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How Are National Parks Funded?

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area - NPS Photo / Connar L'Ecuyer

When it comes to donating to the National Park Foundation (NPF), you may have a lot of questions. We’re here to help, with answers to frequently asked questions about philanthropy and NPF.

What Does NPF Do?

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park (NPF Photo / Katie Bricker Photography)

NPF is the official charitable partner of the National Park Service. NPF generates private support and builds strategic partnerships to protect and enhance America’s national parks for present and future generations. We work with partners to protect, preserve, and restore our parks’ natural, cultural, and historical resources, while communicating the relevancy of national parks and inspiring deeper public engagement and building greater awareness of these places.

How Are National Parks Funded?

Hikers on the red badlands in the Petrified Forest National Park (NPS Photo / Jacob Holgerson)

The National Park Service is primarily funded by Congress through both the annual appropriations cycle as well as some mandatory funds. The National Park System also receives funding through park entrance and user fees, as well as private philanthropy. This last category primarily comes through 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations such as the National Park Foundation, the Congressionally chartered philanthropic partner of the National Park Service.

Why Should I Donate to NPF When I Already Pay Taxes?

Hiking at Majestic Canyon in Lake Mead National Recreation Area (NPS Photo / Andrew Cattoir)

While federal dollars are by far the largest share of funding for the National Park Service, national parks have always been enriched through private philanthropy. Some of the earliest national parks were secured in large part through philanthropic support.

That tradition continues today, as a passionate community of park champions donate both time and money at all levels in order to ensure our parks continue to thrive for future generations. While Congress makes significant investments in our nation's parks, private support remains an essential component.

What's the Difference Between Donating to NPF and Individual National Parks?

Trail through Spring Woods at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (NPS Photo)

Donating time and money to individual parks is valuable, especially by supporting a park’s local “Friends Group.” More than 450 of these local philanthropic organizations across the country provide critical support to parks and park programs. Friends groups sponsor local projects, host volunteer days, and provide increased capacity for the National Park Service. By donating to an individual park's philanthropic partner, you can help support that park’s general operations and/or specific projects.

On a national scale, NPF deploys its expertise and close working relationship with the National Park Service to identify priority projects and programs at the park level and across the National Park System. A donation to NPF can help connect youth with enriching outdoor experiences through educational field trips and service corps, enhance the visitor experience through facility improvements and expansions, restore important species and habitat, sponsor cultural and scientific research, and much more.

NPF and Friends Groups often collaborate to provide critical support for park projects and programs, and both are great options for your support!

Why Does NPF Have Corporate Partners?

Denali National Park & Preserve (NPS Photo / Tim Rains)

Corporate philanthropy is more than a source of funding for parks. Undertaking public-private partnerships allows the National Park Service to enhance efforts to protect parks, interpret our nation’s history, pursue new programs, and engage younger generations. NPF could not fulfill its mission without the generous support of corporate partners. In 2019, corporate partners helped support our national parks in a multitude of ways.

I'd Love to Contribute in Other Ways to Support Our Parks - How Can I Do That?

Looking down at the coastline
National Park of American Samoa (NPS Photo)

Well, thank you! We’re glad to have you on board. There are many ways to give, from setting up a Facebook Fundraiser for your birthday to monthly giving, estate planning, and beyond! Find more options to fit your life and plans here.

I Can't Donate Money Right Now, But I Can Donate Time - How Can I Get Involved?

A line of volunteers carry flats of plant starts up a trail through an alpine meadow.
Volunteers help with meadow restoration at Mount Rainier National Park (NPS Photo)

Contributing to national parks is personal and looks different for everybody! There are many different ways to volunteer in a national park, and we’re grateful for any way you positively contribute.

Do you have more questions? Leave them in the comments below!