One of my most vivid memories as an Island Fellow started out on Route 1. It was late May and my exhaust manifold had gone the way of the last snowbanks so I rode to the meeting with my neighbor Greg. I was on my way to ask the Pleasant River Fish & Game Conservation Association (a.k.a. The Gun Club) to give us money for the Machias River Wigwams Program. I’d been told they would probably be interested, but I’d rather lick a mousetrap than ask for money.

We island fellows are allowed to be frank in this column. The fellowship is, on whole, a really great gig, but there are parts of it I hate. This newspaper is called The Working Waterfront not Island Paradise Gazette, or the like, so I’ll dish it straight—I despise fundraising. I think part of why I hate it so much is because wrapped up in “the ask” (as they call it) is a stockpile of my own feelings about being asked to donate to very deserving causes that I don’t have the money to support.

The Island Fellow stipend does me alright, but I am certainly not a money geyser. It feels really icky to have to say no, and I don’t want to bring that upon anyone else. For me, asking for money is downright soul-sucking and I usually end up with a pit in my stomach even if it goes well. I was certainly on edge as I walked in the door of the gun club.

People milled around and stared at me until the meeting got started with (I kid you not) a gavel. They motioned and approved for a few minutes back and forth until the overall-wearing president Larry had me stand up and present.

I was telling about how we run a dual-mission habitat restoration and outdoor career training program based out of the Wigwams Rapid on the Machias River and someone from the middle of the room got up and interrupted me.

Time slowed down. What am I doing right now? How did I end up here?

Well, actually, I ended up here because projects don’t fund themselves. My hopeful nature convinces me that each fundraising effort will be the ticket, even with rejection flooding my inbox. Like pushing a boulder to the top of a mountain only to watch it roll down again. That is how I found myself asking for money at the gun club.

If I had the ears of all of the philanthropists and could tell them what it’s like down in the trenches, I wish I could tell them about how valid programs are not sustainable simply because they have to build capacity. I want them to know that they can’t just build schools, they need to staff them, and those costs don’t go away.

I want to tell them that paying an accountant really will bring us closer to our mission, and how relying on volunteers is dicey. I want to tell them about how I am Sisyphus.


OK. Hunker down. Activate the nerves of steel and iron stomach. Whatever happens, I will keep my head up and conduct myself with dignity.

Faces were still. No smiles.

The heckler said: “Did you hear that? Two weeks, overnight, unplugged from technology!” and the hall burst into raucous applause. They gave us 750 bucks for the program, and a personal invitation to come shooting with the club, free of charge.

I wish they’d all take a lesson from the gun club, but I think with a life of nonprofit work ahead of me, and all the money-asking that comes with, I’d better get chummy with Sisyphus.

Maria McMorrow in August concludes her two-year fellowship, through AmeriCorps and the Island Institute, with the Downeast Salmon Federation.