Reference Manual 21 -- Chapter 3

3.0 Roles and Responsibilities

3.1.1 Ethical Conduct Requirements for All Employees

Significance of Ethics

National park employees serve a critical role in sharing park stories with a global audience and protecting the resources at these sites on behalf of this and future generations. The American public puts their trust in the people who serve to conduct themselves with the highest degree of integrity. Integrity is an NPS core value. Ethics regulations provide a framework that aim to support park staff in making informed decisions that will maintain trust and confidence in the agency’s ability to carry out its mission. DO21 directs practitioners to ethics counselors, solicitors, and this chapter of RM-21 for guidance.

When NPS employees work closely with non-federal entities, many questions arise about whether a practice is acceptable or prohibited by ethics regulations (5 CFR 2635). For example, these regulations generally prohibit federal employees from using their official title, position, or any authority associated with their public office to endorse products, services, or enterprises. With that in mind, many practices are available that are not considered endorsements as defined by this regulation and help the NPS contribute to vibrant partnerships with non-federal entities. NPS employees, the director excluded, may not solicit donations. However, it is entirely appropriate to speak to the value of what a donation might allow the agency to accomplish and recognize donors to NPS projects and programs.

As the variety and volume of philanthropic partners has increased in recent years, so has the need for clear guidance on the application of federal ethics rules.

There are more questions and specific scenarios than can possibly be answered in this chapter. What this narrative and these examples aim to do is describe practices that are permitted and those that are not, giving specific suggestions for how NPS employees may express support for partnership activities with their philanthropic partners. If you are unsure if an action you are contemplating complies with ethics laws, contact the Ethics Office for advice. This guide is not a replacement for ethics guidance, and you are encouraged to seek guidance as often as you feel necessary.

Philanthropic Agreements and Annual Work Plans

Ethics regulations apply to most situations that an NPS employee encounters. The intent of this chapter is to focus on situations that are common between an NPS site or program and their official non-profit partners.

A philanthropic partner becomes “official” or “authorized” through a written agreement. Therefore, before an NPS employee begins directing staff time and resources or making official public statements about a philanthropic partnership, an agreement should be negotiated. The agreement establishes a formal relationship and authorizes the partner to fundraise on behalf of the NPS in pursuit of shared goals. The agreement provides the framework for NPS staff to talk about the work of the philanthropic partner and express support for an authorized fundraising effort. Chapter 6 of this reference manual describes the various types of NPS philanthropic agreements and requirements of the annual work plan. Please note that any philanthropic partner with a sustained, multi-year, relationship with an NPS site or program must have a written agreement regardless of the amount of funds generated.

DO21 describes several activities a philanthropic partner should undertake once a philanthropic agreement is established:

  • Work with a superintendent or program manager to develop an annual work plan to identify the philanthropic activities and support that will address the identified needs of a park or program area (see RM-21 Chapter 6);
  • Follow best practices in the philanthropic field and participate in the philanthropic training program co-developed with the NPS described in DO21 Section 3.1.4;
  • Describe NPS-identified needs to potential donors and the public;
  • Report their philanthropic support of parks and programs to the NPS;
  • Be aware of NPS and Department of the Interior policies regarding donation review (see DO21 Section 5) and incorporate them into gift acceptance policies; and
  • Work with the NPS to review proposed donations, consistent with the donation review process outlined in RM-21 Chapter 5.
  • Raise, hold, and manage funds for the benefit of park projects and NPS programs, consistent with terms in philanthropic partnership agreements and annual work plans;
  • Analyze any potential project or program donations considered for the annual work plan under DO21 Section 5.2.

An annual work plan is developed based on identified needs of the NPS and the partner’s judgement about the interest of their donor community (as well as their articles of incorporation and governing documents). In developing an annual work plan, NPS must consider DO21 Section 4.2 which allows the NPS to use donations to fund or otherwise support any activity for which appropriated funds could be used (with some exceptions) and DO21 Section 4.3 which requires all NPS authorized philanthropic activities and efforts must generate a clear benefit for the NPS and be consistent with laws, regulations, and policies. All of this is to say that during the development of the annual work plan, the NPS must ensure that where a donation is contemplated the donation must be of something that can be accepted.

