The Orion Society: 2023 Report on Activities to Donors

Submitted by Amy Brady
 Executive Director and Publisher

Thanks to the support of you and other donors, the Orion Society (publisher of Orion magazine, best known as Orion), was able to face a challenging economic year. Like many other media nonprofits, the organization experienced an increase in the cost of paper, postage, and other resources due to inflation and other market fluctuations, which strained the budget of our modest–but mighty–organization. At the same time, many Orion supporters like you continued to donate and subscribe, providing the funds needed to continue operating. While subscription fees provide an important income stream, it’s mostly thanks to you–our vital donors who give beyond the cost of a subscription–who ensure our ability to pursue the best environmental storytelling. With every donation that you made in 2023, you helped to sustain and build upon an environmentally-focused community of readers, writers, and artists, who, together, strive to creatively enrich the world. Thank you for helping to keep Orion thriving and publishing in these uncertain times.

Strategic Plan and Board Updates

We are in the final year of a three-year strategic plan to stabilize Orion’s operations and finances and to grow to be more inclusive and representative of people feeling the brunt of climate change. While remaining true to its core convictions, Orion has broadened its editorial focus to more proactively address the connections between environmental, cultural, and social concerns. In the coming months, the staff and board will begin drafting a new strategic plan that will help Orion pursue its mission in more ways than ever before.

The December board meeting brought some changes. Long-time board member Major Jackson recently transitioned to emeritus status. His service and guidance were invaluable, particularly on the finance committee. We are thrilled that he can continue to share his wisdom in this new role. Joining the board are two new members who will help strengthen our operations:

Christina Roberts is a director at Thread Strategies, a consulting firm focused on optimizing fundraising efforts at nonprofit organizations. She is also the founder of Studio Ro Creative, which creates brand assets and websites for entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and religious institutions to increase online engagement. In addition, Christina’s experience in the development office of  The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine as the director of communications and marketing will benefit Orion greatly. 

Michael Turner is an intellectual property lawyer working at the convergence of technology, business, and law. As Director of Intellectual Property Strategy for Yokogawa, a global provider of industrial automation and control solutions, his work emphasizes technical innovation in measurement and connection to help realize a sustainable society. Mike developed his experience with the IP boutique Kenyon & Kenyon in New York. He joined in the firm’s merger with Hunton Andrews Kurth, where he provided IP counseling for clients across electrical, mechanical, and computer science fields. Michael’s expertise in contracts and systems-building will be of immense benefit to Orion

New Website

In late spring of this year, Orion will launch a new website that will better reflect the print magazine’s commitment to artistic excellence. Because most people first experience Orion online, it is imperative that we offer an online experience that is equivalent to the high standards of our print audience. The new site will be ADA-compliant and thus meet evolving standards in accessibility, allowing more people to be part of the Orion community.  The improved site will also allow us to respond more readily to opportunities with strategic partners whose missions align well with ours. Moreover, the site’s new e-commerce system will provide more effective tools for donors, print-only subscribers, and digital subscribers to engage with Orion and grow their impact.

This upgrade has been a long time coming (our current website is nearly 10 years old), and our staff members have put in hundreds of hours of work to ensure our donors and subscribers have the best experience possible. In the words of a consultant working with staff on the new site, “the staggering level of complexity within Orion’s new system and the level of customization needed [to satisfy subscriber expectations] is astounding.” Indeed, we hope our new site truly astounds you. 

At the same time, Orion remains committed to offering a high-quality print magazine. For some time, we have been aware that our environmental footprint — particularly our paper sourcing and print magazine production — is bigger than we desire. Throughout this past year, production staff have vigorously researched a commercial printer that can improve our FSC paper standards and meet the exacting design and print specifications of Orion with economic efficiency. The Spring 2024 issue will be the first issue printed on 100% sustainable recycled fiber and distributed through TransContinental. Please let us know what you think.

Workshops

Every year Orion offers writing workshops to help environmental writers improve their craft and help writers expand their vision of what environmental writing can be. While participants attend the workshops for personal fulfillment, they leave with the support of a new writing community and feel empowered to utilize their new skills within their chosen professional field. In 2023 we enrolled a record 80 participants at our in-person workshop at the Omega Institute in New York. We also hosted 19 virtual workshops with 218 participants. 

“Thank you, Orion, for the people you bring together, and the culture you’ve fostered that attracts such kind hearts, open minds, and enlivened imaginations.” – comments from a 2023 workshop participant

Fundraising

Orion continues to win grants and awards such as the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses Literary Fund Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Whiting Award, the latter of which included an outright grant of $20,000 and matching grants of the same size in 2024 and 2025. 

We are especially grateful to our many readers who make donations in addition to purchasing a subscription or a book. Orion would not exist without you! A special thanks to all who responded to the fall appeal from Margaret Atwood, who described her friendship with Barry Lopez and her love for Orion. The campaign exceeded its $31,000 goal as did our end-of-the-year campaign, which together helped to close a $37,000 budget gap. We are ever grateful to our Sustaining Partners, whose regular funding provides peace of mind as we plan for the future. 

Looking ahead, please mark your calendars: On May 7, 2024 at 6pm EDT, Orion will host its annual virtual gala with the return of the Orion Barry Lopez and Orion Jane Goodall Awards. The event will feature Jane Hirshfield, Sandra Cisneros, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Ed Yong, and the soon-to-be-announced award recipients–two of the biggest names in environmental writing. 

Recent Orion Issues and Spark Birds

In the midst of all of these projects, our editorial staff continued to pursue great environmental storytelling. Every issue of Orion is the culmination of hundreds of hours of work. Thanks to the strong financial footing that donor support provides, Orion was able to publish some of our best work in late 2023. Our fall issue compassionately highlighted the environments and lived experiences of the unsheltered, featuring work by Omar El Akkad and Carl Safina. Our winter issue, sponsored by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), explored how love and romance manifest in a time of crisis with a feature essay by Elizabeth Rush. She interviewed dozens of people–activists, teachers, firefighters, and others–on the frontlines of the climate crisis to learn how their love life has evolved in recent years. The work was heart-lifting and surprising in equal measure, adding complexity to our understanding of life on a changing planet. 

We also published Spark Birds, an anthology full of essays and poems about birds culled from Orion’s forty-plus-year archive. Co-edited and introduced by Jonathan Franzen, the book has become one of Orion’s most beloved and best-selling anthologies of all time. We couldn’t publish work that resonates this much with readers without the support of donors.

Finally, the strength of Orion shows in a myriad of ways. For example, three Orion essays earned honorable mentions in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2023!

Thank you, again

None of this work would have been possible without the ongoing, unrestricted support that we receive from you, our generous donors. Your generosity ensures that we can continue to fulfill our mission, “to bring readers into a community of caring for the planet,” by publishing the most profound and joyous environmental writing and art, holding nurturing workshops for emerging environmental writers, and hosting events that celebrate the natural world and further important conversations about how we can live on this planet more justly, sustainably, and joyously. Thank you.

Amy Brady