Breath of Clarity

Analyzing NGOs as Channels of Action- The Nature Conservancy

(i) The organization was created in 1950Links to an external site. to find and preserve, through purchasing conservation easements, unique and ecologically important aquatic and terrestrial habitats across the world (Sparling 2014). The organization declared it was drawn to conservation in the first place by a stunning panorama of life (TNC 2020). Further, TNC explained, since the world has become more connected and complex, it has come to realize while conservation is still about saving these animals, it is also about the human population’s ability to ensure its own survival (TNC 2020). TNC was also created because it can act more quickly than government agencies in acquiring land, and does a great service in preserving hundreds of acres (Sparling 2014). That said, TNC was formed to bring creativity to the conservation of natural heritage with innovative leadership (Sparling 2014). TNC has expanded to protect lands against invasive species and human-induced damage, and conduct research to enhance understanding of rare habitat sites with over 400 scientists on staff (Sparling 2014).

(ii) The mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends (TNC 2020). It is based upon a vision of a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake (TNC 2020). The organization values the ability of nature to fulfill human needs and enrich lives (TNC 2020). Its four priorities are to tackle climate change, provide food and water sustainably, build healthy cities and protect land and water (TNC 2020). The mission of TNC is to manage acquired properties for the long run (TNC 2020). Since its creation, TNC has protected over 125 million acres of land (TNC 2020).

(iii) TNC funding comes from donations, foundations, government grants, land sales and corporate support (Sparling 2014). To help donations and membership dues in funding more land purchases, TNC often sells acquired lands to organizations such as state or federal agencies or uses them in ecotourism and turns that money around (TNC 2020). TNC also is involved in a variety of partnerships to extend its reach and impact (TNC 2020). For example, it partners with indigenous people and local communities under the premise that lasting conservation must actively involve the people linked to the natural systems being protected, and their voices must be at the center of what is done (TNC 2020). Collaborations with private startups allow TNC to leverage the power of new technologies to conserve faster (TNC 2020). Further, the organization uses a practical, nonpartisan approach to show policymakers across the political spectrum how nature can provide effective solutions to major challenges (TNC 2020).

(iv) TNC and partners have published the first-ever high-resolution mapsLinks to an external site. of coral reefs and other marine habitats throughout the Caribbean basin (TNC 2020). This means 30 countries and territories now have access to accurate information about the habitats on which they depend, helping to advance ocean conservation and prioritize climate adaptation (TNC 2020). As part of a pilot test on using these maps in the field, the Dominican Republic became the first country to utilize this new technology (TNC 2020). In 2019, TNC led a coral planting event to help restore endangered staghorn corals. Scientists used the data acquired by the map’s fly-over to identify the best locations to plant corals — including where they would be most likely to survive and have greatest positive impact (TNC 2020). This research guided one of the most comprehensive coral planting efforts in the history of the Dominican Republic (TNC 2020). These maps are now being distributed and made widely available to a variety of stakeholders across the Caribbean (TNC 2020). The project can improve by having a clear way of measuring success. Identifying the impact of the projects it is used for does not necessarily equate to measuring the technology’s success.

(v) Its main publications are Nature Conservancy Magazine and newsletters (Sparling 2014). TNC described how the organization works as being grounded by science and making evidence-based decisions with modern data acquisition tools (TNC 2020). Although its mission and vision are seemingly quite vague, TNC outlined specific gateways to achieving them. Furthermore, there is a general trend of the organization numerically communicating its accomplishments in terms of total acreage it protects instead of describing any sort of conservation tactics or direct impacts resulting from its efforts. That said, it is clear the organization focuses on preservation, with a very hands-off approach, as opposed to actual conservation. Its reports such as Mapping Carbon Accumulation Potential and Playbook for Climate Finance focus on theories and analysis. The website does not go into detail about examples of specific projects in a formal manner. It only communicates about past projects in casual blog posts intermixed with coverage of light-hearted topics such as Christmas tree selection. Therefore, TNC’s strategy is to simply increase the amount of land it preserves by generating funds through featuring interesting information about the environmental sector.

At the same time, it has received approval, in terms of efficiently putting donations to productive use, from the Better Business Bureau and other organizations (TNC 2020). Moreover, the TNC is transparent in terms of its accounting as it has a detailed 2020 reportLinks to an external site. available to the public on its website. So, its public relations appeal to stakeholders who support organizations who are ethical and have a large scope of work.

TNC’s public involvement is strong. Nature Lab is The Nature Conservancy’s youth curriculum hub with educational resources to teach how nature works and how humans can help keep it running strong (TNC 2020). I was impressed there is a link on its website allowing its viewers to calculate their carbon use. In its blog, it has a post conveying eight ways non-scientists can help coral reefs as well as other articles explaining how the public can prevent invasive species from occurring in the first place and outlining which types of Christmas trees are better for the environment. The website also has a tab titled “get involved” that lists ways to volunteer, events to attend, pledges to sign, preserved sites to visit, and ways to donate. Public involvement in their programs essentially increase its funding which would enable it to purchase more land and waters to protect. Involvement gateways, such as youth education and blog posts, help to generate interest and reliability to environmental issues so people are more willing to donate. That said, increased public involvement would enable them to make more money and further extend the scope of its impact.


