Ducks Unlimited holds banquet at Community Center

Published 1:00 am Sunday, November 22, 2009

NATCHEZ — When guests entered the Natchez Convention Center Thursday, they were greeted by the smell of grilled steak and the sound of a live auction.

As the auctioneer’s lips moved at the speed of light and bidders made their intentions known, the annual Ducks Unlimited fundraising banquet saw a second-straight successful turnout despite rough economic times.

Ducks Unlimited Chairman Bruce Lewis, a Natchez resident, said that at least two-thirds of the organization’s event revenues would come from dinners like this one that take place all around the country.

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“We have about 4,000 of these dinners all around the country each year,” Lewis said.

“Ducks Unlimited usually raises about $90 to $100 million in event revenues a year. These dinners will net anywhere from $35 to $45 million of that.”

The funds raised by Ducks Unlimited go towards habitat restoration projects of waterfowl and other wildlife throughout North America.

Lewis said he takes pride in what he feels is a very well run organization.

“We’re highly efficient,” Lewis said. “Eighty-six percent of our funds go directly into preservation. Not a lot of organizations can make that claim.”

Part of that efficiency comes from the fact that events like the fundraising dinners are, by and large, put together by volunteer workers.

“We have over 65,000 volunteers in the United States,” Lewis said. “There’s not a staff person from Ducks Unlimited here tonight. All these people (working here) are volunteers. None of these guys are getting paid.”

Lewis said that most of the volunteers at the Ducks Unlimited events are hunters and waterfowlers.

“It’s hard to really say what draws people to an organization like ours,” Lewis said. “It’s just something that’s in you. A lot of people say they support preserving the outdoors, but never donate (to those kinds of causes). We’re here because wetland preservation is something that just has to get done by somebody.”

Even though the economy has crippled the nation, Lewis said Ducks Unlimited has continued to thrive — and he isn’t surprised, given its history.

“We take a lot of pride in our organization’s governance and efficiency,” Lewis said. “We were started in 1937, during the Great Depression. We’ve been through wars and depressions, and have always come out stronger.”

Lewis, who was president of the organization before becoming chairman, said he’s not done with Ducks Unlimited events in Natchez.

“I’m going to try to get the Board of Directors here in March,” Lewis said.