Evolution of Philanthropy in the National Park System

Point 4

To mount capital campaigns, fundraisers initially framed their requests to the public for contributions using the rationale that sufficient appropriated funds were not being made available by Congress. Members of Congress quickly became concerned that their constituents would draw the conclusion that Congress was unresponsive to park needs.

The NPS issued internal guidelines requiring all published fundraising materials to be reviewed by NPS prior to printing to ensure that the content sent the right messages.

At this time, NPS adopted the "Margin of Excellence" phrase to cover projects and programs supported through philanthropic dollars. The assumption was that this margin of excellence would never be more than 5% of the parks' annual appropriations amount. These "enhancement" efforts were referred to as "the frosting on the cake" and distinct from essential projects and programs that would continue to be funded by appropriated funds from Congress.

The reality is that while Congress has given priority to NPS needs, fundraising has also been addressing mission needs that cannot be met through available appropriation levels.

Congress is still seeking a comfort level with NPS park-based capital fundraising campaigns. The following Congressional concerns based on real-life situations continue to be addressed:

  1. Will the public think Congress is neglecting park needs?
  2. Are construction priorities determined by the NPS, Congress or fundraisers?
  3. Are such projects a high enough priority in comparison to other NPS needs?
  4. Are such projects right-sized and appropriate for the park? Are they designed to meet NPS design, sustainability, environmental and accessibility standards?
  5. What will be the staffing, operational, and long term repair and replacement budget needs and how will they be financed?
  6. Has there been an adequate feasibility determination that the capital campaign can successfully reach its goal and not result in pressure on Congress to cover fundraising shortfalls?

Strong encouragement has been given by Congress to include fundraising for endowments in addition to the capital construction costs in capital campiagns to cover the added operating costs once the project is constructed.