Evolution of Philanthropy in the National Park System

Point 5

In 1967, Congress authorized the National Park Foundation (NPF). Today the NPF works to strengthen the enduring connection between the American people and their national parks by raising funds, brokering strategic partnerships and increasing public awareness. The NPF manages cash, in-kind contributions, and strategic grants to parks and the Park Proud Partner Program valued at approximately $31 million annually. The NPF has been managing over 400 restricted park donation accounts for individual parks and supporting 7 park-based foundations. Currently the NPF is going through a major restructuring and realignment and is working to grow individual unrestricted giving by individuals (Currently 85% of their gifts are from corporate sources.)

Initial tensions between Cooperating Associations (CAs) and Friends Groups have been somewhat resolved, but issues remain. While most CAs had a history of modest fundraising in addition to earned income through publication sales and field seminars, a decision was reached by NPS in the mid-80's to separate out major fundraising activity from CAs' traditional activities.

While separate CAs and Friends Groups dominate the NPS landscape, there are notable exceptions and hybrids including the highly successful Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. The combined-function, hybrid park non-profits enjoy the advantages of: not having to compete for board members, the CA's earned income, and park office bases to help launch new fundraising initiatives. A NPS workgroup is currently reviewing these issues.

The Friends Alliance, an informal confederation of the larger fundraising Friends Groups and CAs, is a national brain trust on park philanthropy. It's members report gross annual fundraising activity in the $40-50 million range -- mostly from individual and foundation gifts.

Increasingly, these park-specific support organizations are orchestrating the construction of capital projects and management of programs. A recent success is The Yosemite Fund's 2005 completion of the $13.5 million Lower Yosemite Falls Restoration which engaged 14,500 contributors.

Among recent initiatives are adaptations of the successful Trails Forever Trails Restoration and Endowment Campaign pioneered by the Friends of Acadia NP, which is now being adapted at Golden Gate NRA, National Capital Region and Yosemite NP.

There is a healthy diversity and field testing of traditional and hybrid organizations. And more parks are growing their own park friends groups.