On November 14, 2021, 68 Seattle Audubon volunteer leaders and staff gathered for the first offering of Hoot Camp. Conversation was sharp and insightful, facilitators encouraged attendee participation, and it was a thought-provoking first iteration of what will be an annual event.

What is Hoot Camp & why are we doing it?

Hoot Camp is an inclusive leadership training series. It was created in direct response to feedback from community members and volunteers who shared they did not always feel welcome when participating in Seattle Audubon’s programs. Many of us have watched Seattle Audubon leaders be incredibly kind to others and emit mega-watt beams of enthusiasm about birds, birding, and bird protection. Kindness and enthusiasm are absolutely essential components of leadership, however, if a leader hasn’t learned about or had much practice incorporating inclusive leadership skills into their repertoire, then some in our community will inevitably feel invisible or excluded. With staff and volunteer participation in Hoot Camp over the coming years, all leaders within our organization will gain a shared understanding of Seattle Audubon’s current conservation and equity goals, and best practices for creating welcoming, safe spaces for program participants of all backgrounds and abilities.

What is inclusive leadership?

Inclusive leadership recognizes that groups are comprised of diverse individuals who bring their unique selves and different lived experiences with them everywhere they go. Following that, inclusive leadership requires leader humility and the acknowledgement of biases and gaps in knowledge when it comes to interacting with others. All humans have biases and gaps! This is a perfectly normal condition, but not one that should go unexamined. Leaders, in particular, bear the responsibility to examine their biases and gaps in knowledge, because failure to do so results in the unintended exclusion and harm of others.

This is a long game

In total, the Hoot Camp sessions on November 14 occupied about five hours, plus some time dedicated to the Hoot Camp pre-work. That is to say, it was a relatively short engagement. Inclusive leadership takes time and practice, and messing up and apologizing with grace when that happens. Becoming adept at inclusive leadership requires work. Thus, we acknowledge and sincerely appreciate the leaders who are willing to put in this effort! As this work accumulates and compounds over the coming years, we hope that more and more people will feel comfortable and safe joining or leading a Seattle Audubon offering.

Talking through scenarios (their mouths are moving under those masks!)

Who attended Hoot Camp?

All volunteers in leadership roles and those who interact directly with members of the public should attend Hoot Camp. The first Hoot Camp was for volunteers who interact most significantly with the public (e.g. field trip leaders) or who hold significant organizational influence (e.g. board members). In the future we will be inviting more volunteers to participate, especially as we increase capacity through the development of online training sessions. Anyone can learn about what’s happening at Hoot Camp by visiting the Hoot Camp webpage. Attendance at Hoot Camp, or progress toward completing the make-up sessions, will be required for participation in volunteer leadership roles beginning in 2023.

Hoot Camp sessions

Implicit Bias and Harassment Bystander Intervention

The online morning session, facilitated by Vanessa Miller from Hollaback!, focused on implicit bias and harassment disruption. Participants learned about how implicit biases can lead anyone to overlook harassment. Vanessa did an incredible job of engaging participants, via the chat, in discussions about personal experiences, scenarios, and Q&A volleys. This training is essential for all of us who consider ourselves kind, welcoming, and open-minded because kindness is not enough to ensure the well being of others. Hollaback! offers free, regularly scheduled online trainings that that anyone can sign up for, and the hour you give for that training has the potential to alter how you operate in the world.

Conservation Communications

In the afternoon, volunteers gathered for the first in-person session, facilitated by volunteer Anna Vallery and staff member Hanae Bettencourt. Seattle Audubon has a goal to include conservation topics that protect birds in all of our activities, and this session aimed to support that goal. Participants were asked to watch a series of short conservation-based videos before the training as a primer for the content covered in-person. Hanae and Anna led volunteers through a list of communications tips and strategies, and much of the session was spent with participants working through scenarios together. The fear shared by numerous volunteers was to come across as “preachy” when introducing conservation into a conversation. This session assuaged those fears. No one wants or needs a lecture, and a casual conversation, well-placed question, or quick comment is often sufficient to share ways to protect birds.

Field Safety

The final in-person session of the day, facilitated by volunteer Brendan McGarry and staff member Wendy Walker, revolved around field safety. Brendan and Wendy discussed the importance of careful written, verbal, and non-verbal communication, as well as ways to set participants and colleagues up for success before any gathering. Volunteers spent time working through scenarios and sharing how they would navigate challenging situations on field trips, during community science surveys, and in The Nature Shop. Ensuring the physical and emotional safety of any person who chooses to engage with Seattle Audubon was the focus of this session.

Yes! Listening is a key part of inclusive leadership.


In addition to being the test group for the first Hoot Camp, 47 volunteers graciously provided feedback about the event. Pre- and post-Hoot Camp questionnaires show there was a change in participants’ comfort recognizing and addressing microagressions and harassment, and with identifying their implicit biases. The questionnaires also show a change in how participants felt about discussing conservation topics, as well as attending to the emotional and physical safety of those around them.

When asked “What was the most useful part of Hoot Camp for you?” several responses were:

Be more mindful of microaggressions and ways I can step in and be an ally. Add conservation messaging to as much of my public outreach as possible. Keep learning!

Revamp my pre-field trip welcome email. Re-think my welcome circle prompts, write them down and consult my notes. I’m taking to heart the comment that verbal communication can’t be done carelessly when in a leadership role.
Field Trip Leader Participant

Addressing Nature Shop interpersonal issues including microaggressions, finding ways to help convey the conservation messaging and help other volunteers to do this as well.
Nature Shop Volunteer Participant

 When asked about what we could do differently at the next Hoot Camp, several responses were:

  • Do role-playing scenarios around bystander intervention and leadership skills, to give us practice with thinking on our feet in real time.
  • Repeat trainings with a variety of the most recent issues.
  • More sharing of our own experiences. Some situations are uncomfortable, and how do people work through that?

In Closing

Hoot Camp trainings will happen annually, with the subject matter and delivery changing from year to year. Seattle Audubon’s volunteer leaders hold significant power over any participant’s experience, and providing support and inclusive leadership training for these leaders is long overdue. Many thanks to all who participated, and to the volunteers who contributed thier time and knowledge to the conservation videos. 

Showing off some swag: a flashlight/bottle opener/carabiner keychain combo courtesy of Eddie Bauer