NPS Employee Participation in Philanthropic Solicitations by Partners

As a matter of policy, the NPS does not permit employees to solicit donations. This general prohibition does not apply fully to the Director, who may solicit donations from private individuals or organizations to the NPF and NPS, subject to Departmental guidance in Departmental Manual, Part 374, Chapter 6. While not permitted to solicit donations, superintendents, program managers and program subject matter experts are encouraged to join philanthropic partners in meetings with prospective donors. See below for descriptions of how NPS staff members, holding any position for the NPS that is relevant to the work of the park or partner, might be assigned to and may appropriately join philanthropic partners in meetings and events.

Display of Materials to Educate Visitors about an Authorized Fundraising Partnership

Provided that provisions are made in the annual work plan, park managers may allow the non-intrusive display or distribution of materials in parks to educate visitors about an authorized fundraising partnership or activity. Examples of such materials include brochures with donation envelopes, architectural drawings, models, graphics, newsletters or other similar information. See below (On-site Programs and Events) for guidance on authorizing on-site fundraising events.

Events and Public Speaking

NPS staff may:

  • Attend fundraising events of a philanthropic partner in their official capacity and through their remarks or participation acknowledge donors and the partner’s work in meeting NPS needs. See sections below for information about accepting meals or free attendance when speaking/presenting and when not.
  • Be named as a speaker, including title, on invitations and event programs. If the invitation or event program includes a direct solicitation or request for money beyond attendance at the event, consult an ethics counselor for review of the invitation in advance.
  • Wear uniforms when attending meetings and fundraising events as representatives of the NPS.
  • Acknowledge that a partner is authorized through a formal agreement to fundraise in support of the NPS and identify ongoing and completed fundraising efforts of the partner in support of NPS needs.
  • Participate in meetings with prospective donors as NPS subject-matter experts to explain NPS needs and provide helpful context and content.
  • Make brochures and materials about approved fundraising efforts available at park visitor centers and entrance stations, if agreed upon through an agreement.
  • Issue joint press releases about partnership events, if agreed upon through an agreement.

Written and Other Forms of Media

NPS staff may:

  • Issue a joint press release that describes the partnership, donation, and the impact of the partnership project.
  • Provide written quotes, recorded statements, or be filmed in uniform for media products or other written materials acknowledging donors and the partner’s work in meeting NPS needs, provided that they are not associated directly with a portion of the media that solicits a donation. The key here is to have separation between the statement from the NPS employee and the fundraising ask (See Example 2 below).
  • Provide a letter describing the NPS relationship and appreciation for authorized philanthropic projects and programs to the partner for the partner’s annual report, newsletters, or event materials.
  • Fulfill their requirements per DO21 to review a partner’s promotional materials to ensure accurate representation of NPS priorities and needs.
  • Offer letters of collaboration for partner grant applications which describe the collaboration. The letter may confirm that this is an official partnership project, addresses identified park needs, and confirms where NPS is contributing human capital, data, physical space, systems access, etc. or will be using or maintaining the product/outcome.

Please Note: The section above applies to solicitation scenarios and is not intended to be applied to a park or program’s approach to donor recognition. Descriptive statements of gratitude or thanks are appropriate and encouraged when recognizing the contributions of generous donors. Please see DO21, Section 8 for guidance on donor recognition.

On-site Programs and Events

NPS staff may:

  • Take partners and donors on tours of the park for the purposes of education about NPS park resources – needs, issues, and opportunities.
  • Identify in the Philanthropic Partnership Agreement or annual work plan the staff time and materials agreed upon to support partnership projects, programs, or partner events held within the park.
  • Issue a special use permit, through the superintendent to the authorized philanthropic partner, to conduct fundraising activities or donor cultivation events, and solicit or accept donations on park property when:
    • The superintendent has issued a special park use permit following the applicable regulations and policy guidance in 36 CFR 2.37; 36 CFR 2.50; 36 CFR 2.51; 36 CFR 2.52; 36 CFR 7.96(h); NPS Management Policies (2006) Section 8.6.2; and Director’s Order 53 and RM-53: Special Park Uses; and
    • The NPS and the partner have decided how their respective costs and fees for managing and monitoring each event will be covered.
  • Issue a special use permit for a special event that requires participants to pay a separate admission or participation fee so long as the payment whether in the form of a fee or required donation, does not take place within the park (see Director’s Order 53, Section 7).

Responding to Public Inquiries

When a member of the public, business, or other organization voluntarily contacts an NPS employee verbally or in writing about how to support the park or a partner organization, it is appropriate for an employee to respond with information on this topic.

