Frequently Asked Questions about Director’s Order 21

Colorful sunset over rocky granite peaks
Sunset on Cadillac Mountain from the Blue Hill Overlook. Support from park volunteers, visitors, and groups like Friends of Acadia continues the tradition of philanthropy begun by John D. Rockefeller Jr.  Contributions have long helped protect the park and improve the quality of your experience.

NPS/Kristi Rugg

Director’s Order 21 (DO21), updated in 2016, provides policy guidance regarding philanthropy in the National Park Service.

Here are some answers to common questions about DO21 and the role of philanthropy in parks.

Philanthropy has always supported the National Park Service

First, let's start with a quick bit of history. The national park idea benefited from private contributions even before Congress created the National Park Service in 1916. In 1907 Mr. and Mrs. William Kent donated what became Muir Woods National Monument, California. Later, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his son Laurance S. Rockefeller gave millions for land and roads to enlarge and improve Acadia, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Virgin Islands, and Yosemite national parks to name a few.

In 2016, the permanent protection of a 640-acre parcel of land located within Grand Teton National Park was made possible through a public-private partnership involving the Department of the Interior, Grand Teton National Park Foundation and the National Park Foundation. The $46 million purchase price was split equally between the Department of the Interior and the non-federal partners.

Read more about the history of philanthropy in support of national parks.

Modernizing philanthropy policy for NPS employees

Director's Order 21, formerly titled "Donations and Fundraising," guides NPS philanthropic activities. It was first issued in 1998 and revised in 2006 and 2008. Philanthropic and partnership practices and opportunities have evolved over the last decade, becoming more sophisticated and competitive. The updated policy will align NPS policies for partnerships and philanthropy with best practices in the philanthropic sector and create a framework for the NPS and our partners to implement modern, mission-driven philanthropy.

Changes to the policy will help the NPS and its partners keep up with a changing philanthropic field that has become increasingly sophisticated and competitive.

The main revisions to the policy include:

  • Simplifying the agreement process with philanthropic partners
  • Broadening the scope of philanthropic giving through electronic donations, mobile giving and individual and planned giving
  • Providing clearer guidance on donor recognition
  • Updating guidance for sharing intellectual property and the use of NPS marks and logos
  • Maintaining the integrity and impartiality of the National Park Service in all facets of its philanthropic efforts

The original draft proposals to DO21 received 350 comments during a 45-day review period in 2016. It was clear that people place great value on national parks and are insistent that they be protected as that they belong to all of us.

The final onations and philanthropic partnerships policy signed by the director includes changes from the earlier draft based on feedback from the general public and other interested groups. For example, per the original 2008 policy, logos are permitted as part of a credit line in printed material, audiovisual products, and temporary construction/restoration signs. The proposed revisions to that policy in early 2016 would have also allowed small logos of philanthropic partners to be placed on exhibits and waysides. However, based on feedback during the public comment period that provision was removed.

The public review period also drew some misleading and, in some cases, completely inaccurate headlines and stories suggesting that corporations would be able to obtain naming rights to park features or parks themselves and that park superintendents would be forced to raise private funds.

Let’s separate fact from fiction.

The “Commercialization of Parks”

To be clear: The “commercialization” of parks through advertising, endorsement, the use of marketing slogans in parks, or selling naming rights is prohibited by public law, not just NPS policy. The NPS policy regarding philanthropic and private support is largely a restatement of public law or existing NPS policy. There are specific safeguards in the policy as well as in the donor recognition legislation that protects against commercialization of the parks.

The policy and public law prohibit any donor recognition that could be used to state or imply “naming rights to any unit of the National Park System or a National Park System facility, historic structure, trail, or feature, including a visitor center.” Advertising and marketing slogans are also prohibited.

The revised policy includes provisions similar to those of universities, museums, and hospitals across the country, under which rooms in facilities may be temporarily named to recognize a donor for support of the renovations to that facility. Any such recognition must be authorized by the Director of the National Park Service.

DO21 requires that all donations are vetted to avoid conflicts of interest, maintain impartiality, and ensure the donation meets an NPS need and does not incur financial liability. It includes evaluation factors that follow Department of the Interior policy that ensure that donations are consistent with and do not otherwise circumvent law, regulation, or policy, that there is neither an actual nor an implied commitment to take an action favorable to the donor in exchange for the donation, and the donor will not obtain, or appear to obtain, special treatment in dealing with the NPS, the Department, or any of its other bureaus.

The Role of Park Superintendents in Philanthropic Partnerships

Park superintendents have not, are not, and will not be authorized to solicit donations. Only the NPS Director is authorized to solicit donations. DO21 does not charge superintendents with generating new corporate donations, and there is nothing in the policy that ties performance evaluation to success in raising outside funds.

Parks are already required to have donor recognition plans under current NPS policy and guided by public law. This is not a new requirement. Superintendents have long had the authority to accept donations, authorize fundraising, and enter into partnerships. Partnerships have long been a required skill for park superintendents and encouraged in all park staff. Partnering is a fundamental way for parks to interact with the larger communities in which they are found. Partnerships are about more than fundraising goals. For example, partners often bring new volunteers and visitors to a park and are able to work in nearby villages, towns, and cities to raise awareness of the park in these nearby communities.

Donor Recognition Photo Gallery

How can you help?

The policy changes help the NPS and its partners keep up with a changing philanthropic field that has become increasingly sophisticated and competitive. In the future you'll see modern donation boxes and information abouut how to donate via park websites, as well as the reflection of your support for parks in the many small and large projects made possible through your support.

As the National Park Service enters its second century of service, these improved partnership and philanthropy guidelines give a new generation of Americans the opportunity to support their national parks.

Who supports your favorite park? Check out the "Get Involved" tab on the park's website.

Last updated: May 16, 2022