From its inception, the National Park System has benefited from corporate partnerships. Many of the earliest national parks, including Glacier and Grand Canyon, were the direct beneficiaries of the transcontinental railroad companies, which helped design, build and provide visitor services. This legacy of corporate partners continues. Today, corporate giving may come from corporate foundations, the corporate office, a local manager or its employees.
One type of giving usually comes with an expectation that the company will directly benefit from the donation to the National Park Service. Often corporate support originates in marketing departments, which anticipate increased sales or an improved corporate image by linking their advertising campaign with the National Parks and the National Park Service. Marketing motivations are based on a desire for alignment with the park image and values, especially "greening"/sustainability values. One term for this is "cause-related marketing".
On the other hand, corporations also give to community causes in the locales where their operations are located and employees reside to be good civic supporters and to improve quality of life. In these instances, the corporate giving more resembles philanthropy and does not involve marketing or advertising.
Issues related to donor recognition with this group are more complicated. Corporations may ask if their logos or corporate script name could be displayed in the park. A few will occasionally ask if they could draw a connection between the park and their product which raises issues of the perception or the appearance of implied NPS endorsement of their products which is not allowed.
Most institutions that attract significant donations insist on equity in recognizing corporate gifts alongside individual and foundation gifts by using the same typeface and not displaying the donor organization's copyrighted script or logo. This affords equal recognition for donors and avoids corporate branding or the perception of commercialization. This is the direction that the NPS has chosen based on concerns that parks remain a refuge from corporate branding which is otherwise so pervasive in our society. This still leaves many opportunities for vital corporate partnerships in support of parks.
Careful judgment needs to be exercised in the low-key display of corporate logos that are permitted on the credit line of publications, videos, films, temporary construction signs, and credit lines on banners and materials at special events in parks. While corporate names can be displayed along other donor names, logos are permitted only on displays that are transitory or portable. Corporate script and logos can't be displayed in the park permanently. They can not be used on waysides, kiosks or donor walls. For equipment or donated items, no additional larger sized corporate name or logo can be displayed beyond the normal product retail presentation.
Appropriate corporate donor recognition formats include press events and releases, receptions, dedications, feature articles in newsletters and reports and donor listings.
Local businesses can be a source of giving, particularly in rural areas. Small businesses often feel a particular affinity to a park. Many people that run small businesses near parks have lived there for years and feel a connection with them. Almost all local businesses get involved out of a pure desire to help the park. They are generally recognized through newspapers, media coverage or credit lines in publications.
The membership of community service organizations such as the Lions, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs are often comprised of local businesses and community leaders, sometimes including park superintendents. These organizations provide financial support for community projects which can include parks. They are looking for projects that will benefit the quality of life within their community.
Prior to accepting any corporate donation, make sure a donor recognition agreement or plan is in place. Director's Order #21 advises that friends groups planning a fundraising campaign targeting corporations must be conducted with high standards that maintain the integrity of the NPS and its partners. Corporate campaigns which identify the NPS with alcohol or tobacco products will not be authorized. This would be especially problematical as a donor recognition display of gifts from alcohol and tobacco companies, whether to a park partner or the park, would imply to the visitor the NPS/park's association with, endorsement of, an alcohol or tobacco product.