After 63 years of fighting to protect wildlands, the Montana Wilderness Association is changing its name to Wild Montana.
The home-grown organization, fostered by Bozeman couple Florence and Ken Baldwin in 1958 to protect the Madison Range, officially announced the name change to its membership on Thursday.
“The name represents the breadth of the work we do as an organization,” said Ben Gabriel, executive director of Wild Montana.
“I look forward to building a more inclusive organization,” he added.
The group has 4,415 members, 80% of which live in the state. Wild Montana also counts 13,000 people as active supporters, some of which were recruited through the group's "Wilderness Walks" programs in the summer and winter and annual photography contests.
According to a flyer printed for its members, the decision was made to “better represent the breadth of our current work, from reforming our nation’s broken oil and gas leasing system to driving policy at the state capitol.”
The organization also touts the name change as a way to “evolve as an organization, and more effectively and nimbly confront the challenges in front of us” while helping the group to “welcome more people from more walks of life into our organization” to expand the conservation movement.
The change means a new logo, new mission and vision statements but the website address remains wildmontana.org. Wild Montana’s new mission statement is: Uniting and mobilizing communities to keep Montana wild. Its vision statement is: We envision a Montana where people and wildlife flourish because public lands and waters are wild and connected.
The idea to rebrand originated in 2015, Gabriel said, and has been in development with the help of staff, board members, members and an outside consultant since then. The timing for the announcement was beneficial since Montanans have rediscovered the importance of public lands in the wake of the pandemic, he noted.
The group touts its advocacy for playing a role in the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 as well as the designation of all 16 wilderness areas in Montana. It’s current advocacy projects include the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, wildlands designation for a portion of the Gallatin Range and working with Crow tribal members to designate portions of the Crazy Mountains as wilderness.
Rebranding can have its pitfalls, including a disconnection with the group’s base. Nonprofits often rebrand in an attempt to attract individual donors important to their fundraising survival.
“Businesses change/evolve over time and they need to make sure their branding message reflects who they are,” said Annette Ryerson, an associate professor of business at Carroll College in Helena. “They may have conducted their own studies and realized their branding is confusing or dated. Companies (profit or nonprofit) are competing in a very noisy world and the more relevant they can be to their target market, the better.”
The Helena-based group reported $2.29 million in revenue in 2021 with $2.25 million in expenses, most of that going to program services. According to the nonprofit’s 2019 IRS Form 990 filing, Gabriel is the highest paid staff member, earning $102,400, followed by operations director Laura Parr earning $58,000.
As far as environmental groups based in the state, Wild Montana was ranked 7th on the Cause IQ website, below bigger groups like American Prairie Reserve and the National Forest Foundation. Charity Navigator, an independent evaluator of nonprofits, gave the Montana Wilderness Association four stars plus, its highest rating, in a 2018 assessment. Two other Montana nonprofits, the Northern Plains Resource Council and Greater Gallatin United Way, also earned four stars plus.