As we move into the Centennial year of the National Park Service, we all want more support for our parks—more stewards to continue protection of our parks’ natural and cultural resources, more engagement with visitors, more educational opportunities, and more funding.
In order to grow this support for our nation’s oldest park, Yellowstone National Park’s two nonprofit partners have decided to merge.
The Yellowstone Park Foundation (YPF), fundraising partner to the park, and the Yellowstone Association (YA), education partner to the Park, both have long and successful histories. YPF has 20,000 donors and has raised more than $100 million for over 325 park priority projects since it was created in 1996. YA has 41,000 members and has given over $65 million of in-kind and cash support while engaging hundreds of thousands of visitors since its inception in 1933.
Over the last few years, YPF and YA have partnered on several projects in the Park and at the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. These projects showed how the two organizations could work together in preparation for a potential merger. We came to realize that a merger would eliminate competition, expand the donor base and thereby funding, increase engagement with visitors and much more.
In March 2012, a small group gathered for the first time in Denver to discuss further partnership and perhaps a merger. This was the beginning of four years of fits and starts—and a yearlong pause—before coming together to hire a consultant, Solid Ground, to work with us through a lengthy due diligence process.
Our new organization will be focused on the following three tenets:
Education: Providing more information to visitors in the park’s bookstores and additional quality programing for the Yellowstone Association Institute, including a more robust youth education program;
Philanthropy: Raising more funds and in-kind support for the park’s priority projects;
Engagement: Engaging visitors, young and old, through a better understanding of and commitment to the park.
While YPF and YA have two very different cultures, different business models, different locations, a capital campaign, etc.; our commitment to increasing support for Yellowstone unifies our efforts.
Before the merger is complete, we still have to consolidate our finances, merge staffs and boards, implement operations, establish a new name and logo, and much more.
At the end of this process, we’ll have an even stronger partner to the Park, will be able to engage and educate more visitors, raise more funds for park priorities, and find more stewards that are committed to seeing Yellowstone National Park protected forever for the enjoyment of the people who own it—the American public.
Karen Bates Kress is President of the Yellowstone Park Foundation. She has more than thirty-five years of experience in nonprofit management and resource development working for organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, National Parks Conservation Association and National Wildlife Federation.
Jeff Brown is Executive Director of the Yellowstone Association, which has served as Yellowstone’s official educational partner since 1933. Operations include a large membership program, educational bookstores, and field school inside Yellowstone National Park.