Emboldened by my ingenuity, I dialed the number, thinking, What have you got to lose? I found out soon enough. After several rings, a gruff deep voice answered, “Hello.”

“Mr. Vollum?” I said.

“No, this is Mrs. Vollum. Who are you?”

I swallowed a large “Oops,” and went into my spiel: “My name is Spencer Beebe. I’m with the Nature Conservancy—”

“What do you want besides my money?” demanded Mrs. Vollum.

I’d done near-death skydiving, waterfall-kayaking, and sailed a homemade boat in gale-force winds across the Pacific from Costa Rica to French Polynesia, but none of these experiences had induced the terror of Jean Vollum’s question. I finally blurted out something like, “Your advice about preserving the Sandy River! Would you like to go on a float trip and see it?”

"Howard Vollum was an electronic an business genius, but his idea of the great outdoors lay between the front door and his car on the way to the office. He showed up for the wilderness raft trip in an overcoat and wing tips."

“No, but my son Danny might. He likes rivers. Here’s his number.”

She gave it to me and hung up.

Oh, my God, I thought. I had ignored all the most fundamental rules of fundraising: get a proper, personal introduction from just the right person; meet one-on-one in an appropriate setting; listen carefully—to the body language, the subtleties of expression and tone; look your prospective donor in the eye and ask for an absurd amount of money, then shut up; the next person who talks loses.

OK, OK, I’ll call Danny! I thought. And I did.

Sophomore at Oregon State, banjo maker and player, outdoorsman, aspiring pilot, river rafter; 220 pounds, six-foot-two, red hair, and big smile—Danny Vollum was an environmentalist through and through. It didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting on my part to conscript him to help raft potential donors down the Sandy River. And eventually, Danny recruited his parents to join us on a float through the Sandy River Gorge as well.

Howard Vollum was an electronic and business genius, but his idea of the Great Outdoors lay between the front door and his car on the way to the office. He showed up for the wilderness raft trip in an overcoat and wing tips.

I mentally adjusted my game plan.