committee, and put a whole new face on the banquet."
The Baton Rouge committee decided to forgo the fall sponsor banquet in favor of a re-energized spring banquet. They started by mailing a letter to anyone in the area who had been a DU sponsor in the last 10 years. They also highlighted the fact that 2012 was Ducks Unlimited's 75th anniversary year, a milestone worthy of celebration and renewed support.
"The 75th anniversary definitely gave me something to hang my hat on, and holding the banquet in the spring ensured it would be one of the first diamond events of the year," Lipsey says. "It also gave us the license to make this the biggest and best DU sponsor banquet in Baton Rouge's history."
And that is exactly what the committee did. From the handful of attendees in 2011, the guest list for the March 2012 banquet grew to more than 225, including eight new Life Sponsors and five new Diamond Life Sponsors. Though each diamond event had a goal of bringing in $75,000 for the ducks, the Baton Rouge sponsor event raised more than $125,000 for wetlands conservation.
Along with many notable philanthropic leaders from around the Baton Rouge area, the event's special guests included Ducks Unlimited President John Newman and Chief Executive Officer Dale Hall. Both leaders spoke to the crowd, reminding them of their value to DU as sponsors.
"Mr. Newman and Mr. Hall took the stage after we'd announced the new and existing Life Sponsors in attendance that night," Lipsey says. "Their remarks were short, but extremely effective. They made sure everyone in the room understood the importance of their contributions and their commitment to DU's mission—and they really got the momentum going for the rest of the night."
The Baton Rouge committee saw a marked difference in the tone of the 2012 event compared to previous years. The DU leadership presence and 75th anniversary excitement definitely made an impact, but so did the change in dress code from casual to business attire, the cocktails and upscale dinner selections, and having Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne serve as the evening's special guest auctioneer.
"We did so much different this year, it was like a whole new event," Lipsey says. "We sent the invitations to 'Mr. and Mrs.' and we made the evening as classy as possible—we wanted to welcome the entire Baton Rouge community to join Team DU and ensure a strong future for wetlands and waterfowl through their support."
With the 75th anniversary drawing to a close, the committee has begun planning for next year. "So many people came up after this year's event, told us how much they enjoyed it, and said they were ready to sign up for next year," Lipsey says. "We've already had our first meeting, set the date for March, and sent out a letter thanking our sponsors for attending last year and telling those who couldn't attend what a great success it was. It's not just a generic 'Save the Date' card—it's a personalized letter recognizing their role in turning the chapter's fortunes around in 2012."
Baton Rouge volunteers John Barton and Terrell Brown have also stepped up as the new event co-chairmen, taking the reins from Lipsey, Babcock, and Patterson for 2013. The committee hopes to get at least 50 new sponsors next year and raise at least as much support as they did in 2012, if not more.
Once the glitz of the 75th fades—as will be true for DU chapters across America—it's going to be up to the dedicated volunteer committee to carry Baton Rouge DU forward. But with meticulous planning already underway and intense determination to meet the challenging goals they've set for themselves, it's clear the tide has turned in Baton Rouge. We expect to see great things continue happening in this coastal Louisiana community for years to come.
The Baton Rouge Diamond Anniversary Sponsor Banquet was featured in the 2012 Ducks Unlimited Annual Report, available online at ducks.org/annualreport.
For more information on this report or Sponsor-level giving, please visit our Leadership Giving homepage or contact Anita Tyler at (901) 758-3871.