Don Macänlalay


SCA 2009 Shenandoah National Park

Since a 2009 SCA internship at Shenandoah National Park, Don Macänlalay has gone on to do social media for The Nature Conservancy, the largest environmental nonprofit in America, and one of the most trusted. He began at their national headquarters in Arlington, VA , focused on Tumblr and Instagram, but soon moved on to managing all social media for their Washington state office in Seattle.

Wildly creative in a serene sort of way, Don spends his work days on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, using carefully selected words and pictures to tell the Nature Conservancy’s story, engage with its fans, and further its mission.

A look at Don’s personal Instagram account (@directedbydon) makes it clear that his love for nature and passion for storytelling go beyond his work for TNC. His unique way of capturing the world led to being featured by Instagram as a suggested user, and he now has over 20,000 followers. That’s more than his employer!

Don may no longer be hiking around every day of the week, “living the lodge life” like he did as an Interpretive Ranger Intern at Shenandoah, but the work he does from behind his computer is every bit as important for the future of conservation.  Like he says, conservation’s marketing creatives “…are the storytellers. We are on the front lines of inspiring people, and I feel like it’s a huge role to play because without it, we’d just be preaching to the choir.”

So what led you to embrace conservation? You can read the reports, hear the stories, see it in real life. Conserving lands and waters is the key to our survival. It’s the key to keeping everything beautiful, and in a constant harmonious cycle. I think about its importance when I’m out taking pictures in nature, and how if no one was there to protect it, we wouldn’t have those moments where we feel so connected and in awe of the landscape.

Why did you decide to join the SCA? I was looking to start my career. The SCA had opportunities everywhere, and the idea of hiking everyday and living in a cabin on a National Park was really inspiring at the time.

What kind of stuff did you do on the job with SCA? I spent my time writing for my [interpretive] hikes. I would lead programs and talks about climate in the park and how it affects wildlife, while hiking particular trails. I was a park ranger, only without the official uniform.

What was the most memorable aspect of your internship? The most memorable was just life in the park, living in a cabin… the ambiance of it all. There was something about it. The peacefulness of it. The history of it. I was living on historic land and telling people about it. There was a calmness that I haven’t really experienced anywhere else since.

What do you enjoy most about your job at The Nature Conservancy? It sounds cliche to say, but the people. They care about the planet, not just saving water when they brush their teeth, but saving and healing the lands and waters that people and animals need to survive and thrive. They are willing to work with the corporate giants to make change. Just having an organization that understands that working with someone is the most effective method is fantastic. I’m able to collaborate with people all the time.

How are creatives important to conservation? What essential role to they play? We are the storytellers. Our stories have not changed one bit. Saving the planet is still just that. But the way we tell that story is constantly evolving, and being able to play and collaborate in such a creative space, for the planet, really helps spread the word. We are on the front lines of inspiring people, and I feel like it’s a huge role to play because without it, we’d just be preaching to the choir.

Was your work with SCA valuable to you as a creative? To recognize a sense of place. I regret not taking any photos when I was with the SCA. I regret it. It was during a time where I thought being a creative was something I wouldn’t be able to do as my career so I set it aside and pursued working in the field, and now after enjoying the place I was put in and how beautiful it was, it really lent itself to reminding me that everyday, the beauty that I see in nature might not always be in my life.

How did you end up becoming being recognized on Instagram? I’m sure not that many people know me or my feed. 20k in the scheme of 40 million is very small. But it was a big honor to be featured by Instagram as a suggested user, they emailed me one day to let me know and it just grew from there.

How has your instagram changed your life? It’s changed in the way I’m able to collaborate with people and businesses. I feel like there’s this big issue with “likes and follows,” when really it’s more about the relationships you form on the platform and the stories you want to tell visually. And so to have this “credibility” is nice but honestly the platform itself is really just a great tool within the idea of community. The communities we know have evolved. Instagram and its ilk are the reason for that; we can now hang out and take photos with a complete stranger and feel like we’re part of something larger.

How can conservationists harness the power of instagram for their cause? It’s a community builder. You can showcase your work, and also really build up a community to rally around what matters most. Creatively, you will always have gorgeous photos, but fostering relationships that go beyond the bottom line really can create a brand awareness that people can trust and want to devote their time to, because they feel part of something and not just something they need to give to. It’s providing and cultivating an experience, and on instagram it’s very transparent who is able to create a meaningful experience.

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Written by Joe Thurston

Photos: Header by Abbie Redmon, all others via @directedbydon