Engaging New Audiences
How can land trusts attract new audiences and develop a broader, deeper base of support to best weather these uncertain times? The Colorado Conservation Trust (CCT) recently completed a pilot project with the Palmer Land Trust and the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) that explored this challenge. The project, called the Community Engagement Initiative, successfully engaged local communities by reframing land conservation in a way that resonated with new audiences.
Gaining Deep and Broad Support
Palmer Land Trust and RiGHT were chosen through a competitive application process to participate in the two-year program in part because the two organizations differ in size and focus: Palmer Land Trust serves an urban population around Colorado Springs while RiGHT works in a rural and predominantly agricultural area across the San Luis Valley.
The project revealed that the general public has a limited understanding of the many benefits of and opportunities to get involved in land conservation. It demonstrated to CCT that there is a serious need across Colorado and throughout the U.S. to identify priority populations, educate people about land conservation and engender support from non-traditional segments of the population. Without support that is both deep and broad, organizations cannot hope to achieve institutional sustainability in a difficult economic climate.
Executive Director of CCT Brian Ross and Program Director Jordan Vana stress that the following factors were critical to the success of the initiative:
- Enthusiasm of the staff and board
- Willingness of the board to take risks
- A board that models the value of inclusivity by recruiting new members from the constituencies they are trying to reach
- A two-way communication channel between the community and the land trust
that explicitly connected people to the land. The nature of conservation easements means that we are protecting privately owned lands without public access, so this was a great opportunity to invite the community out to visit the land we work to save. These opportunities help to keep people engaged with our mission, even though the land remains privately owned and usually not accessible to the public.”
- Nancy Butler, executive director at RiGHT, sharing her thoughts on the project
Sparking the Connection
On a brilliant September afternoon, 10-year-old Emma Gilmore, granddaughter of Gilmore Ranch owners Tom and Pat, climbed up onto the old wooden hay trailer. A favorite local band had set up their sound system, and young Emma took up the microphone to welcome 150 members of her community to her family’s ranch. With the stunning beauty of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and golden fall colors behind her, she thanked them for supporting the local land trust, which had helped to conserve her family’s 1,000-acre working ranch along the Rio Grande River in Colorado.
Later that afternoon, the long-time director of the local homeless shelter made a donation to the land trust, realizing that the agricultural jobs that his clients rely upon are also supported by the conservation efforts to keep working land and water intact in his community. The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust’s first “Headwaters Hoedown” attracted an impressive array of local folks and visitors, ranchers and artists, bankers, business people and congressional aides, water experts and teachers, science fair winners and 4H winners, ranging in age from 36 hours old to 96 years. The gathering represented what a concerted focus on “Community Engagement” can produce: a diverse group of people coming together in celebration of conservation of the land and water where they live and work.
Transforming Organizational Philosophy
Community engagement cannot simply be a public relations campaign or a new page on the website. For an organization to truly reap the benefits of this initiative, it must transform the entire philosophy of the organization. The board and staff must strive to fully understand their community and how it is changing, and educate people about the variety of services and opportunities that conserved land can bring to a region.
The Community Engagement Initiative provides a model for other land trusts from around the country to engender support for conservation that is broader, deeper and more lasting than traditional funding partnerships because it is truly developed and orchestrated at the grassroots level.
View more information and download the executive summary, “Making Land Conservation Real, Relevant, and Urgent to a Broader Audience."
Writer: Joan Campau
Editors: Sheila McGrory-Klyza and Christina Soto
Photos: Rio de la Vista
From “Making Land Conservation Real, Relevant, and Urgent to a Broader Audience,” Colorado Conservation Trust