QU seeking boost from area backers

Quail Unlimited is at a crossroads. It's survival is by no means a certainty.

I'll talk about how things got to this point, and how it might be revived. But understand that the organization that has boosted the economy of Southwest Georgia for more than two decades is in trouble.

Not too long ago, Quail Unlimited owed its vendors almost $1 million. Various QU chapters across the nation were owned about $225,000.

Many QU members and chapter leaders were upset at how their organization got into dismal financial shape. Blame was pointed, in part, toward an admittedly passive board of directors.

This was the scene assumed by Bill Bowles of Albany when he took over as president of Quail Unlimited.

Now, there is reason to believe the organization can rebound.

QU has moved its national headquarters from South Carolina to Albany. Phoebe Putney has stepped in and offered land at Potter's Community Clubhouse for a new headquarters building.

Until that building can be constructed, QU is operating from a Phoebe-owned property at 308 Third Avenue.

Bowles said the vendor debt has been reduced from about $880,000 to $472,000. For the most part, Bowles said, vendors are being cooperative and letting QU work out repayment plans.

The debt to chapters across the country has been pared from $226,000 to $72,000.

In the past, chapters would conduct fund-raising activities and send all of the proceeds to the national office. QU would then return 60 percent of the net gains to the chapter.

Now, Bowles said, those chapters which are owed money are allowed to keep more than their 40 percent of the project proceeds in an effort to pare the debt.

QU also has sold its former national headquarters building in South Carolina for $500,000. The sale yielded a net gain of $174,000 which was used to reduce the debt, Bowles said.

The number of chapters across the nation dropped from 165 to 112. Membership dropped from 40,000 to a little more than 20,000.

Bowles, who served on the national board of directors during the group's decline, said the board was guilty of letting it get to this point by not being more proactive in its oversight.

Bowles is convinced that no one in the organization was guilty of taking or embezzling money.

The problem, Bowles says, is that when times got tough economically, the senior staff did not adjust accordingly to operate with less money. The group continued business as usual despite the significant drop in income, he said.

People at the chapter level were upset, Bowles said, and rightfully so.

With the progress made so far, Bowles hopes support of the organization will start to grow again.

If he's looking for growth, Albany would be the first place to start. I was astonished to learn that the Albany QU chapter has just 35 members. And five of those members are a part of Bowles' family.

Albany businesses send more volunteers each year to help with QU's annual celebrity quail hunt.

Despite the progress, Bowles said the group is struggling through the summer in a cash flow crunch. That's always been the situation because most QU events are held in non-summer months.

There is no cushion this year to help QU get through the slow times.

To help generate interest in QU, Bowles has taken a more visible approach, speaking to civic groups and telling his tale of revival. He's initiated a Foundation Club with membership at the $150 level. Regular membership is $45.

"We really ought to light a fire that spreads from Albany, into Georgia and across the nation," Bowles said.

Bowles said the tide has also turned in terms of feedback at the chapter level. He is hearing more optimistic comments.

"It will still be a challenge to get to the last week of September, financially speaking," Bowles said.

If QU survives through the summer, there is a cooperative event near Atlanta in September that should be profitable.

Also, chapters will begin hosting events, restarting a revenue slow. Then, the 26th annual celebrity quail hunt is scheduled Jan, 13-14, 2012.

Erecting a new building at the Potter's property has been put on the back burner until the organization is on more stable footing, Bowles said. the structure, when built, will be modest, he said.

Despite the financial problems, the organization has a worthy cause. It was founded in 1981 to deal with a dwindling quail population and declining wildlife habitat.

Chapters across the country conduct educational workshops and programs targeting young outdoorsmen.

It is Bowles' desire that Albany and Southwest Georgia step up and help QU through its tough stretch.

If you feel inclined to help, call the Albany QU office at (229) 883-3209 or write Quail unlimited, P.O. Box 70518, Albany, Ga. 31708.