For example, when a visitor expresses that he or she would like to donate to the park, an employee may describe the options available to that visitor, including a direct donation to the park or donating to a philanthropic partner for a project identified in an agreement and work plan. You should answer with a complete list of ways, whether verbally or in writing, that person can get involved (donate/volunteer/etc.) and a complete list of authorized organizations, i.e. those with philanthropic support agreements or philanthropic partner agreements, who support the project/program/etc. that the person is interested in. Stick to factual statements to avoid appearance of endorsement.

If described in an agreement or work plan, a philanthropic partner may be permitted to display their brochures and materials in park facilities. Most commonly, philanthropic partners and cooperating associations work with NPS sites to agree upon types of materials and placements. If a member of the public asks for more information about a partner organization, it is appropriate to direct them to either the materials displayed, a partner website, or provide a phone number they can call for more information. When these materials are provided in an NPS facility per an agreement, the NPS staff may restock the brochure rack with the partner provided materials.


Many cooperating associations offer membership sales on-site in national parks. These are typically sold at bookstores, membership kiosks, offices, or other facilities that have been assigned to the organization through a Cooperating Association Agreement. In some instances, a philanthropic partner also serves as a cooperating association for a park or program. Cooperating association staff may promote and sell memberships at locations in parks and sites as described in their Cooperating Association Agreement.

When NPS staff are making decisions about how to appropriately work with and talk about an entity that has a Cooperating Association Agreement, they should consult ethics guidance, DO21 and DO32. One common question that arises from reviewing these three resources is: What are the differences between endorsement of a membership, education about the membership and processing a sales transaction?

When covering the bookstore functions at a park site, NPS staff may:

  • Include the sale and processing of a membership application as a sales item in the cooperating association store if a Cooperating Association Agreement is in place.
  • At the point of sale, inquire if a visitor already has a membership in order to process the associated discount to which the member is entitled. In this scenario, if an NPS employee is asked a follow up question about the benefits a membership will provide, the NPS employee may provide the facts about the benefits of membership so that the visitor may make an informed decision about his/her sale.
  • When asked about the membership program, direct a visitor to displays or materials in the store about membership.

NPS staff may not:

  • Staff a kiosk or booth designed to only sell and promote memberships for a cooperating association or other partner organization.
  • Participate in any promotion or competition to sell the most memberships.
  • Encourage visitors to become members, aside from providing information about memberships when asked as described above.
  • When a cooperating association store has an agreement and is authorized to promote a checkout counter/round-up donation program through signage in the sales area and through cooperating association staff and volunteers, NPS staff working the register may not ask a customer if he/she would like to participate in the program and donate. However, if a customer initiates the ask to participate in the program and add a donation to their purchase, the NPS staff may ring it up through the register/point-of-sale system.

Examples of Appropriate Statements

When communicating about philanthropic partnerships projects and programs, it is helpful to have a few key phrases committed to memory that appropriately acknowledge a philanthropic partner who is authorized through a formal agreement to fundraise in support of the NPS. Using carefully crafted messages -- factual statements with limited hyperbole that focus on the partnership and the projects or outcomes of it -- we can celebrate our partnerships and help the public find their way to participating in the work of those partnerships. The basic rule-of-thumb is: focus on factual statements.

The following statements are examples of communications about partnerships or partner initiatives that successfully navigate these regulations. An underlying assumption of all of these examples is that the park and partner have a signed Philanthropic Partnership Agreement and work plan in place that identify these projects as collaborative efforts.

Example 1
During welcoming remarks to a fundraising event held by a park partner for a partnership project, the superintendent makes the following statement:

On behalf of the park, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the foundation for the support that they provide this national park. This organization has been generating philanthropic support for the park for 20 years and has donated over 50 million dollars for critical projects such as constructing a visitor center, restoring trails, engaging youth, and funding research. The project we are here to talk about this evening is a high priority for the park and we know that involving the philanthropic community will provide a margin of excellence above what we could accomplish on our own. I am honored to introduce the president of the foundation who will tell you more about the work that their organization is doing to turn this project from concept to reality.

