Funders often wring their hands over the tendency of nonprofit organizations to work in “silos,” failing to forge partnerships and reach across mission boundaries to build on common interests or enhance each other’s capacity. However, funders have a unique opportunity to encourage and promote collaboration between grantees and across grantee mission areas, providing the linkages that can lead to mutually beneficial partnerships.
The Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation (PCLB) saw one such opportunity. PCLB Community Services Program Officer June Renzulli heard a common challenge among Boy and Girl Scout grantees: discontinued or underutilized camps can become a burden, leaving councils to consider selling off properties in order to raise revenues to meet other growing needs. Often, when councils go public with their intention to sell long-held properties, there is an outcry from former Scouts and camp neighbors that may cause councils to shrink away from an otherwise potentially beneficial course of action.
Simultaneously, PCLB Land Conservation Program Officer Bob Canace heard a strong interest among conservation grantees in discussing with Scouts the benefits of conserving council land through outright purchase or conservation easements. The two PCLB program officers recognized the potential PCLB had to form new partnerships across the two program areas. Land conservation could offer an appealing way to derive needed capital from large landholdings, while keeping camps in their natural state for use by both Scouts groups and the general public.
As a starting point, PCLB decided to convene an information exchange session between key decision-makers from the land conservation and Scouting communities in New York and Connecticut. “A convening was an opportunity for PCLB to have greater involvement with its grantees beyond the general financial support it provides,” said PCLB Executive Director Ben Benoit.
On August 19, 2013, 27 leaders of Boy and Girl Scouts councils and eight leaders of land trust and conservancy organizations from New York and Connecticut met at Tarrywile Mansion in Danbury, Connecticut. June selected Tarrywile for its central location, and because this Victorian mansion, set in a 722-acre municipal park, would provide a relaxed and neutral environment for the meeting where the groups could approach the problems as equals.
The half-day event was designed to provide a networking opportunity for the organizations involved. Program officers deliberately invited Scouts executives and land trust officers, ensuring the attendance of key decision-makers who could answer high-level questions.
The agenda included a balance of presentations from conservation specialists to provide core information, and case studies shared by the councils to illustrate successful cooperative efforts. Greater New York Boy Scouts of America and the Trust for Public Land New York presented the compelling case of a recently completed conservation plan for Camp Pouch on Staten Island, a cooperative effort that raised $15 million for the Boy Scouts council, allowed retention of critical Scouts facilities, provided public access to select areas, and protected the entire camp against development.
A panel discussion and question-and-answer session allowed the councils to pose questions and concerns to experts in conservation. It was important that misconceptions about land conservation be eliminated. The Scouts executives were most interested in how flexible conservation easements can be, whether public access is a requirement of an easement, and what types of financial returns easements can bring. The conservation representatives explained that easements are negotiated with the landowner, and that the easement process permits land-use specifications that are site-specific.
The convening concluded with lunch, giving the organization leaders an informal opportunity to discuss the morning’s events and meet representatives of organizations within their geographic area. The program officers remarked at the success of the day, demonstrated by the engaging conversations over lunch.
Besides informing the Scouts of the potential benefit of easements, the convening allowed land conservation organizations to gain insight into strategic property planning being undertaken by Scouts councils. Since the convening, Housatonic Valley Association Greenprint Director Tim Abbott has remarked, “The Housatonic Valley Association (HVA) has developed a strong conservation partnership with Girl Scouts of Connecticut Council that has helped bring about the protection of more than 562 acres in the state with the possibility of more to come. Conservation partnerships like these between the conservation community and Girl Scouts of Connecticut Council can provide needed capital to support the core mission of the Girl Scouts while honoring the values fostered by these special places, ensuring their permanent protection and providing public access in some cases.”
Many of the Scouts Councils had been engaged in property planning, some already working with conservation groups prior to the meeting. However, for others, the event introduced councils to new people and organizations that could help them in the process. The Girl Scouts of Connecticut noted, “We had been in the thick of a Long Range Property Strategy initiative for the better part of the past 18 months and the information we gained and contacts made at the PCLB Foundation meeting have been utilized extensively. This has been extremely vital to the process and the recommendations made to our Board of Directors.”
Some results of the convening were not anticipated. With the large number of Scouting councils represented, some council executives learned from the work of other councils in land-use planning. A representative of the Boy Scouts Greater New York Council said, “We were impressed by the sophisticated demographic and geographic research and analysis conducted by the Girl Scouts on who uses their camp, enabling them to adjust their plans accordingly. We could certainly benefit from that type of analysis.”
The initial results of the event were tangible. As Bob commented, “The amount of energy in the room and the high caliber of information exchange attested to the day’s success.”
Overall, the event turned out to be a success in the eyes of the program officers: new relationships were formed, conversations and planning started, and groups that had not previously thought about the land conservation option began considering the possibilities. But the work of the PCLB program officers did not end with the convening.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to avoid the common pitfall of failing to follow up on this successful session, and progress has been tangible,” noted Bob Canace. Since the event, Bob has attended and participated in numerous meetings between conservation groups and Scouts councils. Bob joined representatives from the Dutchess Land Conservancy (DLC) and the Girl Scouts of Greater New York to brainstorm about a conservation easement that DLC drafted for the 425-acre Camp Henry Kaufmann in Holmes, New York. DLC is now helping the Council find funding sources for the easement.
“At PCLB, we realize that work is required to sustain the momentum of new partnerships,” said Bob. At the convening, Bob presented on Program Related Investments (PRIs) that the Foundation has granted to land conservation organizations as an option for these groups to work in collaboration. “We are committed to making capital available in the form of PRIs to supply conservation organizations with the funding required to either purchase council properties outright or purchase conservation easements on them. Sale to conservation organizations will ensure that the conservation legacy of council properties is retained, and will generate financial resources councils can use to sustain their programs.” Currently, there are active conversations with several conservation groups about using PRIs to conserve council land.
“We heard a common challenge among Scouts and took action to provide a forum for open discussion on possible solutions with our Land Conservation grantees,” said June Renzulli. “We will continue to be a catalyst to provide the best outcomes for all of our grantees as we truly are a partner, and not just a funder, in ensuring their success.” And Bob Canace summed it up: “At PCLB, we realize that work is required to sustain the momentum of new partnerships.”
This article was written by
Bob Canace, Program Officer, Land Conservation – The Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, Inc.
Gabrielle Fulco, Program Assistant – The Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, Inc.