Jarvis’ proposal opens gates wider for philanthropy

By Corbin Hiar | 03/30/2016 01:19 PM EDT

The National Park Service proposed a philanthropy policy today that would expand opportunities for accepting donations and honoring donors.

Private donations have bolstered the Park Service since its founding in 1916, ranging from 33,000 acres donated by Standard Oil heir John D. Rockefeller Jr. for Grand Teton National Park to $18.5 million from financier David Rubenstein, a Carlyle Group co-founder, to restore the Lincoln Memorial (Greenwire, Feb. 15).

But NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis’ 33-page order says a policy update is needed because "engaging philanthropic organizations and participating in partnerships has become more regulated, complex, and competitive."

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"NPS policies and practices for philanthropy must also evolve," the order says.

The update comes as the Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary and the National Park Foundation, a charity created by Congress to support NPS, is in the midst of a $350 million fundraising campaign.

Among the most significant changes is a proposal expanding the list of officials who can accept donations on behalf of the Park Service.

Superintendents of the National Park System’s 410 units would be able to accept gifts of $100,000 or up to $5 million with certification, training and other conditions. On the other end of the scale are the NPS chief and his deputy directors, who could accept gifts of over $5 million with philanthropy certification and training.

The Park Service is also seeking to formally change its ban on partnering with alcoholic-beverage companies.

"After the effective date of this Order and under its provisions and standards, the NPS will permit — after thorough review — philanthropic partnerships with, and accept donations from, corporations that produce or distribute alcohol," the order says.

NPS came under fire from a watchdog group last year when it made an exception to its current policy against taking money or advertising support from alcohol companies in order to enable beer maker Anheuser-Busch InBev to be a "premier partner" in the service’s centennial campaign (Greenwire, April 30, 2015).

The new proposal would make it easier for the agency to accept donations from federal, state and local governments and accredited educational institutions, or contributions "offered during and related to (declared) natural and other emergencies." Such donations would not be subject to the agency’s donor-vetting process.

The new policy would even leave the door open to taking money from groups in litigation with the Department of the Interior, the Park Service’s parent agency.

"NPS will normally decline a gift from a donor involved in litigation with the Department or its bureaus," the order says. "In some cases, however, the context of the proposed donation may be sufficiently removed from the litigation that it will not appear to be an attempt to influence the litigation. For example, a donor may propose a donation to the NPS that is unrelated to litigation with another bureau, or the amount of the donation does not suggest any intent to influence the handling of the litigation."

The proposal would broaden the scope of philanthropic giving through electronic donations, mobile giving, and individual and planned giving, as well. For example, philanthropic partners would be able to use online crowdfunding for the first time.

Furthermore, the policy draft expands and clarifies the agency’s guidance on donor recognition in parks and online.

"In-park recognition should normally occur at a visitor center or in another developed area," the order says. This includes the naming of rooms and interior spaces in NPS facilities that were built or renovated thanks to donations, so long as they are approved by the director.

Educational, interpretive, research, recreational and youth programs, positions, or endowments may be also be named to recognize a gift. Donor walls could be built on-site or on websites and other digital media products.

But the Park Service still won’t permit donor recognition that uses an advertising or marketing slogan, a tag line or statements promoting or opposing political candidates or issues.

The fiscal 2015 defense spending bill included language from then-Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that authorized NPS to increase the recognition of donors who support parks (E&E Daily, March 5, 2015).

"As we celebrate the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, these improved partnership and philanthropy guidelines will give a new generation of Americans the opportunity to care for their national parks through the 21st century and beyond," Jarvis said in a statement.

NPS is accepting public comment on the proposal for the next 45 days.

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