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One of the projects I’ve been working on as a Trustee and Philanthropy intern at The Nature Conservancy is the Endowment Research project.


For the past few weeks, I have been reading through the Conservancy’s records of past donors, searching for the donor’s intent at the time of giving. When I was first assigned the task, I felt overwhelmed by the volumes and volumes of files that I was tasked to look through. There seemed to be an endless number of papers, and I wondered how I would be able to get through it all.


But the more I dug into them, the more I found, and the more interested I became. I was surprised to find not only mentions of the endowments where the donors wanted their money to go, but also pages of letters, thank you notes, volunteer stories, family histories, news of passings (many donors are elderly members of the community), and well-deserved awards.


The files were goodie bags; I was surprised by what I found but always in a positive sense of the word. Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, was tucked between an ardent lover of the Zumwalt Prairie and a generous couple who had dedicated much of their time and generosity to The Nature Conservancy. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Bowerman family had also donated to the Conservancy’s cause (Bill Bowerman was the co-founder of Nike as well as one of the greatest track coaches of all time). But the truly memorable files were the ones about the families who had committed their lives to the work of The Nature Conservancy, in both volunteer hours and generous donations.


An example of a handwritten thank you note

For many families, The Nature Conservancy became not only an organization that they trusted to preserve the lands precious to them, but, in some cases, as precious as the lands themselves. I read countless handwritten notes from both Conservancy staff as well as donors, thanking each other for their work, congratulating them on landmark events in their lives, or grieving together over the loss of a family member. The project transformed from an endless pile of papers into a lesson about the unifying forces of nature. It was extremely heartwarming to learn how one act of charitable giving spurred a renewed vigor in the giving by others, and how the Conservancy was able to do more because of the interwoven web of family, friends, and giving.


In the face of all the budgeting and strategic planning that goes on, it is easy to forget that the Nature Conservancy can only operate based on the continued support by local community members. I am amazed that the Conservancy is able to receive so much funding and assistance from average local citizens. But perhaps the Conservancy gets so much money because of the common mission that it shares with many: to save sacred lands. Sacred, perhaps, for different reasons to each person, but the fact that it is sacred creates enough connection for people from all walks of life to be able to bond over it.


It has been an inspiring and heartfelt journey as I have read about the lives of these individuals and learned how much of a unifying force nature can be. I feel so blessed to be able to peek into the lives of those who have given countless hours and priceless gifts in support of the inspiring work of the Nature Conservancy, and I’m proud to say that I’ve contributed to the Conservancy’s work.