Example 2

The superintendent provides a column in the partner’s quarterly newsletter as a thank you for donations that have funded projects and programs within the park. It is on a different page and separated from any sections in the newsletter that solicit donations or memberships:

This has been a remarkable year for our partnership projects and programs; and my appreciation goes to the Foundation board, staff, and donors. This year, we completed construction on the renovation of a key visitor destination inside the park. The one million visitors that experience this area each year will now find improved trails, better wayfinding, enhanced interpretation, and quality access to recreation activities on the lake. As superintendent, I am proud of this collaborative accomplishment and the strategies we developed related to future interests. In thinking about all of the outcomes we are pursuing, I am thrilled that we are investing in human capital and human connections. This powerful investment in people is visible in so many of the programs supported by the Foundation. Connecting native youth to park lands through Tribal Youth Corps has been a tremendous success. Each summer, approximately ten young tribal members learn new skills and support projects on a landscape that was inhabited by their ancestors. Engaging diverse students and young adults from across the country in youth work programs as well as the local Youth Conservation Program reduces our backlog of facility needs while exposing youth to this majestic landscape and conservation practices. Foundation support designed to enhance visitor experiences and resource protection through a variety of volunteer groups, such as the River Ambassadors, Hammer Corps, and Wildlife Brigade has allow the park to contact tens of thousands of visitors that otherwise may not have had direct access to a local expert. All of the outcomes on these partnership programs and projects generated from the Foundation’s efforts are invaluable, particularly the investment in people. On behalf of our park and staff, thanks for a job well done!

Example 3

Partner organization creates a short video for website and social media about a fundraising effort for a project described in an annual work plan with the park. The project will provide stabilization work for an historic building at the park site that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A segment of the video features an NPS subject matter expert in uniform talking about the significance of the building and the impact that this project will have in ensuring its protection. The employee does NOT mention fundraising or donations except to express gratitude that the foundation is providing donated dollars to make this project possible. This is an appropriate practice for the NPS employee. At the end of the video, a foundation employee provides information about how to get involved and support the effort.

Example 4
Partner organization is planning to post to social media about an effort to bring an art installation to a park. It does not include a solicitation for a donation. Both the park and partner social media staff have ensured they have the proper handles and hashtags identified. Partner posts and the park retweets and re-shares the content from the partner organization.

The park also drafts its own social media posts to share through NPS channels using the following format:

  • Tweet an image/link to partner website: “Thanks to [TAG PARTNER(S)] for helping us bring the arts to [TAG PARK] [Include appropriate hashtags]”
  • Tweet an image/link to partner website: “Thanks to [TAG PARTNER(S)] for supporting our project to bring the arts to [TAG PARK] [Include appropriate hashtags]”
  • Tweet an image/link to partner website: “We’re excited to bring the arts to [TAG PARK] w/ help from [TAG PARTNER(S)] [Include appropriate hashtags]”
  • Post an image/link to the partner website: “Have you heard about the art project [TAG PARTNER(S)] is supporting in the park? They made this video about the experience in 2018. [Briefly explain project featured] [Include appropriate hashtags]”

Example 5

The superintendent provides a letter of collaboration to include with a partner’s grant application to compete for funding for a partnership program or project that the park and partner are working together on:

To Whom it May Concern:

I am writing today to confirm that the National Park Service has entered into an agreement with the XYZ Foundation to collaborate on an initiative known as Open OutDoors for Kids. This program creates pathways for kids to enjoy, understand and connect with nature in exciting ways by facilitating outdoor activity, experiential learning, and cultural heritage exercises. The goal of this program is to connect one million young people to outdoor experiences in national parks throughout the country.

The National Park Service and XYZ Foundation are committed to the success of the Open OutDoors for Kids initiative that is described in greater detail in this grant application.


Park Program Manager

Examples of Inappropriate Statements: What NOT to say

During the course of communicating about philanthropic partners, there are statements that clearly violate NPS policy on solicitation of donations or ethics standards prohibiting endorsement. NPS staff should not use the following phrases, or phrases that are similar to:

  • Please donate to this foundation.
  • You should support this foundation.
  • Please provide a donation to the park.
  • This foundation is the best in the country.
  • You should provide this grant to our partner as they are the best at [insert any number of relevant qualities here].
  • If you care about this park or program, you will become a member of this partner organization.
  • We do not have enough appropriated dollars so we need our partner to fund basic park operations. (Instead, state that appropriated dollars provide for a base of operations at a site – philanthropy gives parks/programs the opportunity to accomplish projects and programs above what is provided for that base operation.)

Personal Gift Acceptance from Partners

Refer to the Ethics Guide for DOI Employees (internal link) (or 5 CFR 2635.203) regarding personal gift acceptance from partners for items that are and are not considered prohibited personal gifts. Items commonly associated with partner interactions that are not gifts and may be accepted include: snacks (coffee, donuts, other modest food items, excluding alcohol, and that are not part of a meal), greeting cards, plaques, certificates or trophies.

