Land Trusts - Aren't They All The Same? (Well, yes and no)

By Scott MacFaden, Director of Land Protection

Since the end of World War II, America’s corporations have spent millions, probably billions, on advertising, in part to promote product differentiation.  While it is unlikely that most land trusts will ever have the benefit of large advertising budgets, we at Wildlands Trust have come to learn that a little product differentiation in our profession is not a bad thing.   

Although it is evident to those of us immersed in the field, it can be difficult to discern the differences between land trusts. 

This confusion can also extend into day-to-day conversations and social interactions.  From time to time, within various social settings this correspondent has explained what type of organization I work for, only to have my discussion partner reply:  “Oh wait—you work for, what is it, The Nature Company?” (sic).   My task then is to politely attempt an explanation in nonprofit product differentiation, and to note that while we have the utmost respect and admiration for our colleagues from The Nature Conservancy, and have collaborated with them on many projects of mutual interest, our organizations are very much separate and distinct entities. 

So, while we all more or less are working toward achieving the same outcomes, the land trust community is not a monolithic entity, nor a single nonprofit superorganism.  Indeed, the most obvious point of differentiation between land trusts is one of scale.  For example:

  • The Nature Conservancy has chapters in most states but also works globally. 

  • New England Forestry Foundation and the Northeast Wilderness Trust work within a multi-state region and service much of New England. 

  •  The Trustees of Reservations and the Massachusetts Audubon Society work only within the state of Massachusetts.

  • Wildlands Trust (our favorite) is a regional land trust. Our present coverage area encompasses parts of four counties in Massachusetts—Plymouth, Bristol, Norfolk, and Barnstable.

  • There are multiple regional land trusts across our state—a good example is the Essex County Greenbelt Association, which serves the northeastern part of the state and provided the model for Wildlands Trust’s founders back in the early 1970’s. 

  • The smallest land trusts typically serve a single community, and in most cases are entirely dependent on volunteers.  Examples of single-community land trusts in the Trust’s coverage area include the Rochester Land Trust and the Hingham Land Trust.

At whatever scale a land trust operates at, none of us would even exist, let alone thrive, without the generosity of donors big and small.  So, a hearty thank you to all those who support our profession, and in particular those who make possible our work here at Wildlands Trust