Evolution of Philanthropy in the National Park System

Point 2

Over a half a century ago, Freeman Tilden wrote The Fifth Essence: An Invitation to Share in Our Eternal Heritage to encourage prospective donors to the National Park System. Tilden wrote "There is a bright streak along the horizon for the National Park Service and the millions of Americans it serves. The hope comes from the going back through the past and realizing how much the Parks owe to the generosity and farsightedness of so many men and women." Tilden's vision is a beacon as we seek to broaden the engagement of more Americans is assisting parks.

Most give out of their belief in the enduring value of parks. Most give to specific park initiatives based on their personal experiences and a sense of connection and conviction. Most give in response to specific park needs and giving opportunities.

People give to National Parks:

  • to make a difference
  • in response to requests and appeals
  • see something they value properly cared for
  • to honor loved ones
  • to be part of something they strongly believe in, and,
  • to ensure the parks will endure, etc.

In addition to cash, people contribute land and historic structures, artifacts, collections, equipment, supplies, expertise and labor.

Some give regularly. Some gifts are carefully planned and anticipated. Some are cultivated over time. Some are spontaneous. Many parks have at least one instance of being contacted by an attorney or trustee settling an estate through which the deceased named a park as a beneficiary in their will. One example was a bequest to Point Reyes National Seashore that helped enable the construction of the Bear Valley Visitor Center.

Our challenge is how to grow this continuum of generosity and farsightedness into the future by engaging more Americans on a personal basis in assisting their National Parks.