Items that are considered personal gifts offered to an employee by a partner generally may not be accepted. There is an exception to this prohibition where the value of the gift does not exceed $20 per occasion or $50 in any given calendar year. If the gift is valued over $20, the employee may not pay the difference in order to accept the gift but must pay the full market value of the gift to accept it. The ethics rules and NPS leadership caution employees that while a gift may be valued at under $20, or some other exception may apply, employees should always consider the appearance of accepting a gift from a partner. An offer of a free membership to an employee would likely be considered a personal gift and the gift rules would apply.

There are occasions where gifts are provided to an employee in a manner that may not allow for refusal. For example, when an item is mailed to you. The gifts rules provide a number of ways to remedy that:

  • If the prohibited gift is perishable, you may, with supervisor approval, share it within the office, destroy it, or donate it to an appropriate charity. You must document that you took such actions and notify the source that such gifts cannot be accepted and request they not be sent in the future.
  • For non-perishable gifts:
    • You can return the item to the source.
    • You can pay the source the fair market value of the item.
    • For tangible items valued at under $100, you can destroy the item and then notify the source that such gifts cannot be accepted and request they not be sent in the future.

When you are not sure of how to handle, or for questions on how to do any of the above, consult with your ethics counselor.

Partners Defined in Ethics as “Prohibited Sources”

The term “prohibited sources” that you often hear discussed is relevant to certain parts of the ethics rules. This term is merely used to define what entities and individuals are covered in a particular provision of the ethics rules. “Prohibited sources” are defined as entities and individuals who do or seek to do business with NPS, seek action from NPS, are regulated by NPS, have interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of your official duties, or any organization where the majority of their members are any of the previous. Philanthropic partners, per the ethics definition, are considered prohibited sources; however, employees may still engage with the partner in fulfillment of the agreement and work plan as described throughout this chapter. In fact, the existence of the business relationship and parameters of the formal agreement is precisely why the ethics rules consider them a prohibited source for the purpose of ethics guidance. Please note that this merely means that the following applies:

NPS staff may not:

  • Accept a gift from a prohibited source, unless an exception applies and they have considered appearance concerns.
  • When fundraising on personal time and in personal capacity for a non-partner organization, knowingly solicit or accept funds from an authorized philanthropic partner organization.
  • When considering outside activities and employment with a prohibited source begin such outside activity or employment without filling out the Outside Work Form and obtaining supervisory and ethics approval. Any NPS employee must speak with an ethics counselor when considering leaving government service and transitioning to a position with an organization who does business with or partners with the NPS. This provision is not unique to partnerships work but rather applicable to all situations where an employee wishes to transition to a position with a non-federal entity who has a relationship with the NPS.

What not to do:
Example 1
A partner offers a superintendent a $75 hooded jacket commemorating a project the park and the partner completed. The superintendent accepts the jacket. This violates ethics rules.

Example 2
An NPS employee is fundraising for their local school district and reaches out to an NPS partner asking for a donation of cash from the partner organization to the local school district. This violates ethics rules.

Example 3
An NPS employee is interested in serving on the board of a foundation that partners with NPS in a different region. They apply and accept a position without filling out the Outside Work Form. This violates ethics rules.

Widely Attended Gatherings

If invited to a gathering that includes a meal, alcohol, admission fee, or other benefit and the invitation was extended because of your official position or by a prohibited source and you are not assigned to present information or otherwise speak on behalf of the agency, NPS employees may seek approval for attendance prior to the event using the DI-1958 form. This form can be used to request ethics approval to attend events that will have a large number of attendees with a diversity of views (5 C.F.R. § 2635.203). Common examples of events that involve the provision of food and or beverages beyond mere snacks or include alcohol where a DI-1958 would be required (if you are not speaking) are campaign launch events, fundraising events, project or campaign completion celebrations, and community social events. This form is not required where NPS or NPS employees are paying for the employees’ attendance. Note that NPS funds cannot be used to purchase food or meals but may be permitted to purchase registration and admission fees. Be certain to allow enough time to process this form in advance of the event.

Acceptance of Meals and/or Free Admission when Representing or Speaking on Behalf of the Agency

The ethics rules (5 CFR 2635.203) exclude certain items from the definition of a gift and therefore you may accept them regardless of their cost. Included in that list is, “Free attendance provided by the sponsor of an event to which you have been assigned to present information on behalf of the agency.”