Sparling, Donald W. 2014. Natural Resource Administration: Wildlife, Fisheries, Forests and Parks. San Diego: Academic Press.

The Nature Conservancy. 2020.

Comment by Professor Frank Turina:
TNC is a money-making machine. It’s truly amazing how much money they can raise to purchase land and how quickly they can do it. In 2015 they bought 165,000 acres of land in the Cascade Mountains and Montana’s Blackfoot River Valley for $134m. There really aren’t many other organizations that can raise that kind of money and pull off such a massive deal.

My Comment:
Hi Professor Turina,

I am so impressed with how TNC creatively and efficiently generates its funds, as well as the large scope of land and water the organization protects.

I was particularly intrigued by one of TNC’s plans that is currently in the works. Over the course of only five years, the goal is to unlock $1.6 billion in funding to drastically improve ocean conservation around the world (TNC 2019). The organization has already secured more than $23 million in funding from various donors out of the $40 million TNC ultimately requires to unlock $1.6 billion toward marine conservation (TNC 2019). TNC aims to ensure the new protection of up to 1.5 million square miles of the world’s most biodiversity-critical ocean habitats – a 15 percent increase in the amount of protected ocean that currently exists (TNC 2019). The organization plans to do so by delivering Blue Bonds in as many as 20 countries (TNC 2019). The Blue Bonds form as a coastal or island nation commits to protecting at least 30 percent of its near-shore ocean areas, including coral reefs, mangroves, fish spawning sites, and other important ocean habitats and species (TNC 2019). In exchange, TNC helps restructure a portion of the nation’s sovereign debt, leading to lower interest rates and longer repayment periods, and supports ongoing conservation work such as improving fisheries management and reducing pollution (TNC 2019). TNC’s scientists then create a marine spatial plan with input from local communities, including fishing associations, tourism businesses, and government officials (TNC 2019). Finally, TNC establishes a trust fund to pay for the new marine protected areas and other conservation actions using savings from the debt restructuring and philanthropic dollars (TNC 2019).

The plan has already been proven to function well at a smaller scale. Starting in 2012, TNC helped create a conservation plan for the islands of Seychelles, located between Madagascar and Kenya, using Blue Bonds. TNC restructured $22 million of the government’s debt and, in exchange, the Seychelles government agreed to protect 30% of its marine areas (TNC 2019). Based upon its success in scaling past projects, I envision TNC is going to be able to achieve its goal of protecting up to $1.5 million square miles of the world’s ocean habitats by delivering Blue Bonds.


The Nature Conservancy. 2019. “The Nature Conservancy’s Audacious plan to save the world’s oceans”. Newsroom.

Comment by Andy Paul:
I am so curious about how the Nature Conservancy and other private land trusts move money from the wealthiest of the wealthy to ecosystems. This was an article that stood out in the local paper a few years ago: to an external site.

Also, if people are curious this was a relevant theme in the For the Wild podcast. If people aren’t familiar, that podcast is very relevant to this class! This episode covers large-scale conservation and talks about movement of wealth. Highly recommend. to an external site.

As for the TNC, it seems as though they are excelling at following their mission of land conservation in that they are actively continuing to purchase lands to conserve. While conservation is in their title, does it seem like they are actually operating on a preservation model? As the National Park Service (2019) defines it, “conservation seeks the proper use of nature, while preservation seeks protection of nature from use.” It seems as thought they also utilize mixed-use in the lands they acquire but ultimately favor preservation.

For stakeholders, it seems like they have a holistic plan for framing and sharing their work. Nice job on your post Mary! Personally, I am curious to learn more about how TNC engages ancestral stewards of lands and how they seek to engage and elevate them in their work. I know having worked in conservation in Southeast Alaska, a lot of the deeper work so to speak in terms of human connections to landscape is done by the Native Alaskan Tlingit population. Just a thought here! Really excellent summary, thank you for sharing!



National Park Service. “Conservation versus preservation.” Last updated October 29, 2019. Accessed January 28, 2021.,protection%20of%20nature%20from%20use.

My Comment:
Hi Andy,

Thanks for the articles! You’re definitely spot-on in terms of focusing on how TNC can both acquire the wealth and then efficiently allocate funds. TNC is known for its preservation of land and definitely follows the hands-off aspect of the approach. Still, TNC also features new technology used for conservation projects and produces a collection of reports about how to effectively manage resources. So, essentially, the organization assists conservation while specializing in preservation.

I am also interested in how TNC engages and involves indigenous populations. Further, I wonder how indigenous groups tend to respond to TNC introducing plans of purchasing land to protect it.