Endowment or Restricted Funds

A few organizations have created sizable endowments over many years; however, this is the exception rather than the norm. Private land conservation organizations, by direction of the Board of Directors, may hold internally restricted, externally restricted and/or endowment funds. The purpose of internally restricted funds is determined by the Board and supported by a Board resolution, while for externally restricted or endowment funds, the purpose is established by an external donor or funder.

These reserve or endowment funds have been set up to generate more stable, predictable ongoing investment returns to the private land conservation organization so that it can meet its obligations to steward its lands and agreements not only through challenging financial times, but in perpetuity. The establishment of such reserve or endowment funds is in line with the Canadian Land Trust Standards and Practices(19) whose practice elements set out that private land conservation organizations should:

  • build and maintain sufficient operating reserves to sustain operations
  • adopt and implement a plan to build and maintain dedicated or restricted funds sufficient to cover the long-term costs of stewarding and defending the land trust’s land and conservation agreements

Some strategies private land conservation organizations are currently using to grow these funds include:

  • by policy, establishing a target for investment into a stewardship endowment, often based on a percentage of the value of a conservation property
  • negotiating a donation from the landowner that meets a minimum stewardship investment target, such as 15-25% of the land value, when the land is accepted
  • raising the percentage goal of the property value through targeted donor outreach and direct funding campaigns
  • annually allocating to reserve funds a portion of the amount secured through fundraising efforts
  • creating targeted appeals for contributions from key demographics, e.g., legacy donors

Nevertheless, further financial support is needed to enable private land conservation organizations to more predictably provide for enhanced and some core stewardship activities and for society to more fully benefit from these conservation lands and agreements. Currently, going beyond core stewardship activities to deliver ‘enhanced’ stewardship programming is usually contingent on special fundraising efforts and such programming is the first to be dropped if funding targets are not met. Consequently, activities such as creating property management plans, implementing restoration activities and conducting scientific research may not happen if there is a budget shortfall.


The range of fundraising capacity within the private land conservation sector is broad and further research is needed to focus on the specific issues and needs that smaller volunteer-led organizations have compared to larger well-staffed operations. A selective review of private land conservation organization annual reports reveals an extensive list of donors, partners and volunteers supporting the activities of these organizations. With funds coming from numerous donor categories, such as individuals, corporations, foundations and all levels of government, it is evident that private land conservation organizations dedicate significant amounts of time to annual fundraising to achieve a certain level of financial stability for ongoing operations and activities.

Where private land conservation organizations are able to undertake enhanced stewardship activities, they reported on the critical importance of government funding programs that enable them to increase capacity for such activities. While these government funding programs are demanding with respect to application and reporting requirements, such funding enables organizations to undertake and enhance their stewardship activities. One private land conservation organization mentioned that the Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund, for example, is contributing to the development of a carbon-focused land management plan.

While private land conservation organizations rely, in particular, on government funding programs to support them to steward their lands effectively, these programs are competitive and success in obtaining funding is unpredictable. These organizations also spend considerable time pursuing funding from a wide variety of other sources. They have little to no certainty that their grant proposals or fundraising efforts will be successful despite stewarding significant natural heritage for the common good. Those few private land conservation organizations that receive predictable, reliable funds can consistently support higher levels of stewardship, such as organizations that receive funds from municipalities through provincially mandated requirements.

Private land conservation organizations are working in a challenging environment with competing expectations and a growing sense of urgency to protect the best of what is left as quickly as possible. They demonstrate considerable experience and expertise whether operating through a volunteer base or with paid staff. The benefits of healthy reserve or endowment funds are a long way off for the private land conservation organization community generally, no matter their size.

Government Funding
The following initiatives were mentioned in annual reports or during consultations as providing funds that assist in the stewardship of private conservation lands
2 Billion Trees Program
Canada Nature Fund
Climate Change Challenge Fund
Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk
Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund
North American Waterfowl Management Plan
Alberta Land Trust Grant Program
Community Gaming Grants – BC
Conservation Trust – MB
Greenlands Conservation Partnership Program – ON
Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation – Conservation Economic Stimulus Initiative – BC
Manitoba Fish and Wildlife Enhancement Fund
Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program – BC
New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund
New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund
Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust
Ontario Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program
Ontario Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program
Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Program
Ontario Trillium Foundation
Prince Edward Island Wildlife Conservation Fund
Project de partenariat pour les milieux naturels – QC
Saskatchewan Fish and Wildlife Development Fund
Stewardship Association of Municipalities – Newfoundland and Labrador

19. Centre for Land Conservation, Canadian Land Trust Standards and Practices, Standard 6: Financial Oversight, Practice A: Fiscal Health