As part of our staff spotlight series, learn more about Rebecca Vollmer, and how she came to work on FracTracker’s development needs after her time working at San Quentin prison in California and a hedge fund in New York.
Time with FracTracker: I became involved with FracTracker in 2015 as a Board member and began working for the organization part-time in early 2016 supporting the launch of a fundraising strategy and infrastructure. I have known FracTracker’s Executive Director, Brook Lenker, for several years, and I very much admire his work.
Education: MA/PhD in History from U.C. Berkeley; BA in German Studies from Yale
Office Location: Camp Hill, PA
Title: Manager of Development
What do you actually do in that role?
Well, first off, I consider myself extremely fortunate to be working with FracTracker. I have been a fundraiser on both sides of the aisle (for-profit and not-for-profit) for many years. Fundraising, development, sales – whatever you want to call it – can be a difficult occupation. Often, there are no concrete milestones to mark your progress, your first thought upon reaching a particular goal or helping to organize a successful event is how to raise the bar for the next one, and you sure do have to get used to rejection. What makes this work amazing is having the chance to lift up a cause in which you believe, deeply. That’s rare, actually, in the working lives of most of us. And even better is working with wonderful people. These things have all aligned for me with FracTracker, and with FracTrackers – who are smart, funny, intellectually honest, incredibly dedicated, hard working, interesting, interested folks who invest their considerable talents toward preserving the health and beauty of the planet for their families, their children, and the many generations yet to come.
Broadly speaking, what I am trying to do for FracTracker is to talk to as many people as I can about the organization and about the energy issues and concerns that it analyzes. We are working to build networks of financial supporters, create rhythms of communication that keep these networks evergreen, identify potential major donors, get to know these donors and help them get to know FracTracker, and match the philanthropic and philosophical goals of interested benefactors and foundations with FracTracker’s mission and needs. On a day-to-day basis, this translates into writing a lot of emails, making phone calls, reaching out to old and new friends and asking them to reach out to *their* friends, systematically researching foundations and corporate giving programs, and coming up with creative product/in-kind donation opportunities.
Previous Positions and Organizations
I’ve worked in financial services, business development, sales, higher ed development, and not-for-profit fundraising for the past 10+ years. Born in California, I experienced adolescence/high school in Pennsylvania and college in Connecticut, lived in Germany for a time teaching English at the Humboldt University in Berlin, moved to the west coast upon returning to the states, earned a PhD in medieval history and taught courses at both Cal (UC Berkeley) and the San Quentin prison on topics ranging from basic algebra to the Anglo Saxon epic Beowulf to (yes, I’m afraid this is true) deconstructing Zorba the Greek and other films with Greco-Roman themes. I then spent an intense 6 years in Manhattan at a hedge fund. I’ve since found my way back to central PA, where I work as a fundraising, business development, writing and editing consultant.
How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues / fracking?
My interest in wells and mining began when I was a kid. This is a story that not many people know. Actually (mom and dad, I hope you’re not reading this…), but being a bit of an errant child, I liked to get out into the woods and check out dried up creekbeds and old railroad bridges and such. We lived in a standard suburb growing up – not a lot of wilderness around. I had a friend who lived in the actual country, however, and one weekend, we walked to a farmhouse several over from her own, because the owner had just moved out, and we had heard he left a cat, and maybe even some kittens. It was a dark night with no moon. About 40 minutes into our hike, I tripped and fell into an abandoned well shaft. Just a normal water well. Several hours and a length of stinky fraying rope later, with the significant help of my friend’s two older brothers (who were of course sworn to secrecy), I was hauled back up to the surface. I started reading about wells the next morning. Back then, when folks dug in PA, they were often looking for water. Fracking had not begun, no one had ever heard of the Marcellus Shale, oil wells were see-saw-looking things that existed in Texas or southern California, and OPEC was an acronym you learned when studying for the SATs. How the world has turned. From that event 30+ years ago that interested me in all things that occur below the surface, and throughout an adult life spent reading about energy usage, international relations, global economics, global warming, and conservation and renewables, I have been fascinated by the relationship between modernity and the tools and fuels that we use to make it possible. Working alongside FracTrackers has inspired me to think deeply about what energy is, what it is worth, what it makes possible, what it costs, what it actually costs, how we obtain it, how we deploy it, and why we need to not just think, but also to act, now, toward making and using energy differently.