Dollars and acres are an important outcome metric of the Jessie B. Cox Trust’s Donated Land and Easement Program, but they are not the only measure of success. The initial feedback from RCP coordinators about the implementation of their transaction funds suggest that they have many benefits beyond the program’s instrumental value of conserving priority habitat:
Promoting learning and mentoring. Sharing and reciprocity are essential components of the health of any team. Each proposal review process conducted by RCP members creates a context to discuss regional conservation priorities and criteria. The review process provides another way for RCP members to have ownership in the partnership and its mission. More importantly, it encourages participants to think beyond their individual, organizational goals and projects. The review process also increases member awareness of other conservation projects and creates openings for leaders to advise and mentor other partners. This informal coaching and technical assistance serve to strengthen relationships among members and municipalities and increase the speed and efficiency of each project.
Increasing awareness of the RCP. A sign of a strong coalition is its ability to attract new social and financial capital. Sharing stories about successful land conservation is a key to raising local awareness. The conservation projects helped with the transaction fund create multiple public relations and media opportunities to showcase local RCP members and the regional initiative as a whole. The local media coverage and resultant flurry of website and social media visibility serve as an outreach tool that attracts new RCP members and allies.
Increasing strategic conservation. RCPs are well-known as a forum for promoting the adoption of good conservation practices. The use of conservation priority maps and criteria in the RCP’s own transaction fund process, for example, reinforces their value as a core conservation planning tool for RCPs. The “ground truthing” of the transaction fund review process serves as a rudder that encourages all members to consider their conservation targets in light of a regional plan. Local RCP fund review committees have also observed how the review process has made them more attuned to questions of habitat linkages and connectivity – values that may not have been explicit in their existing conservation priority maps, but are now emerging as important criteria.
Demonstrating the benefits of RCP membership. Like the saying in the credit card commercial - membership in an RCP has its rewards. RCP transaction funds reinforce the value of being a member of the regional partnership. They create tangible value for participating because members can apply for funding.
Sharing new resources and increasing equity. The donated land and easement funds have an important equalizing function that helps small organizations do more projects and increase their sense of importance and significance relative to peer organizations that may be larger. Funding gives land trusts with low operating budgets, working in very low-income communities with few private donors a tool to negotiate with landowners.
Kickstarting stalled projects. The availability of funding gives some land trusts an opportunity to reach out to landowners and discuss potential projects that had been stalled for various reasons. The transaction funds also stimulate the critical conversation about the dynamics and costs of landowner outreach and engagement.
Validating the RCPs as a funding platform. RCPs are emerging as an effective funding platform for donors. Local donors, foundations, State and Federal agencies have begun to recognize how a strong coalition can allocate resources strategically and effectively. The Merrimack Conservation Partnership's ability to raise additional funding to support its grants program, for example, sets a promising example for other conserving RCPs. RCPs have the potential to channel resources that support a range of donor interests, and a means for working with a much more diverse and cohesive set of conservation organizations than they normally would be able to manage on their own.
Reinforcing the value of the regional RCP Network. A good network is a self-organizing information system. The development of each RCP transaction fund has been influenced by informal technical assistance provided by the RCP coordinators that have developed relationships with the help of the Regional RCP Network coordinated by the Highstead Foundation.