Some common examples of events where this may apply:

  • Making formal remarks at a dedication or ground-breaking ceremony
  • Keynote presentation at an annual employee training
  • Keynote presentation at an annual board and staff dinner
  • Keynote presentation at a Rotary Club luncheon
  • Sitting on a panel during a session at a conference or workshop
  • Delivering a presentation at a Chamber of Commerce event
  • Working an information booth or registration table at a partner event
  • Delivering NPS created and approved talking points to a specific assigned group or table at a partner event

If you are assigned to participate as a speaker or panel participant or otherwise to present information on behalf of NPS at an event, regardless of your position and title, you may accept free attendance at the event on the day of your presentation if it is provided by the sponsor of the event. If it is unclear to you if the person who invited you is also considered the sponsor of the event, please reach out to an ethics counselor. Free attendance at such an event is not considered a gift to the employee or the agency. Free attendance for a speaking engagement may include waiver of all or part of the fee for an event or the provision of food, refreshments, entertainment, instruction or materials furnished to all attendees as an integral part of the event. Speaking may take place in a variety of venues such as at a podium, as a seated panelist, on a bus or boat, or any setting so long as you clearly are delivering a program, presentation or official remarks. If you are a Political Appointee you must receive approval prior to the event using the DI-1958 form. If you are not a Political Appointee, the form is not required for your speaking engagement on the day that you speak.

If this event is longer than one day, and you are offered free attendance for any day(s) on which you are not assigned to present information on behalf of DOI or your bureau, free attendance for those nonspeaking days may be acceptable under the widely attended gathering exception to the gift rules, which requires all employees (regardless of appointment type) to use the DI-1958 or DI-2000 form and seek approval from an ethics counselor in advance of participation. Be certain to allow enough time to process this form in advance of the event.

This exclusion does not include participation in social or networking events, workshops, or meetings where you are not assigned to be a presenter or speaker. For example, if you attend a partner event and expect you will discuss NPS or answer questions as they may arise, that is not considered to meet the requirements of this exemption. The speaking or presentation of information requires a degree of advanced planning and assignment of information to be shared. In those instances, the gift rules would apply and depending on the value, event, and purpose an exception may be available. Please confer with an ethics counselor to help you make a determination.

Since speaking engagements and widely attended gatherings might include the provision of alcoholic beverages, it is important for NPS staff to be aware of any perception that may be associated with their consumption. Note that the reference manual for DO43 states that “employees are specifically prohibited from purchasing or consuming alcoholic beverages, whether on or off duty,” while wearing the NPS uniform.

Acceptance of Food or Attendance at Gatherings in the Course of Interactions with Philanthropic Partners

There are two common scenarios where food may be provided by philanthropic partners.

1. In-Park Events on the Annual Work Plan:
Each year when you and your partners create your annual work plan, various in-park events may be listed. Each of those, as well as any other item on your annual work plan, must be evaluated under DO21 Sections 4.2, 4.3, and 5 and RM Chapter 5 criteria to ensure it meets criteria for our agency gift acceptance authority. Any in-park event on your annual work plan is a gift to NPS, not to any individual. Therefore, if an event involves an in-kind donation of food or drink from a partner, any NPS staff working the event who may consume the food or drink has not accepted a personal gift. No ethics clearance is needed for these events. This assumes the food or drink provided is predominately for the public, volunteers, etc.

Examples of in-park events that would meet Chapter 5 criteria are public events such as Coffee with a Ranger, Volunteer in the Park recognition lunches, food provided for teacher workshops NPS conducts, and overnight youth camping trips. Examples of in-park events that would not meet Chapter 5 criteria are events such as thank you lunches provided to NPS staff, food and drink provided for NPS all employee trainings or meetings, or a retirement event for departing NPS staff. Those events are personal gifts and require ethics guidance.

2. Donor Cultivation:
NPS leadership continues to work with the DOI Solicitor's Office to develop guidance for situations where NPS staff, while executing the duties of an authorized employee under DO21, are expected to participate in meetings, gatherings and activities with philanthropic partners and donors where the partner has offered to cover the cost of meals or activities for the group. Until additional guidance on this topic is provided, NPS employees should continue to work with his/her ethics counselor to determine if accepting the meal or activity would be considered a gift as defined in the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.


