Thursday, February 23, 2017

Building a Base: Joan Abrams, Major Gifts Officer

BY CINDY M. SABATO, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS

Meet Joan Abrams, who joined the Save The Bay team this summer as our major gifts officer. Joan has a long history with Save The Bay, first as a committee member in the 1980s, then a board member and board chair in the 1990s, and finally a trustee in 2004. When Save The Bay made the decision to expand our footprint and pursue a permanent home at Fields Point, Joan helped lead the campaign that built our Bay Center, where thousands of schoolchildren, community members and local fishermen enjoy beautiful Bay vistas and unprecedented urban access to Narragansett Bay.

Why is Save The Bay so important to you that you’re joining us now as a staff member after having served in so many volunteer leadership roles? I consider Save The Bay to be the most important organization defending and bringing attention to the Bay. Rhode Island would be just a commuter community on a train stop if not for Narragansett Bay. And Narragansett Bay could certainly be a sewer without the work that Save The Bay has accomplished. In addition to the advocacy, restoration and education work the organization has always done, Save The Bay is one of the best run non-profit organizations I know. It has a mission I embrace, and it’s an organization I very much admire. So when I retired from teaching, it was a natural fit.

Now that you’re part of the staff, has anything surprised you about the organization? I wish everyone could have the chance to see how very effective the staff is at every level, from the executive director to the interns. The way everyone pulls together as a team has really impressed me. The thing I go home with every day is the attitude, the respect everyone has for each other as a staff, the feeling that nothing is too big to handle. You have to sit here and experience it to truly understand it.

What does the Bay mean to you? My husband Rich and I are boaters, and we live right on the Bay. I’ve tended to work outside of Rhode Island and travel the country, and Narragansett Bay has consistently been our strongest reason for staying here. Commuting has never been an issue because when I cross over Mt. Hope Bridge as I approach my house, it’s like a sense of peace comes over me.

What is your favorite Bay spot? Right in front of my house — Walker’s Cove in Bristol. It’s even more beautiful in winter than in summer, with seals and swans and all kinds of beautiful creatures. It’s truly the picture of how people enjoy the Bay — sailors, commercial fishermen, kayakers, small boaters, yachts, people swimming. Just a really interesting piece of the Bay.

Why do you think Save The Bay is so important to our community? When someone comes to visit this area, the first thing most people do is invite their guests to some vista overlooking the Bay, either the beach, to go fishing or sailing on the Bay, to do something somewhere with a view of the Bay. I think there is a very strong connection for all of us. It touches everyone.

Is that what inspires our donors to invest and remain invested in Save The Bay? Our members and donors look at Save The Bay as one of the most effective organizations they have come to know. While you can have an emotional attachment to an organization, you can also have an intellectual attachment, asking yourself… does that organization accomplish something? I believe we have both connections with our donors.

How important to Save The Bay’s mission is donor support? Because Save The Bay receives very little government support, we are dependent on our members for the work we do. If our donor base were to evaporate, the organization could shrink to one or two people who are called to action only when there was a terrible, unusual and rare threat to the Bay. But because our work is so much broader than that, we need the support of hundreds and thousands of donors. In my role here, I want to reach out to as many people as I can within the watershed — including Massachusetts and Connecticut — to help them understand just how important their own contributions are.

Looking ahead, what do you think are Save The Bay’s greatest challenges? Our biggest challenge is to provide stability and make sure Save The Bay is positioned for the next 50 years. The threats never go away. They change, but they do not disappear.