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How to start an environmental non-profit with Emily Davenport

Emily Davenport (she/her) is the founder and executive director of the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Alliance, a non-profit wildlife rescue centre in Colorado, USA with the mission to elevate the care and protection of wildlife which is done by fostering a sense of community and collaboration through the alliance. In this refreshingly real and insightful conversation, Emily shares her story and how she started a non-profit as well as her experiences combating gate-keeping and managing burnout and compassion fatigue within this space. Above all, Emily’s top advice is to never stop learning, regardless of where you’re at in your career!

How to start a not-for-profit with Emily Davenport | #itsawildlife


Emily started out in the veterinary profession and worked in that field for 20 years before transitioning to work with wildlife and start her own rehabilitation centre, a journey which began 12 years ago. Emily’s speciality field is birds, in particular birds of prey after taking part in a volunteer orientation at her local Birds of Prey Centre where she was introduced to working with eagles, hawks, vultures and owls for the first time.

‘I jumped at the opportunity and completely fell head over heels for working with raptors’

SO, the birds of prey completely stole her heart and Emily began volunteering at the Raptor Centre and then, once she started taking sick days and vacation days to volunteer, was hired part-time, then full-time until she became the ICU manager, and then the assistant director.

‘It was a slow, fluid process, but the more I learned about wildlife and birds of prey in particular, the more I realised I can’t NOT do this anymore!’


After evolving from the Birds of Prey centre into the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Alliance in Colorado in 2017 and undergoing a complete makeover in July 2022, the centre has opened its doors to over 160 injured animals, most of which are raptors. The mission of the Wildlife Centre is to take in injured, orphaned, and diseased animals, with the goal of releasing healthy individuals back into their native habitat.

Emily explains this is a much needed but declining service in Colorado, an area termed a wildlife rehabilitation desert. To give an idea, back in the early 2000s, there were over a hundred different wildlife rehabilitators for the public to take an injured or orphaned animal in for care, but today there are less than 30.

‘Since we opened our doors, we’ve been flooded with injured animals and human-wildlife conflict queries – so we do our best to resolve this through treatment and public education’


Emily is an incredibly determined individual, a trait that has been incredibly valuable as she’s walked the challenging but rewarding road of starting a non-profit, the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Alliance.

‘It was a long process and as the old saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way!’

When she was working at the Birds of Prey Centre, she realised that in addition to a lack of rehabilitation services, there was also a lack of services for professionals who cared for wildlife, and no easy or affordable way for them to continue their education in Colorado.

‘I had this idea of creating an organization that not only did wildlife rehabilitation, but could also be a teaching hospital for professionals that also study the animals we were treating’

Before their facility was finished, the organisation was dedicated to continuing education and putting out operational resources for wildlife professionals by holding symposia, trainings and other professional development. The long-term goal was to have this teaching hospital. Emily jokes, ‘It wasn’t easy! I joke that it took years off of my life to make this happen, but as one of my wonderful volunteers said recently, it will add more years to your life now.’

Although it takes a lot of dedication, sacrifice and hard work early on, it was all for this bigger vision! For anybody out there who has an idea or wants to start a non-profit, Emily has some advice:

‘Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It’s not about the destination, it’s truly about that journey, taking those baby steps forward. And hey, you’ll take steps back. I certainly have failed along the way and tried things that did not work, but I’m in a much better place now and looking forward to the future so don’t give up!’


Collaboration is a huge part of the mission at Rocky Mountain Wildlife Alliance and in an effort to promote knowledge sharing, training and education, and overcome the dark history of gate-keeping that has historically been an unfortunate part of wildlife conservation.

‘When I talk about some of the past struggles, I absolutely have had gatekeepers that kept me from achieving goals and reaching positions I could have had: I was often told there’s a million people waiting at the door for your position, or supervisors quote that they struggled and worked 15-hour days so you do too – and I just don’t agree with that mentality!’

‘We don’t have to struggle to do this work. If we create the community we want, if we collaborate together, there’s no need for that.’


Dealing with compassion fatigue and burnout have been a constant part of the journey but Emily emphasises that healing your mind and your body so you can continue moving forward towards your goals is a part of the process.

Breaks are a necessary part of all work, so try not to feel guilty about taking them!

‘People need breaks, and if somebody tells you that they don’t, they’re either lying or they’re about to burn out really bad!’

Emily explains burnout does happen to everyone in this passion-filled industry where there are never enough resources or hours in a day. It’s all about being gentle with yourself and manage your own expectations of productivity for longevity in this industry.

‘Be kind to yourselves, be patient with yourselves as well. Take the day off, the hour off when you need it, take the damn nap! Continue to sustain yourself so you can be persistent and keep moving forward.’

Emily emphasises it’s about the journey, not the end of the road.

‘Enjoy the process and take your time to get there. Most of us that are really driven want our goal yesterday, I like to joke, but we have to take our time and be kind to ourselves’


Want to hear more from Emily? Tune into the podcast to hear our conversation. There are so many ways that you can get involved and support the work being done at the Rocky Mountains Wildlife Alliance. If you are in and around Colorado, you can join in a group of volunteers, and if you’re from further afield or interested in a more immersive experience, you can apply for a three-month internship.

The Wildlife Alliance is also in the process of expanding education opportunities and creating research ones so if you are interested, check out the website or their social media on Instagram and Facebook. The Rocky Mountain Wildlife Alliance is run solely on donations so you can find out more about supporting this cause on their website.

You can also reach out to Emily by email or on her Instagram @mywildlifestyle.

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