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A dusting of snow over the orange rocks and natural archways of Arches National Park
Arches National Park
NPS Photo / Jacob W. Frank
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Strengthening Park Partners

Strong Parks, Strong Communities Capacity Building 2020 Grantees
By Shannon Fino & Madeleine Balkonis

Our national parks welcome millions of visitors a year and provide a variety of experiences. Each year, philanthropic partner organizations to the National Park Service (or park partners) support these national park sites in projects around preservation, research, volunteer programs, education programs, restoration, visitor experience, and much more. The 2020 Park Partner Report, conducted through the support of the National Park Service (NPS), the National Park Friends Alliance, and the National Park Foundation (NPF), indicates that this park partner community of over 450 organizations plays a vital part in connecting people to their respective national park sites and ensuring that they are protected for the enjoyment of future generations. These philanthropic organizations range from all-volunteer organizations to groups with over 50 staff members; therefore, park partners experience a diverse set of needs.

The National Park Foundation’s Community Partnerships team works with the park partner community to help address these diverse needs in a number of ways. Through the Strong Parks, Strong Communities (SPSC) initiative, a partnership between NPF, NPS, and the National Park Friends Alliance, NPF provides support such as online tools, peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and national and regional meetings, as well as capacity building programs. The SPSC capacity building programs have been able to reach over 100 partner organizations, helping them develop and strengthen different aspects of their organizations, such as board and leadership development, strategic planning, brand identity, and organizational culture. These resources and programs were found to be invaluable to the park partners who were able to participate.

I don’t think I could put enough weight on how much growth we have seen. We have just matured as an organization. We are able to take advantage of opportunities that were not even on our benchmark list before.
Bess Averett, Director of Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign and participant of the first cohort of the SPSC Capacity Building program, Strategic Growth Initiative

However, 2020 created a brand-new set of challenges. NPF worked with park partners to better understand the hardships they were experiencing and what types of resources would be most helpful to them, especially as they navigated a global pandemic. Ultimately, park partners conveyed their need to invest in their own organizations, strengthening their resiliency and ability to weather times of uncertainty. With the support of its Board of Directors, NPF took action, announcing the SPSC Capacity Building Grant Program. The first of its kind, this grant program helps build the organizational capacity of park partner organizations, allowing them to make the most impact possible in their work to protect and preserve natural and cultural resources, reimagine the possibilities of interpretive and educational programming, and increase access to national parks for all people.

After a competitive grant process with many creative and impactful capacity building ideas, NPF selected 36 partner organizations to receive the 2020 SPSC Capacity Building Grants, totaling over $670,000. The chosen organizations span across the nation, consisting of organizations of all sizes, and including parks that preserve battlefield sites, rivers and trails, heritage areas, and more.

The projects that were chosen are unique to each partner organization. While some are focused on building their capacity through new technology, website redesigns, and creative visitor engagement, others will involve strategic plan development, the launch of fundraising campaigns, or leadership professional development. Additionally, some projects will highlight new education, volunteer, or outreach programs. Other projects will be centralized around accessibility in parks, as well as expanding engagement efforts both internally and externally to represent all park visitors. All of the projects help address the current needs of park partners across the country, ensuring that each organization is stronger and more resilient for the next chapter in its history.

Each of these exciting projects will take place throughout 2021 and we look forward to sharing more as they progress. NPF is excited to support these organizations and projects in the new year.

2020 SPSC Capacity Building Grantees

Reconstructed log cabins covered in a thin film of snow
Valley Forge National Historical Park in winter (NPS Photo / VFTCB)
  1. American Trails
  2. Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation
  3. Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park
  4. Continental Divide Trail Coalition
  5. Discover Your Northwest
  6. Essex National Heritage Commission
  7. Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society
  8. Friends of Flagstaff National Monuments
  9. Friends of Mammoth Cave
  10. Friends of Peirce Mill
  11. Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
  12. Friends of the Smokies
  13. Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park
  14. Friends of Whiskeytown
  15. Get Outdoors Nevada
  16. Glacier National Park Conservancy
  17. Great Basin National Park Foundation
  18. Historic Pullman Foundation
  19. Ice Age Trail Alliance
  20. Mesa Verde Foundation
  21. National Park Partners
  22. National Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association
  23. North Country Trail Association
  24. Old North Foundation of Boston
  25. Outer Banks Forever
  26. Point Reyes National Seashore Association
  27. Poudre Heritage Alliance
  28. Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation
  29. Rock Creek Conservancy
  30. Save the Dunes Conservation Fund
  31. Shenandoah National Park Trust
  32. St. Croix River Association
  33. The Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia
  34. Valley Forge Park Alliance
  35. Voyageurs Conservancy
  36. Western National Parks Association

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