Environmental Resilience Institute Externship Grant Reflection: The Nature Conservancy
Externship Location: The Nature Conservancy
This winter break I and another UVA student externed at the Nature Conservancy Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit that addresses four main environmental protection goals: Tackle climate change, protect land and water, provide food and water sustainably, and build healthy cities. The externship was an enriching experience because we were able to connect with people from various professional backgrounds all working to support TNC’s mission. The two primary teams we met with were the Global Conservation Campaigns team and the United States Government Regulations team.
The Global Conservation Campaign (GCC) team specializes in creating ballot measures to access what sort of environmental issues the public would be interested in supporting. I was surprised at the amount of time, money, and research that goes into creating these measures. From our meeting with the Climate Campaigns Manager, we learned that research needs to start two years prior to election and the money needed for administering a ballot measure can reach as high as a million dollars. The TNC ballot measures typically has a success rate of 90 %. The success rate heavily depends on feasibility research, money for polling (30 to 40k), coalition building, and lobbying. Another interesting perspective we received from working with the GCC team was the legal side of campaigning. Based on our meeting with one of the organization’s lawyers, we learned that as non-partisan non-profit, TNC cannot disclose important information to one candidate only. If they share information with one candidate, then they must share with all other candidates equally. We also learned about a law in Washington that states that if a donation exceeds 25k, then an organization must release information as to who that donor is. It was interesting to see how different state laws determine the kind of environmental politics that get played out.
The United States Government Regulations team deals primarily with the policy side of things. When we met with the team, they were busy preparing for Advocacy Day, a day where trustees of TNC, senators, representatives, and TNC staff meet on the hill to discuss what policy issues to focus on. One thing that the Nature Conservancy emphasizes in regards to their approach to public policy is to always lead with science, which is one reason why they receive a lot of bipartisan support. In addition to USGR and GCC, we also got to briefly meet with Corporate Engagement, a team that helps businesses obtain more sustainable practices. All in all, I was surprised at how much I was able to learn in just one week. It was truly amazing getting to witness the current work that is being done to protect our planet.