Jennifer Kramer, MS '04Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability
Jen Kramer at The Nature Conservancy’s
preserve at the Black Mountain Natural
Area in Dummerston, Vermont, a favorite
AUNE field study site.
Payback for a New Life
Jennifer Kramer lived in New York City for almost two decades, much of that time working as travel editor at Town & Country magazine, writing and researching features around the world.
“The work was exciting and I could follow my curiosity. It was never boring,” Jen said. “But it was never deeply satisfying, and what I really wanted was a dog and a bird feeder and a more normal day-to-day life, not just waiting for the next assignment.”
To jump-start a new life, she moved to a 750-acre farm in Charlottesville, Virginia, and into a more tenuous career as a freelance writer and a barista in the first wave of upscale coffeehouses. “I had been so spoiled, staying in all these top hotels and having a big expense account, and then there I was, a freelancer making lattes,” she said.
This is not the story of a city dweller’s first foray into the boondocks. While growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, attending Smith College and the University of Colorado, working in New York, Jen always had a strong connection to nature, formed after many summers at camps in Vermont and Arizona and college days backpacking in Colorado.
“Then, in my early thirties, I recognized how much I missed connecting with nature,” she said. “I committed to spending a week a year backpacking and sleeping on the ground in designated wilderness where I wasn’t the top predator, in places like the Bob Marshall Wilderness or Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness near Yellowstone, and that would restore and ground me. Living in New York City, I needed a lot of grounding.”
Virginia was the first step on a new path that would take her to where she is today, working as the senior associate director of philanthropy for The Nature Conservancy’s Vermont chapter. After leaving New York, living a quieter life in Virginia helped begin the transition. At the time, Jen said, “I knew I had something in me that was calling, and I knew that I wanted to get into the nonprofit world, particularly in conservation.”
So when a friend who was a graduate of Waldorf Teacher Education program at Antioch University New England read her an AUNE newsletter item about the start-up of the Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability concentration in the Department of Environmental Studies, she was ready.
‘Right and Good’
A few days after September 11, 2001, Jen drove to AUNE to attend a visiting day, applied and started school that January. “It felt so right and so good,” she said. She took classes in land protection, community planning and ecology and did a field study in Yellowstone on wolf re- introduction, a long-abiding passion. She did practica with the Student Conservation Association, headquartered in Charlestown, New Hampshire; in the advancement department on alumni relations, with the Hancock Center Land Trust monitoring conservation easements; and with the Howard Dean 2004 New Hampshire Primary campaign. “That was an incredible experience to work with so many activists on such a breakthrough, grass-roots campaign,” she said.
After graduating in 2004, she was immediately hired by The Nature Conservancy as a major gifts fund raiser. “My job is heaven,” she said. “We build genuine, personal relationships with our members, getting out on the land with them. The beauty of philanthropy is that people want to be helpful, and when we find the right fit, it is as rewarding for the donor as it is for the organization.”
Her AUNE education opened up the nonprofit world to her. “It gave me the bona fides to make a great life transition,” she said. “It gave me a richness and showed a level of commitment. And being able to talk the language of conservation professionally and to tell my life story made me credible because, at some point, almost everyone has a story about changing their own lives.”
Giving Back to AUNE
In return for that fulfilling new life, Jen is giving back to AUNE as a member of its recently formed board of trustees. She has another legacy as well, designating a portion of her 401(k) to AUNE through a planned-giving gift. “It’s the simplest way to do planned giving, designate a retirement account, because you don’t need a will to do that. You just fill out a beneficiary form, and it’s wonderful because I can get the benefit of my retirement in my lifetime, if I need it, and the residual will go to AUNE.”
There’s an important tax advantage, too. Any of her 401(k) left to an individual would be taxed at sixty-three percent, but with a nonprofit as the beneficiary, no taxes will be levied. “So AUNE is getting the total benefit of all my hard-earned money,” she said. “It’s really a no-brainer, and it felt really good and exciting to take that simple action.”