Continuing A Tradition Of Corporate Philanthropy In National Parks

January 7, 2015NPF Blog

Corporate philanthropy has played a major role in advancing the national parks and the National Park Service. As the National Park Foundation looks toward the upcoming Centennial of the National Park Service and considers the critical priorities to enable America’s treasured parks to continue to thrive for the next 100 years, we recognize the need for strong corporate partners in park fundraising. In September, the Foundation launched an exciting new corporate membership program, the Second Century Club, with a special breakfast reception at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. The event, the first of many the National Park Foundation will host for the Second Century Club, welcomed Foundation Board Chair and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell as the keynote speaker with additional remarks by Jon Jarvis, Board Secretary and the Director of the National Park Service.

Woman in blue suit stands at podium to give speech

Secretary Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior. 

Why did the National Park Foundation create the Second Century Club? We believe that corporate philanthropy is more than a source of land and money for the parks. It is a means of building relationships between America’s national parks and its corporate advocates. Expanding public-private partnerships will allow the National Park Service to enhance efforts to protect our parks, interpret our nation’s history, pursue new programs, and engage younger generations.

Second Century Club members help to provide our national parks with the resources needed to maintain their magnificent legacy and ensure their continued relevance for all Americans. It offers several membership levels that provide unparalleled engagement opportunities in our nation’s iconic places and programs. These partners are uniquely positioned to leverage major resources to improve parks and ensure they’re not just protected, but enriched well into the future.

From its inception, the National Park System has benefited from private support, often from the corporate community. Many of the earliest national parks, including Glacier and Grand Canyon, were the direct beneficiaries of the transcontinental railroad companies, which helped design, build, and provide much needed visitor services in the parks. This tradition of generous, committed philanthropy continues today and is critical to the success and longevity of our national parks. 


(L-R) Alex Thompson, REI; Mary Jo Veverka, National Park Foundation Board Member.

(L-R) Alex Thompson, REI; Mary Jo Veverka, National Park Foundation Board Member. 

The steady decline in federal funding has been felt acutely system-wide, with impacts to visitor services, resource protection, and infrastructure maintenance. The National Park Service faces additional budget cuts that threaten the great progress of this extraordinary agency and our nation’s most prized natural, historical, and cultural possessions. As the threats and demands facing our parks grow, so does the need for corporate funding.

(L-R) Tom Kuhn, Edison Electric Institute; Secretary Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior; Director Jon Jarvis, National Park Service.

(L-R) Tom Kuhn, Edison Electric Institute; Secretary Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior;
Director Jon Jarvis, National Park Service. 

As the national nonprofit partner to the National Park Service, and the official charity of America's national parks, the National Park Foundation plays a vital role in supporting America's more than 400 national parks at the times and in the ways they need it most. Thanks to philanthropy, the Foundation helps to protect more than 84 million acres of national parks through critical conservation and preservation efforts, connect all Americans with their incomparable natural landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history, and inspire the next century of park stewards who will safeguard these special places for generations to come.

Greg Takehara, Tourism Cares.

Greg Takehara, Tourism Cares.

Despite the tradition of corporate philanthropic support for the national parks, the National Park Foundation often hears the same concerns regarding corporate philanthropy. First, there are those who are concerned with national parks relying too heavily on private funding to operate the park system. Second, there is the fear that corporate philanthropy will be used to exert influence on park policy or demand special privileges. Third, the questions of what is appropriate marketing in parks, and how do we protect these natural treasures from commercialism. 

(L-R) Secretary Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior; Lisa Forrest, CH2M HILL, Inc.;
Kirk Brower, CH2M HILL, Inc.


The National Park Foundation is equally concerned about preserving the integrity of America’s national parks. To ensure these majestic places are not compromised, we follow a strict set of guidelines regulating advertising and commercialism established by the Department of the Interior. You can find these guidelines outlined in the National Park Service’s Management Policies

Second Century Club

(L-R) Mark Snedeker, Accenture; Director Jon Jarvis, National Park Service. 

We also enact and revise policies to address the evolving corporate environment and legal jurisdictions. These policies are decided upon and consistently reviewed by the National Park Service to ensure that laws and regulations are followed. In the interest of transparency, we make all of the Foundation’s financial information available to the public, complying with governmental audits and filing our Form 990 with organizations such as GuideStar. In August 2014, the National Park Foundation earned the Gold participation level through GuideStar, a testament to the integrity of our support of the National Park System.

As we approach the Centennial of the National Park Service in 2016, the National Park Foundation is energized by the opportunities for corporate partnerships to further bolster America’s national parks. Even with an extremely tight federal budget, through the Second Century Club, national parks will be able to realize tremendous improvements and innovative programming that enhance and sustain the National Park Service’s margin of excellence. By focusing our efforts and aligning our existing resources, we will provide visitors with a more meaningful and enriching park experience. 


Two people talking at a NPF meeting on Corporate philanthropy

(L-R) Leonore Blitz, National Park System Advisory Board; Director Jon Jarvis, National Park Service. 

Through conscientious collaboration, corporate philanthropy can be an extremely beneficial relationship for both parks and their committed partners. Many of the national parks and programs that exist today would not be possible without corporate funding. Public-private partnerships support innovative education programs, preservation and conservation work, increased efficiency in park transportation, trail restoration (the National Park Service maintains 18,000 miles of trails), enhanced community engagement, capacity building, and more.

Thoughtful corporate philanthropy is more than a source of funding for America’s national parks: it is a cornerstone of their origins and key to their next 100 years. As we approach the Centennial of the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation is excited to work with many committed Second Century Club members to carry on this incredible legacy.

Photos by Margot Schulman.

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