Generally, your official travel must be paid with appropriated funds. However, under certain circumstances, DOI or your office or bureau may be reimbursed for your travel expenses by a non-federal source. Travel Expense Acceptance (31 U.S.C. § 1353) allows agencies to accept reimbursement or in-kind donations from non-federal sources for an employee's transportation expenses (including food, lodging, incidental expenses, and registration costs) to certain functions related to the employee's official duties. In addition to an approved travel authorization, the employee must also have an approved ethics form DI-2000 in advance of travel. It is not permissible for the employee to personally accept reimbursement from an outside source. All checks must be made out to DOI or to the employee's bureau. Employees may, however, accept "in-kind" items such as airline tickets, meals, or hotel accommodations purchased or paid for by the non-federal entity. See the instructions for the DI-2000 form for more information.

Seeking and/or Accepting Post Employment with Partners

If while employed at NPS you or a partner initiate any discussion on possible employment with that partner, you must immediately contact your supervisor and an ethics counselor. Under the Seeking Employment rules, you must be recused from work involving a partner you are seeking or negotiating employment with. (See 5 C.F.R. §2635.600) This is accomplished by contacting an ethics counselor and obtaining a formal recusal notice. Failure to do this may lead to violations of criminal law.

After you leave federal service, 18 U.S.C. § 207 imposes certain post-employment restrictions that may limit the type of work you may perform for your new employer for certain periods of time. (See 5 C.F.R. §2641) Specifically, it limits the topics and matters you can discuss with the federal government on behalf of your new employer. It is worthwhile to note that post employment rules may apply to non-paid positions like service on partner organization boards.

In the event that an NPS employee is considering a post-employment position with a philanthropic partner, he or she must consult with an ethics counselor to explore how these restrictions may or may not apply to his or her specific situation. Please note the Post Government Employment ethics rule is a criminal law, so violations can lead to potential criminal prosecution.

Working with Partner Board of Directors and Staff

In most instances, federal employees do not serve in an official capacity with non-federal entities because such service typically involves assuming a fiduciary role, such as officer, director, or trustee. Serving in such roles usually comes with certain duties—namely the legal duty where one is bound to act in the organization’s best interest. Additionally, participation generally requires working on issues specific and internal to the organization, such as budgets, memberships, fundraising, bylaws, political action committees, or for-profit activities.

There are, however, situations where federal employees may serve in an official capacity within these entities. For instance:

  • Where express (federal) statutory authority exists directing such participation. For example, the NPS Director serves as a non-voting board member to the National Park Foundation as designated in NPF’s enabling legislation.
  • Agency Liaison (Representative) Appointment

NPS staff may:

  • Serve as liaisons to authorized philanthropic partners as part of their official duties. Liaisons should consult with an ethics counselor to ensure understanding of all applicable ethics requirements. For example, liaisons may not vote, may not lobby on behalf of the partner, nor work on internal matters such as staffing or budget of the partner.
  • Participate in a partner organization in a personal capacity including paying membership with personal funds and making personal donations. This can include volunteering your time and talent. Please be aware that depending on how active a role you take with a partner the Outside Work Request form may be required (even though you are not being compensated). For specific scenarios and questions, consult an ethics counselor.
  • Request input from partner in development or design of a partnership program or project as outlined in the annual work plan or agreement.

NPS staff may not:

  • Serve in their official capacities, as officers or board members of any authorized NPS philanthropic partner or cooperating association that raises funds to benefit the NPS.
  • Allow their title or position to be used to endorse the partner or appear to affect impartiality.
  • Accept direct compensation or personal payments for official duties performed with partners including honoraria, salaries, and contract payments.
  • Accept monetary donations on behalf of a partner organization. Interested donors should be pointed directly to the philanthropic partner.
  • In a personal capacity:
    • Serve as an organization officer, board of directors member, or similar position if it is offered based on the employee’s official position.
    • Take official actions on NPS matters involving any partner that they have any outside relationship with (board member, chapter president, journal editor, etc.) that is more than being a mere dues paying member without discussing with an NPS ethics counselor.
    • Act as an agent or representative of the partner back to the agency or other unit of the federal government. This broad restriction bars any type of communication with the federal government on behalf of any outside group. This prohibition is based on a criminal statute.

Philanthropic Partners Describing Relationship to NPS

When required, per DO21 Section 6, partners must have a philanthropic agreement executed with the NPS before they may fundraise on behalf of agency programs and projects. The agreement will require NPS review and approval of solicitation materials that reference the NPS or NPS priorities before distribution.

