National Park Foundation spend more on itself than on Parks

(This press release was sent out today by PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. – mk)

One in Three Dollars Reaches Parks; Rest Goes to Overhead and Corporate Support

Washington, DC — Most individual gifts to the official fundraising arm for the National Park Service never reach the parks themselves, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Personal contributions to the National Park Foundation are far more likely to be absorbed by overhead, fundraising expenses or the care and feeding of corporate donors.

The National Park Foundation (NPF) is a congressionally-chartered tax-exempt corporation designated to accept and administer gifts for the benefit of the National Park Service so as “to further the conservation or natural, scenic, historic, scientific, educational, inspirational, or recreational resources for future generations of Americans,” in the words of its enabling statute (16 U.S.C. § 19e).  That status also excuses it from detailed reporting requirements imposed on other charities.

In Fiscal Year 2011, the latest reported year, less than one-third of NPF expenditures are grants to parks ($4.5 million).  A greater amount ($4.7 million) went for fundraising and administrative expenses.  Another $.5 million was spent on “program support” – a nebulous category that ranges from promotional materials for corporate donors to the hotel bar bill following the National Christmas Tree Lighting.

The FY 11 numbers were a sharp drop-off from FY 10 park grants but resemble the lopsided overhead pattern in FY 09.  Even these figures are inflated, however, as many of the grant dollars listed in its Annual Report come from “accept and administer” projects where NPF only acts as the fiscal agent.  It also counts the sizeable Flight 93 Memorial Campaign, which has its own governing board and does its own fundraising.

“Giving to the National Park Foundation is like trying to support a university by endowing its fraternity,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the rule-of-thumb for responsible charities is that 75% of every dollar raised should go directly to the program, not overhead.  “People who want to support national parks should look first to local park-specific ‘friends’ groups.”

NPF raises the bulk of its funds by concentrating on a handful of large corporate donors, many of whose gifts are restricted to activities tied to corporate marketing and campaigns.  NPF works to assure that corporate donors get a return on their investments by delivering marketing support and promotional perks such as “special visitation opportunities” for executives and key customers or “in-park activities including tours, events and interpretation” (quoting from Coca Cola “Proud Partner Sponsorship Agreement” with NPF and the Park Service).

A major plank of the National Park Service strategic plan for its 2016 centennial calls for creation of a billion dollar corporate-financed endowment through NPF to be administered outside the federal appropriation process.  The plan makes no provision for guarding against corporate contributors using big donations to leverage access or influence over park policy, such as the recent role of Coca Cola in blocking bans on sales of plastic water bottles inside national parks.

“There is no real accountability or transparency in the National Park Foundation,” Ruch added, pointing out that NPF does not believe it is subject to the Freedom of Information Act but surrendered documents PEER requested to settle a FOIA lawsuit PEER filed against it. “Part of the problem is that the National Park Foundation sees itself as a private corporation without obligation to the public.”

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Look at the FY 2011 NPF Annual Report (budget on last page)

See “Program Support” status for Christmas Tree Lighting expenses

Examine the Coca Cola “Proud Partner” agreement

Examine Call for Billion Dollar NPF Corporate Fund (Step # 29)

Revisit Coke role in suspending Grand Canyon plastic bottle ban

2 Comments

  1. A review of the National Forest Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s practices is also in order.

    In the case of the later (NFWF) we find their statement explaining,
    “WHAT WE DO”:

    $ Protect, restore and enhance our nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats
    $ Engineer creative solutions to environmental challenges
    $ Create common ground between public and private sectors

    However,
    BP’s role in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and the convenience of also being a NFWF corporate partner in its own cleanup and “restoration” of formerly-rich tidelands comes to mind as a good place to start snooping around the closets of exquisite ironies.
    http://www.nfwf.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Partners/CorporatePartners/default.htm

    Might Mark Rockefeller, (whose family’s riches were created by Standard Oil wealth) as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, also have been in a great position to do PR damage control for BP’s soiled rep?

    Does anyone else get the image of a snake eating its tail here? Can this arrangement constitute good things for our environment — nay– BETTER things than adequate congressional funding of government oversight and enforcement of environmental regulations?

    The corporate partner recidivist perpetrators of environmental crimes are enjoying the benefits of associating with all the green PR which comes from NFWF “restoration” in this arrangement.

    This cannot be a good thing.

  2. People need to be careful in critiquing the idea of an endowment for the National Parks beyond 2016. Saying that an endowment would be “corporate financed” is premature since the structure of such an endowment has not been decided and an endowment is purely speculative at this time. It is just an idea now.

    An endowment is a good idea because the parks have a mandate to protect the national parks perpetually yet they are funded on an annual basis. Universities and museums that have similar long term mandates have endowments.

    For the national parks, we can all participate in designing the endowment by interacting with the NPS Director and with progressive members of Congress. It could come by allowing the NPS to keep the interest earned on the fees they charge now, millions of dollars that current go back to the general treasury. We could ask congress to put appropriate restrictions on corporate donations and we could find other sources of income such as taxes on people like Mitt Romney who move their money overseas to hide from taxes for example. There is plenty of money available and we can all participate in the design of the endowment.

    That being said, the sort of suspicion that PEER has been spreading about the endowment does nothing to address the serious budget shortfalls that the NPS experiences every year. Rather than being suspicious and negative, let’s help with the problem of gross underfunding of our public lands and our NPS in particular with positive ideas.

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