By Mariah Mason, Indiana Department of Natural Resources
The Indiana DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife’s donation-based Nongame Wildlife Fund provides funding and match to support habitat management and conservation programs for Indiana’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need. One of the goals for the 2023 Indiana Nongame Wildlife Fund communication plan was to offer four events to highlight work made possible by the fund. The goal of these events was to provide customers with a behind-the-scenes look at our work to conserve rare and endangered wildlife in Indiana, while simultaneously highlighting this important revenue stream.
In July 2023, Indiana mammalogist, Brad Westrich, along with two members of our public engagement team working behind the scenes, hosted a live webinar that delved into the mysterious world of bats. ‘Become a Bat Master!’ marked a significant step forward in raising awareness about the state’s diverse wildlife, bringing attention to volunteer monitoring opportunities available to the public, and dispelling myths about bats. The success of the webinar was not only a testament to the engaging content but also to the extensive communication efforts that preceded and followed it.
Through intentional planning and promotional efforts, the Indiana Nongame Wildlife Fund reached a broad audience for the event. We pushed out reminders through our Facebook, Instagram, and X/Twitter social media channels, which reached various audiences with diverse outdoor recreation and conservation interests. Our Nongame Wildlife Fund newsletter subscribers are already interested in this content and received regular updates about the event as well. We also included event promotion in Wild Bulletin, the Division of Fish & Wildlife’s monthly e-newsletter that is sent to a diverse customer base. Along with these tactics, we sent direct emails to subscribers via Gov Delivery, using a personalized touch to resonate with our audience’s interests. Finally, we capitalized on existing relationships to invite special interest groups, such as the Indiana Master Naturalists.
One of the key components of the webinar’s success was the adoption of a new (for us) platform, Teams Live. Our public engagement team invested time in becoming acquainted with the platform’s features and practiced our content delivery. We worked through various scenarios, making sure to prepare for possible technical glitches with contingency plans for each. Our preparation and learning experiences were reflected in the polish of our final product.
The webinar garnered a substantial audience, with 89 attendees who readily engaged during the live question and answer session. The engagement between the participants and the presenter fostered a unique sense of communal learning, which aligned with the Division’s mission of supporting an informed public.
In the days following the webinar, the Indiana Nongame Wildlife Fund communications team extended their appreciation to all registrants through thank you emails. This gesture acknowledged the participants’ involvement and provided valuable resources to both those who attended and those who registered but were unable to attend. The email contained links to a variety of educational materials, supporting additional research and exploration. The success of this outreach was evident in the 46% open rate, which is higher than average, reaffirming the audience’s appetite for meaningful, targeted live content.
The impact of the bat webinar extended beyond its live broadcast. We posted the recording of the webinar on the Indiana DNR YouTube channel, ensuring that those who missed the event could still learn from the content shared. Moreover, the webinar’s recording will be featured in the next installment of the quarterly Nongame Wildlife Fund newsletter and will likely be used as a resource for future communications.
Our team continues to grow its skillsets by reflecting on the strengths and challenges of this process and applying what was learned as we plan the remaining two events of 2023. We are proud of the impact our comprehensive communications efforts had on the success of the ‘Become a Bat Master!’ webinar. By leveraging a diversity of digital platforms, embracing new technologies, and allowing for audience interaction, this event highlighted an often-misunderstood species and provided the audience the tools to take action to protect rare and endangered species in Indiana.