Nonprofit Insights with The Nature Conservancy
Aug 20, 2021
Welcome to part one of a three-part Q & A series featuring different organizations discussing how nonprofits are responding to crises—specifically COVID-19 and widening inequality—and how you can act now and in the future.
In part 1 we speak with The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental nonprofit working to create a world where people and nature can thrive together.
Q: Tell us about your organization. What is your organization's mission?
A: The Nature Conservancy’s mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. We work in more than 70 countries and territories, with a focus on biodiversity loss and climate change – interconnected crises that we simply must address if we are to achieve our mission. We’ve set some ambitious goals around land, water, and ocean protection, climate mitigation and benefits to people over this critical next decade. To get there, we need the support of everyone who cares about a future where people and nature thrive.
Q: What barriers has your organization faced in fulfilling your mission during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: The COVID-19 pandemic and related economic and financial impacts in early 2020 presented challenges to daily life around the world, and TNC was no exception. Faced with uncertainty, we used the best available data to predict funding barriers and changes in donor engagement, and we were prepared for a sustained downturn. While performance in these areas remained on track, the pandemic changed the way we worked, as TNC staff and partners adapted to working remotely and caring for family members. The pandemic also caused delays in our conservation work. Travel restrictions meant that field work was difficult to conduct in areas where we do not have existing staff on the ground. Our government partners were understandably focused on addressing the viral outbreak and its economic impacts, especially in countries that rely heavily on tourism revenue. And meetings with our conservation partners were sometimes difficult to arrange remotely because the infrastructure for virtual meetings was not initially in place. Looking ahead, rather than a “return to normal,” our hope is to build on the many things we have been forced to pause, rethink, and do differently to advance our mission in this new and ever-changing reality.
Q: How do you think the past year has changed giving in response to disaster?
A: We experienced record-breaking events linked to climate change again this year, including devastating wildfires in the American West and Australia, dangerous heat waves in parts of Africa, fierce hurricanes in the Atlantic, cyclones and monsoons in South and Central Asia, damaging floods in China, and more. At the same time, there is growing pressure and momentum for urgent action globally from governments and philanthropists. Organizations and individuals were motivated to address the climate crisis with a clear message: Help tackle climate change and do it equitably. With this renewed urgency, we can make real progress fighting climate change and preventing its worst impacts.
Q: Now that we are more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, what are some of the biggest shifts you’ve seen in the demand for your services?
A: We are facing the biggest, most complex challenges of our lives. And that calls for our biggest, most ambitious plans—for people and nature. Our planet faces the dual crises of rapid climate change and biodiversity loss. We have years, not decades, to address these existential threats. Under the leadership of our new CEO, Jennifer Morris, we recently established TNC’s 2030 goals, a set of clear, ambitious targets for tangible and lasting benefits for our planet. These goals align with important global commitments, such as 30x30 Campaign for Nature and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. We are doubling down on the areas where we know we can have the greatest impact—protecting the planet’s lands, oceans, and freshwater.
Q: What do you think will be the biggest area of need as we shift into the recovery phase of the pandemic?
A: We know now more than ever that public health and the health of our environment are inextricably linked, and an equitable and durable recovery that is both carbon-neutral and nature-positive, will be critical for people and nature. TNC believes we must invest in nature for a resilient future. As governments begin to shift their attention toward recovery, we have an enormous opportunity to rethink how and where funding is channeled to shift our systems in a way that restores the planet and delivers life-supporting services to people. There is still time to incorporate nature-positive recovery plans that support economic prosperity and a more resilient future for people and the planet.
Q: How have donor-advised funds (DAFs) addressed your organization’s needs? To what extent have your donors incorporated DAFs into their giving?
A: DAF donors have continued to give generously to TNC throughout the pandemic, supporting our work in several ways, including land acquisition/protection, ocean and freshwater protection and management, and addressing the climate crisis and loss of biodiversity. In TNC’s last fiscal year, which ended in June 2021, our donors made more than $64 million in gifts from their DAFs [to TNC]. These donors are using their DAFs as a significant and crucial source of philanthropic support. TNC puts an emphasis on actively engaging donors in discussions about their DAFs, their philanthropic goals, and how they make philanthropic decisions.
Q: How have you seen philanthropy change in the past year?
A: There has been unprecedented giving to direct pandemic relief efforts and to donors’ longstanding charitable priorities–donors doubled down on what was most important to them and their families. There was a significant surge in gifts of non-cash, appreciated assets like common stocks, mutual fund shares and real estate to TNC as the stock and real estate markets continued to gain value over the last year. TNC saw an almost tripling in the dollar value donated through gifts of securities in the last fiscal year, as donors supported conservation efforts worldwide. Amazingly, this philanthropic milestone came on the heels of a record-setting fiscal year for gifts of securities ending June 2020.
Q: What’s next for TNC?
A: The pandemic has laid bare drastic inequities in our society, particularly in the U.S. Elevating racial equity in conservation practices is essential for a world where people and nature thrive. To get there, TNC must start by recognizing and supporting Black, brown and Indigenous conservation leadership. For example, The Community Conservation Crisis Fund is supporting remote Indigenous and community partners in the U.S., Latin America and Asia Pacific to continue their conservation priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another example is the Seacoast Trust, a coalition of tribes, corporations, and nonprofits (including TNC) that is working to ensure that Alaska Native communities in Southeast Alaska can achieve their visions of healthy and vibrant communities, economies, and nature. As we look forward, TNC’s North America Agriculture program is investigating how our current practices may be contributing to racial inequities in agriculture—especially among Black and brown rural farmers—and exploring ways to center equity in program strategies. TNC is committed to centering equity in our culture and our conservation approach. How we work is as important as what we do.
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