After a three-month search, the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation board of directors has named Shelly Johnston director of development for the nonprofit organization.
Johnston will be the first to serve in this newly created position, the duties for which include managing the engagement of donors and supporters of Grandfather Mountain. Jesse Pope, executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, said the position was created for someone to dedicate his or her efforts toward helping Grandfather Mountain Sustain the funding needed to successfully achieve its mission: to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain.
“While Grandfather Mountain does generate its own revenue to cover operating expenses, we must rely on grants and private donations to enhance the educational opportunities in the park,” Pope said. “Shelly’s role will help us work toward finding the resources to advance our mission and make a greater impact on our education and conservation efforts.”
Johnston, who previously worked as a volunteer at Grandfather Mountain, has 10 years of experience in nonprofit work. She first served as a volunteer manager assisting with marketing and development for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region in its Lincoln County office. Later, she worked as the director of the Arts Council of Lincoln County.
In coming to work for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, Johnston is returning to her naturalist passions. Johnston holds a bachelor’s degree from Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer and a master’s degree from N.C. State University in parks, recreation and tourism management with a focus in environmental education. Johnston originally planned for a career as a naturalist, but instead began work in the nonprofit sector.
A native of Matthews, N.C., Johnston has lived mostly in the Lincolnton area, where she previously worked in various nonprofits. Johnston first came to Grandfather as a part-time resident and fell in love with the area. At the beginning of 2016, she decided to seek full-time employment in the area, particularly at a nonprofit with an environmental focus. Johnston said that after volunteering at Grandfather Mountain, she watched the Foundation’s website for job listings and came upon the position.
After Grandfather Mountain founder Hugh Morton’s death in 2006, the Morton family sold two-thirds of the Grandfather Mountain property to the state of North Carolina. These 2,600 acres of land make up the Grandfather Mountain State Park. The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation maintains and preserves the remaining third of Grandfather Mountain. The Morton family established a nonprofit organization in 2009 to manage the scenic travel destination and the 700 acres that include the Mile High Swinging Bridge, the Nature Museum and Animal Habitats. The foundation is dedicated to the conservation of the mountain and the education and inspiration of visitors.
“When you work for a nonprofit, there’s an investment of yourself. You have to love it,” Johnston said. “You have to have an investment in the mission, and going up the mountain every day is an inspiration for the work.”
As director of development, Johnston will be working primarily on engaging donors and serving those donors better, as they are the main supporters of the mountain. “We are really trying to focus on and grow our donors. We want to expand our reach,” Johnston said. “We want to engage those who are visiting the park so that they will continue to support Grandfather Mountain.”
Jesse Pope also acknowledged the need for a director of development to improve the quality of visitor experience and to preserve the natural resources in the park.
“Shelly, along with the rest of the team, will help create the community partnerships and relationships with our donors that will help us accomplish our goals,” Pope said.
Johnston will sustain current projects like the field trip scholarship fund, which provides resources for underfunded schools to plan field trips to Grandfather Mountain. Currently, Johnston said the biggest project is raising money to restore and enlarge the cougar habitat. The restoration project follows the recent arrival of two cougar cubs to Grandfather Mountain. The duo was found orphaned in Idaho last January and found a home at Grandfather.
The foundation is also working on developing an elk habitat, to be completed by the fall of 2017.
“We received a generous grant from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation to help us with making the elk habitat a reality,” Pope said. “We are excited Shelly is here to help us find more champions to step forward and help us preserve Grandfather Mountain for future generations.”
Pope said he has enjoyed working with Johnston during her first few days as the director of development.
“She is a wonderful new addition to the Grandfather Mountain family,” Pope said. “She loves Grandfather Mountain and believes in our mission.”
A long-time advocate for environmental education, Johnston said she understands the importance of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation’s work and admits it is a large project to tackle.
“The foundation has a monumental job maintaining and preserving the mountain,” Johnston said. “It’s a worthwhile job, and it’s a great team. But we have a huge project ahead of us. The mountain’s alive, the animals are alive, so our work is ongoing. It’s important work to maintain the mountain.”