Nobody knows BCI's members like Amy McCartney. And after 25 years as BCI Membership Manager, she's got a pretty good understanding of those who make Bat Conservation International possible:
"Our members are a special group of people. They're really not like everyone else. They love something that other people don't understand, that people hate. They've just decided that these underdogs – bats – need their help, and they're going to stand up for them. I still can't believe how wonderful that is."
Amy signed on with tiny, struggling BCI in early 1987, joining Founder Merlin Tuttle, Bookkeeper Linda Moore and BATS editor Mari Murphy Houghton in a two-room office at the University of Texas in Austin. "I really wasn't looking for a job, but when I saw BCI's help-wanted ad in the newspaper, I thought it sounded fascinating," Amy recalls. "I've always been interested in conservation, but I was only barely familiar with bats back then."
She was hired primarily to mail out responses to requests for information about the organization, which had about 1,500 members when she arrived. But after a few weeks, a National Geographic magazine article about bats, written by Merlin Tuttle, produced a flurry of new members. "That's when I started in on membership. I've been doing it ever since."
Then, in February 1988, an article about Merlin and BCI appeared in The New Yorker magazine. The article was followed, thanks to the support of Bacardi Imports, with advertisements in several subsequent issues. "Things really snowballed after that," Amy says. "We got about 3,000 new members pretty much all at once."
In those pre-Internet days, a positive article in a major magazine or newspaper could have enormous impact. "It's very different now," she says. "You have to work a lot harder to get people's attention."
On the other hand, the task of attracting new members and renewing old ones was much more time-consuming and expensive when "everything had to be mailed in and out. Once we got the Internet, we went online pretty quickly. Now 30 to 40 percent of our member renewals are handled online. We've got a lot more members now, but there's a lot less paper going out."
Amy has always valued her personal contacts with members, through letters and phone calls years ago and mostly by email now. "Every so often, somebody will tell me a little story when they join BCI. They might say, 'Oh, I killed a bat when I was kid and now I feel guilty.' One woman told us how much her late husband had loved bats. And after all these years, now we have people who joined as children and now they're grown up and still members."
Among many projects to increase membership and improve the image of bats, Amy is especially proud of her role in creating BCI's popular Adopt-a-Bat program, which has captivated both children and adults for 19 years. The symbolic adoptions now include a plush toy bat, as well as an adoption certificate and a profile of the chosen species.
"I really love being here at BCI with people who are so dedicated to this cause," Amy concluded. "There's almost never been a staff member who wasn't enthusiastic about bats – and if not, they don't stay very long.
"It sounds real corny to say this, but I love bats. When I get a message from a member who says, 'Thank you so much for saving bats' ... well, that's what keeps me going."