With Plenty of Funders, the Mothership of Land Trusts Is Stronger Than Ever

Giving to conserve land is the oldest kind of environmental philanthropy. The creation of the first American conservation land trust dates all the way back to 1891. Today, there are approximately 1700 land trusts operating in every corner of the United States to preserve forests, farmland, cultural sites and landmarks, and critical species habitat—with most designated in the last 25 years alone. Many of these trusts were created through collaborations bertween private donors, nonprofits and government. Most of them are members of the Land Trust Alliance, which just held its big annual conference in Sacramento. 

Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a key player in a land conservation movement that has exploded in recent decades. It advances such efforts along a variety of fronts, both national and local. Acting as advocates for public policies that support land trusts, the D.C.-headquartered LTA lobbies on behalf of its member organizations to increase land conservation funding and improve tax incentives for voluntary conservation. They provide legal resources, support public outreach campaigns, conservation training and even have their own accreditation process. And as the biggest (and pretty much only) network of its kind, LTA gets a lot of attention—and a lot of funding.

Let’s get thing out of the way: There is no one funder that carries LTA. Instead, LTA wins support from funding partners big and small, both predictable and unexpected. Their annual reports feature pages upon pages of sponsorship acknowledgements for individuals, family foundations (Heinz, Hewlett, Packard) corporations (American Express, Caterpillar Inc.) and even government entities with a few major gifts over the years that caught our eye. 

Earlier this year, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation gifted $400,000 to LTA. The Mott Foundation has championed efforts to conserve freshwater ecosystems in the Great Lakes, and this is one of ten six-figure dollar grants from Mott to the LTA in this area in recent years.

Related: Mott Foundation Continues Fight Against Asian Carp 

And remember that Accreditation program I mentioned earlier? That program was established thanks to a $1 million donation from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in 2005—and maintained by subsequent large donations over the years.

Through the Land Trust Excellence Program, LTA cemented itself as a leader in conservation best practices, creating a framework by which every conservation group in the country would need to abide or risk being discredited by the land conservation community at large.

Related: Doris Duke Launches Conservation Scholars Program

This weekend marks the Land Trust Alliance’s annual Rally and Conference. The event—sponsored in part by the Land Conservancy, ExxonMobil and the U.S. Department of Defense—brings together 1800 land conservation advocates and leaders from around the country, all descending on Sacramanto, California to plan their conservation priorities for the coming year.

“At a moment when our nation is experiencing heartbreaking wildfires, extreme weather patterns and uncertainty about tomorrow, land conservation leaders are coming together to rally for their communities,” said Rand Wentworth, the Alliance’s president.

LTA's president, Rand Wentworth, who has served the Alliance for 14 years, and who will step down in January, was honored at the conference in Sacramento for his vision and effective leadership.

“Rand has been a visionary and effective leader, helping to increase the pace, quality and permanence of land conservation in America,” said Laura Johnson, the Alliance’s board president. “It is rare for a leader to transform both an organization and entire charitable sector. But Rand has done so.”

Given the tens of millions of dollars raised every year, it’s hard to argue with that. In fact, at a time when overall charitable giving in the U.S. has remained stagnant, LTA was able to raise enough money last year to increase its program spending by 12 percent.