…was from a bird. An American sandhill crane to be precise. First mailed in the 1960’s, Nature Conservancy’s Sandhill Crane letter has acquired (not millions) billions of donors in the 50 years since it was first mailed.

The letter was written by the late American copywriter Bill Jayme, renowned for his ability to instantly connect with the reader. Once you start reading a Bill Jayme letter, you simply cannot stop. Like a book you can’t put down. He really was that good.

Bill Jayme’s letters sparkled with curiosity, mystery and intrigue. He immersed the reader into another world, then created urgency and elevated the act of responding to a noble calling.

I’m lucky to have a digital copy of the original Nature Conservancy Sandhill Crane letter. And here it is. Once you start reading it, you won’t want to stop.

Nature Conservancy Sandhill Crane Letter — by Bill Jayme (1926 – 2001)

Dear Investor,

The bug-eyed bird on our envelope who’s ogling you with such a bad temper has a point. He’s a native American sandhill crane and you may be sitting on top of one of his nesting sites.

As he sees it, every time our human species has drained a marsh, and plowed it or built a city on it, since 1492 or so there went the neighborhood. It’s enough to make you both edgy.

So give us $10 for his nest egg, and we’ll see that a nice, soggy spot just the kind he and his mate need to fashion a nest and put an egg in is reserved for the two of them, undisturbed, for keeps. Only $10. (Watch those crane come in to land, just once, and you’re paid back. Catches at your throat.) Then the cranes can relax and so can you. A bit.

How will we reserve that incubator with your $10?

Not by campaigning or picketing or suing.

We’ll just BUY the nesting around.

That’s the unique, expensive, and effective way The Nature Conservancy goes about its nonprofit business. We’re as dead serious about hanging on to nature’s balance as are the more visible and vocal conservation groups. But our thing is to let money do our talking.

We buy a whopping lot of land: starting with 60 acres of New York’s Mianus River Gorge in 1955 (now 555 acres), we have protected more than 6.9 million acres an area about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island. These lands dot the nation from coast to coast and from Canada deep into the Caribbean more than 10,000 protection actions securing lands ranging in size from a quarter of an acre to hundreds of square miles.

All of it is prime real estate, if you’re a crane or a bass or a sweet pepperbush or a redwood. Or a toad or a turtle. And a lot of it’s nice for people too. Lovely deserts, mountainsides, prairies, islands. (Islands! We own 90 percent of huge Santa Cruz Island, off the California shore, and tiny Dome Island in Lake George, and most of the Virginia Barrier Islands, and dozens more.)

So besides being after your $10, we invite you to see a sample of our lands. We have 59 chapters in 50 states. Check your phone book. Our field offices will guide you and yours to a nearby preserve where you’re most welcome to walk along one of its paths, sit on one of the log benches, look about, and say to the youngster we hope will be with you, ”This will be here, as is, for your grandchildren.” Nice feeling.

We do ask that you don’t bother the natives. For example, there’s a sign in one preserve that says “Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, Black Bear, Poison Oak/ARE PROTECTED/DO NOT HARM OR DISTURB.” For $10, you’re privileged not to disturb a bear or stroke a poison oak. A bargain.

Bargains in diverse real estate are what we look for and find. But not just any real estate. We’ve been working for years to create a huge, always up-to-date inventory of the rarest animals, plants, and natural places in each of the United States. Set up with state governments, these “State Natural Heritage Programs” identify what’s rare and what’s threatened in each state: birds, butterflies, orchids, marshes, river systems, swamps, forests … and crane’s nests.

Then we try to protect those places that desperately need protection and preservation. We think big. For instance, the Richard King Mellon Foundation gave us the largest single grant ever for private conservation: $25,000,000 to launch the National Wetlands Conservation Project, which ultimately enabled us to save more than 20 major aquatic systems embracing well over 400,000 acres. Northern prairie potholes, remote desert oases, teeming marshlands, bird-rich coastlands, pristine lakes, rivers that crisscross the nation …

And we continue to protect wetlands. In Florida, we recently secured more than 22,000 acres the heart of the Pinhook Swamp. Not only is this swamp a vital natural link and wildlife corridor between the fabled Okefenokee Swamp to the north and the Osceloa National Forest to the south, but it also happens to be home to the sandhill crane.

But we don’t just shovel cash at the problems. We buy some lands, trade for others, get leases and easements, ask to be mentioned in wills.

Then we give or, preferably, sell much of what we buy to states, universities, other conservation groups any responsible organization that can care for and protect the land from anyone. Unless the “anyone” builds nests or eats acorns.

That cash flow replenishes our revolving fund. every dime of which is plowed into the unpaved and as yet unplowed. All this activity generates a lot of fascinating true stories, and lovely photos. These we put into a small (40 pages) but elegant, sprightly, and ad-free magazine, our report to our 700,000 members every other month: Nature Conservancy magazine.

Here you may find that the land you and the rest of us have just protected is harboring a Four-lined skink, or a spicebush, or boreal chickadees, or kit foxes. You’ve a lot to learn and see that’s most intriguing, as you’ll discover.

The Nature Conservancy magazine also describes well-led tours of our various perserves, tells you what we’re doing in your state, and shows you how you can help.

And as you use the complimentary sandhill crane bookmark, you’ll be reminded of your personal commitment to the preservation cause.

Now, you may think it’s disproportionate to brag about how we’re raising millions for our projects and then ask you for only $10. Who needs you?

We need you. very much! Those hardhanded foundations, corporations, and individuals who give us money or property must be convinced that our ranks include a lot of intelligent, concerned, articulate citizens: people who know that the natural world and all it harbors needs our help.

Yes. we need you and your ear and your voice and your $10 ($10 times 700,000 members helps protect a lot of acres). Please join us today. It’s easy: Get a pen. Check and initial the “membership application” form that your hand is touching. Within about six weeks of receiving your contribution, you will receive your membership card and the first issue of the magazine. Enclose a check for $10 in the return envelope. (Send more, if you can spare it.) NOTE that it’s tax-deductible. Mail the form. Go.

Thank you, and welcome, fellow investor in nest eggs. For your fanfare, listen for the wondrous stentorian call of that sandhill crane.