Donor Profile: Tab Wilkins

Tab Wilkins opens up on why he gives to The Mountaineers
Mary Hsue Mary Hsue
July 10, 2015

When I arrived in June 2011, The Mountaineers had recently achieved 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and fundraising was in its infancy. With the exception of dedicated campaigns to raise funds for capital projects, like the basalt columns in the courtyard of the Seattle Program Center, efforts to raise unrestricted dollars for budding youth, conservation and yet-to-be-developed volunteer programs were just getting off the ground. The concept of inviting members and volunteers – who already give a significant amount of time – to make an additional investment of dollars in these programs was new and risky.

One and a half months into the job, I attended my first board meeting. The following fiscal year budget was the big topic and the board debated passing a budget that included an investment in fundraising for programs which would “at the 30,000-foot level, change lives and save the planet” — my words for what I believed The Mountaineers impact story would ultimately be centered around. The meeting went into the wee hours of the night and ultimately passed.

The rest of the story, as they say, is history.
That first board meeting is one of three memorable board moments for me. The other two are for another time. However, I’m honored to highlight a board member who played a crucial role in all three of my memorable board moments – Tab Wilkins, Mountaineers board president in 2010 – 2012, Peak Society member, Alpine Scrambling Intense course innovator, and donor for every fundraising appeal we’ve presented at The Mountaineers.

Setting an example

Not only does Tab’s name appear on every list, but he was one of a few board members who took a leap of faith and agreed to increase his Peak Society entry level $1,000 unrestricted gift to $5,000 at The Mountaineers first fundraising event and celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jim Whittaker’s historic summit of Mt. Everest. That was 2013 and our official launch of higher giving levels of Peak Society.

Tab was The Mountaineers board president when he made his first gift to the organization. “I modeled behavior that I hoped others would emulate,” Tab said when I asked him what inspired him to become one of 35 founding Peak Society members. “As a 501(c)(3) the goal was to diversify our revenue base by build a fundraising capability. At some point you must live the commitment you want others to make,” he explained.

Giving to make lasting impact

“As far as stretch giving and growing my support over the past few years, I thought about my parents and the time and dollars they gave to their community.” Tab’s father was a professor and his parents were not wealthy, but they gave generously to their community. “I kind of followed in my parents footsteps.” He explained, “The club is a significant part of my life. I’ve met lifelong friends. I get to share what I love to do. I want to support that happening for others.” The Mountaineers is one of two organizations to which Tab makes a generous and loyal commitment. He says, “When I give, I want it to be significant and to have a lasting impact.”

Trust in leadership

Just ask any board member from any nonprofit and I bet she will tell you that an unrestricted donation is the most important and valued gift to a nonprofit board. Tab agrees. “From my personal perspective, while there are specific projects I’m interested in supporting, I feel it’s important to trust our leadership to make good decisions and invest the dollars I give, and I want to support the leadership’s ability to make those decisions.” To explain his name appearing on multiple donor lists, Tab says “If I want to support a special interest, then I will give dollars in addition, and like most Mountaineers donors I also volunteer my time.”

Path to leadership – community

When I asked Tab about his path to board service, he said, “I liked that courses were taught and activities were led by volunteers, so I volunteered to become hike leader, and then a climb leader.” It was after becoming a committee leader, when he considered serving on the board, “I thought long and hard about the board as a way to continue to give back to the community.”

Like many members who are new to the area, Tab began his journey with The Mountaineers 15 years ago. “I was new to Tacoma and happened to drive by the Tacoma Branch Clubhouse one day” he explained. “I liked outdoor activities and thought it would be a good opportunity to meet people who liked to do the same thing.” Tab started hiking with the Tacoma Mountaineers, became a hike leader, and led hikes for eight years until his work took him to Seattle where he continued to take courses with the Seattle Branch.

Programs before fundraising or visa versa?

I wasn’t here when The Mountaineers pursued 501(c)(3) status, so I asked Tab about the process. He said, “We knew that engaging youth was big through the 70’s and 80’s and then the effort died. Having 501(c)(3) nonprofit status would enable us to resurrect these programs.” Tab has observed that youth programs make a difference for the health and longevity of The Mountaineers. He said, “I’ve presented the state-of-the-union address at a few 50-year member luncheons. When I ask folks to raise their hands if their parents took them camping when they were kids or if they learned to ski as a kid in one of our lodges or if their parents were Mountaineers members and brought them along on Mountaineers hikes or climbs or if they took a Mountaineers course when they were teenagers.” He says at least 60% of the hands go up in response to the question.

Evolution of The Mountaineers

Tab was quick to give credit to Martinique Grigg, The Mountaineers’ executive director, for her role in the evolution of The Mountaineers. He says, “At a very intuitive level, she brought energy, focus, and had outdoor perspective from her work with the Appalachian Mountain Club. Her vision was new, refreshing and gave everyone else the energy to grow up and change with the times.” And it has made a difference. Tab agrees, “People I talk to, see new and different things from The Mountaineers. They observe that we still do our core well, but they see that we have a new energy and drive. Martinique’s leadership engaged the board to be more active in where we want to go and how want to get there.”

What do you hope to achieve with your giving?

“From a personal aspect,” says Tab, “I’m doing the right thing by giving to my community. It’s a priority. I want to see it survive. Friendship. Personal challenge. Growth. Many things began with youth. We had to get back to that. And most importantly, how do you save the outdoors? Make it valuable.”

Just over a month has passed since The Mountaineers second fundraising event, BREAKTHROUGH: expect the unexpected.
You might have heard about it because it was awesome and
wildly successful, exceeding revenue goals in every category. That’s not a pat on my back — it’s an acknowledgement of the board and their decision to take a risk at that board meeting, make a commitment to success and do whatever it would take to ensure success. I’ve benefitted from these decisions over the course of my career with The Mountaineers.

Does this sound familiar to you? It should if you’ve ever taken a course, been instructed or mentored by Mountaineers
volunteers. Commitment to success runs deep at The Mountaineers. It’s part of the DNA.

And the 30,000 foot level story I mentioned in the beginning of the article? It stands today as “transforming lives and conserving wild places,” which is quite honestly what The Mountaineers has done over its nearly 110 year history. Not too risky of an investment these days, if you ask me.

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