The most common reaction I encounter when telling people about Blueprint Earth's accomplishments to date is one of disbelief. "You did all of that with HOW much money?!" When I stop to reflect, it really is incredible what you can accomplish on a shoestring budget with the right people, persistence, and the willingness to sacrifice some (ok, a ton) of your usual sleeping hours.
Blueprint Earth has exactly zero paid staff members at this point. Every penny we have fundraised has gone back into supporting our work, and we've raised a little over $15,000 USD in donations of cash and goods/services. If you counted the hours of professional expertise that have gone into what we're doing, you'd easily be in 6 figure territory (and that's just based on my professional hourly consulting rate). So, how do we get things done if no one's getting paid?
We've become masters of asking for favors from our highly competent friends, for a start. All signs are pointing to a shift in how people view their working lives. Millennials, in particular, want to do work that has a positive impact on society. Even non-Millennials are realizing that the clock in, stare at your screen/desk/wall/lab equipment/construction site/whatever for 8 hours, clock out, go home, microwave dinner, and watch TV lifestyle is just not doing it in terms of their long-term satisfaction. Essentially, Blueprint Earth is offering people the chance to contribute to a project that is intended to be much larger and more enduring than any individual. If each environment takes us roughly 1-1.5 years to catalog based on what we've learned so far, then it'll take us another 3ish years to analyze our data, understand the systems working in that environment, and then construct our replica environment.
We're looking at roughly 5 years per environment we catalog and reproduce, which means that we're definitely in this for the long haul. Our volunteers are scientists, engineers, finance experts, high school students, videographers, accountants, grant writers, and more. These wildly different groups of people all have a desire to make their contribution to life on this planet count. Of course, they still have to put food on the table (except for the high school students, usually...we'll give them a pass on that for now), so sometimes our volunteers can give us only an hour or two every few weeks or so. Other times, we're lucky enough to have their talents for 20-40 hours a week.
The trickiest part for me in terms of managing the flow of volunteers has been juggling that along with all of the other things I need to do each day. It can be challenging to have an email from an interested volunteer sitting there when all I really want to do is knock out a few letters to potential donors, or update the website, or do some quality control on our field data. The policy I'm attempting to employ (and succeeding at to some degree, I hope) is to write back to volunteers before I do any of the other tasks each day. I made this decision because I've realized just how important it is to have all of these people lending us their time and abilities. It's a gift, really. Giving them attention as soon as possible needs to be a priority, since Blueprint Earth will only succeed through the efforts of all of us working together. That's very different than the business world, where oftentimes priorities are set based solely on the net value of whatever's at stake.
That being said, I need to go email one of our high school volunteers!