When big changes happen at a land trust, many boards find it helpful to step back from the day-to-day, and take a holistic view of the organization’s operations, programs, and mission. This was recently the case for a Connecticut land trust that received a large bequest. A gift of this size could be transformational for a land trust, but there was uncertainty amongst the board about how to best deploy the funds.
After conversations with board members, we recognized an opportunity to evaluate the land trust’s current practices against the Standards and Practices established by the Land Trust Alliance (LTA). Together, we felt that collective understanding of these best practices would help to lay a strong foundation. With improved organizational practices in place, this land trust would be better poised to maximize the impact of the funds with which they had been entrusted.
During a two-hour visioning session, we took a first step towards this goal. After a brief overview of the Standards and Practices, the board was divided into three groups – each tasked with reviewing the land trust’s current practice against those from the LTA. Given the specific concerns of this land trust, we selected four Standards for the three groups:
- Standard 3 – Board Accountability
- Standards 5 & 6 – Fundraising & Financial Oversight
- Standard 12 – Fee Land Stewardship
Each group had important discussions about the land trust’s operations, noting adherence to many of the LTA practices, as well as opportunities to improve other practices. Most notably, though, these groups had important conversations that might not have otherwise happened. As often happens with all-volunteer land trusts, many of these board members are deeply committed to specific projects and programs, but don’t routinely evaluate the practices and long-term vision of the organization as a whole.
When the board reconvened after this group activity, a rich discussion ensued.
A recurring theme was the need for collective agreement about the priorities and future direction of the organization. Stepping away from the day-to-day gave the board an opportunity to discuss the big-picture, and realize that they each perceived the organization in a different way. The board also recognized that these differing perceptions could be better aligned through improved onboarding and training for new board members.
Through subsequent meetings, the board plans to develop priorities and strategies for the land trust. With a unified vision for the future, this board will be much better prepared to determine where, when, and how the bequest will be spent.
It was a rewarding experience working with this land trust, and I welcome the opportunity to work with your land trust in a similar capacity. If you are interested in evaluating your organization’s current practices, or are at an important juncture, CLCC is here to help through board visioning sessions, workshops, or other programs tailored to your land trust’s specific needs. Please don’t hesitate to reach out using the contact information below.