The partner may:

  • Describe NPS-identified needs to potential donors and the public.
  • Include the name and marks of the agency in promotional materials, but should not place the agency name or marks so they would appear to associate the NPS with a solicitation for donations. For more information on use of the marks:

Guidance on requesting use of the NPS arrowhead
Guidance on use of the NPS Secondary Mark

The partner may not:

  • Fundraise for NPS projects or programs not identified in the Philanthropic Partnership Agreement and/or annual work plan, as required per DO21 Section 6. Note that the partner may fundraise for their own needs, outside of fundraising on behalf of the NPS.
  • Undertake marketing or advertising activities that state or imply NPS endorsement of any business, product, service or enterprise.
  • List the agency as a sponsor of a fundraising event.
  • Conduct fundraising that identifies the NPS with tobacco or any type of illegal product.
  • Market, recognize donors, or undertake brand/product promotion activities that commercialize NPS parks or programs.
  • Utilize any of the NPS marks without written permission from their agency contact.

3.1.3 Authorized Employees

The authority to accept donations on behalf of the NPS must be delegated by the Director. NPS employees who have been delegated this authority are designated as “authorized employees.”

Past policy established thresholds for superintendents, regional directors, and several positions in the Washington Support Office (WASO) to accept donations as a right of their positions. DO21 has retained these thresholds as “base thresholds.”

Authorized employees may be delegated a higher authority level after completing a certification program (consult your Regional Partnership Coordinator for information on how to complete this program). This level of authority will allow authorized employees to approve philanthropic agreements and to waive the requirement for a feasibility study up to the same threshold. While the certification is not required unless an authorized employee is interested in a higher delegation of authority, it is highly recommended. The decision to pursue a higher level of delegated authority is voluntary.

An authorized employee’s ability to accept a donation remains predicated on successful donor review or vetting (see RM-21 Chapter 5, Donor Review) and receipt of the final determination of the Assistant Director, Partnerships and Civic Engagement for donations over $250,000.

Please see Appendix 1 - Table: Delegations of Authority for Authorized Employees for base thresholds and the higher thresholds provided with certification.

In addition to donation acceptance, authorized employees carry responsibilities related to working with philanthropic partners. Many of these duties are accomplished with support of their staff and/or in concert with a philanthropic partner.

The list below consolidates the responsibilities of an authorized employee, including:

Establishing a Philanthropic Partnership

  • Identify NPS projects, programs, activities, or objectives suitable for philanthropic support;
  • Consider, before entering into an agreement or before accepting an in-kind or conditional donation, any resulting costs or NPS operational considerations associated with the donation;
  • Comply with the guidelines in DO21 and RM-21 (notably Chapter 6 and Chapter 7) whenever a philanthropic agreement is developed;
  • Develop an annual work plan with philanthropic partners;

Working with a Philanthropic Partner

  • Follow the ethics guidance in RM-21 Chapter 3.1.1 above;
  • Designate a partnerships coordinator, where appropriate, to work with philanthropic partners and act on their behalf. Philanthropic authorities may not be delegated below the superintendent or program manager level;
  • Serve as a liaison or designate a partnerships coordinator to serve as a liaison to organizations authorized to fundraise for the benefit of the NPS;
  • Work with an NPS-authorized philanthropic partner to achieve goals (including event attendance and accompanying a partner on a donor cultivation visit as a subject-matter expert), as described in DO21 Section 3.1.1 and RM-21;
  • Review and approve all informational materials related to a formal fundraising campaign or cause marketing campaign prior to distribution;

Working through the Donation Process for Direct Donation and Donations to Partners

  • Describe NPS needs or how donations will be used to potential donors and the public;
  • Gather enough information about a prospective donor or a proposed donation for you or your designee to evaluate the donation as described in RM-21 Chapter 5 (Donor Review);
  • Respond in a timely manner to all offers of donations, either accepting or declining the donation;
  • Recognize donors consistent with guidance in DO21 Section 8 and RM-21 Chapter 8;
  • Ensure accountability for donations received by the NPS by stewarding the donation, reporting on the use of funds, and clearly stating the impact of the donation in a timely manner;
  • Fulfill annual reporting requirements as described in RM-21 Chapter 4.

Authorized employee may seek guidance from a regional partnerships coordinator, the WASO Division Chief, Office of Partnerships and Philanthropy, or the Assistant Director for Partnerships and Civic Engagement, when required or necessary to better understand partnerships policies and practices.

Last updated: August 31, 2020