Non-profit

The Nature Conservancy (TNC)

The image is the The Nature Conservancy's logo (link)
Website:

www.nature.org

Location:

ARLINGTON, VA

Tax ID:

53-0242652

DUNS Number:

02-899-0874

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2016):

Revenue: $914,539,673
Expenses: $810,283,620
Assets: $6,697,479,313

Type:

Environmental Conservation Organization

CEO:

Mark Tercek (since 2008) [76]

CEO's Total Compensation:

$818,838 (2018) [77]

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is the world’s largest nongovernmental conservation organization and ranked 20th on the 2018 Forbes list of the 100 largest U.S.-based charities. [1] [2] It reports holding 3.1 million acres of U.S. land under conservation easements, TNC’s primary tool for preserving land and water for wildlife and nature habitats. [3] The Nature Conservancy supports imposition of some form of carbon tax, and has declared climate change as the “most serious threat facing our planet today.” [4] [5] Unlike many left-of-center environmentalist organizations, TNC supports a significant increase in nuclear energy production as a replacement for fossil fuel energy use. [6] [7]

The Nature Conservancy has a strong business relationship with some of the nation’s largest energy producers, such as Chevron and Duke Energy, and many large businesses such as Dow Chemical. [8] TNC has also maintained associations with the political center-right: Former Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist is a member of the TNC board[9] and a former president of the libertarian Reason Foundation is a TNC executive. [10] The Nature Conservancy’s past willingness to work with energy companies, including one deal in which oil and gas drilling was permitted on a large Texas prairie property otherwise protected from further commercial development, earned criticism from other left-of-center activists, one of which publicly accused TNC of losing its “moral compass.” [11]

The organization’s business practices were investigated by the U.S. Senate in 2003 and the IRS in 2004, following media revelations of several controversial financial arrangements with employees, officers and donors. [12] Among the concerns revealed were a $1.5 million home loan to the TNC president, and free housing and vehicles provided to employees that had allegedly not been reported to the IRS. [13] The U.S Senate Finance Committee was particularly concerned with whether or not the Nature Conservancy was using conservation easements to provide significant tax breaks to wealthy donors seeking to build large homes on land otherwise closed to development. [14]

Background

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is the world’s largest conservation organization and ranked 20th on the 2018 Forbes list of the 100 largest U.S.-based charities. [15] [16] It has affiliates in all 50 U.S. states and 72 countries, with 3,600 worldwide employees. [17] As of 2018 it reported net assets of $6.5 billion and revenue of nearly $1.3 billion. [18]

TNC’s primary agenda is to preserve wild spaces and water for wildlife habitat and environmental protection, with a related goal of reducing carbon emissions. The tools it uses to accomplish this objective are conservation easements and debt-for-nature swaps, which it claims to have used to protect 119 million acres of land, “thousands of river miles” and “more than 100 marine projects.” [19]

Conservation easements permit big property owners to permanently sell the development rights to land – or donate those rights, in exchange for a tax-preference – to an organization like the Nature Conservancy, or to a government. The property owner retains access to the wild space and preserves the space as a natural area legally protected from development. [20]In 2018 purchases of conservation easements or land accounted for more than 27 percent of TNC’s budget ($306.5 million), and land and easements held constituted most of the organization’s total assets ($4.2 billion). [21] The Nature Conservancy reports holding 3.1 million acres of easements in 49 U.S. states. [22]

A debt-for-nature swap is similar in implementation to a conservation easement but applied against the debt owed by a developing nation to an international creditor. In exchange for debt forgiveness, the debtor nation agrees to protect from development land or water deemed environmentally critical. In a 2016 example, the Nature Conservancy raised $21 million toward repayment of debt owed by the Republic of Seychelles, a tiny archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean with a population of approximately 100,000. In exchange, the Seychelles agreed to preserve 30 percent of the coastline and ocean regions under its control – a water surface area roughly as large as Great Britain’s land area. [23]

TNC spent more than $1.7 million lobbying the U.S. government in 2018. The Center for Responsive Politics ranks this as the highest amount spent by any major environmental organization for that year. [24]

The Nature Conservancy is a member of the U.S. Climate Action Network (US-CAN), an environmental protest organization comprised of dozens of left-of-center member organizations, and noted for its demonstrations and campaigns against traditional energy production. [25]

Advocacy

Support for a Carbon Tax

The Nature Conservancy’s climate policy position is that climate change is on a “catastrophic march” and the “most serious threat facing our planet today.” [26] TNC’s main proposed solutions for the United States are “carbon pricing” (a term covering various forms of taxes and fees governments could impose on carbon emissions) and what TNC refers to as “natural climate solutions.” [27]

The Nature Conservancy is essentially proposing the creation of carbon taxes that will either incentivize Americans to adopt natural climate solutions or force them to pay taxes to fund the same programs. [28]

Natural climate solutions are a collection of policies mostly aimed at using and enhancing the natural carbon-dioxide consumption of forests and other vegetation. By adding more protected forestlands through additional conservation easements, planting more trees, improving agricultural practices and implementing its other natural carbon-consuming proposals the Nature Conservancy projects the United States could remove 21 percent of the carbon Americans produce from the atmosphere, or the equivalent of what is produced by every domestic vehicle. [29]

Nuclear Energy Policy

In October 2018 the Nature Conservancy and the University of Minnesota released a report proposing how humanity could create sufficient low-carbon energy to serve growing populations and economies. Consistent with the agenda of many left-of-center environmental advocacy organizations, the report proposes forcing a dramatic decrease in the use of fossil fuels to just 13 percent (from 76 percent) of worldwide energy consumption by 2050. [30]

The Nature Conservancy proposes meeting some of this goal with a massive increase in the use of nuclear power (a zero-carbon energy source) which would grow from less than 7.8 percent of total world energy output to 33 percent. [31] A pro-nuclear policy is sharply at odds with many prominent left-leaning environmentalist organizations. Anti-nuclear organizations include the Sierra Club,[32] the Center for Biological Diversity, [33] [34] the Natural Resources Defense Council,[35] Greenpeace[36] and Friends of the Earth. [37]

Business and Right-of-Center Ties

Nature Conservancy policy toward business is that “the private sector has an important role to play in advancing our conservation mission”; TNC expresses hope that a “non-confrontational, collaborative approach” with “unlikely partners” will enhance its ability to attain its goals. [38] [39]

In practice, persons and institutions not generally associated with left-leaning environmental organizations have a public relationship with the Nature Conservancy.

Leadership and Staff

Lynn Scarlett is the Nature Conservancy’s vice president for policy and government affairs. [40] She is a former president of the libertarian Reason Foundation and served as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior under Republican President George W. Bush. [41]

Former Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is one of 22 board members for the Nature Conservancy. [42] Sen. Frist was still an active Republican donor as of September 2018 and in 2015, gave $50,000 to a super-PAC aligned with then-GOP Presidential candidate Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida. [43]

Former Dow Chemical Co. CEO Andrew Liveris is one of 22 board members for the Nature Conservancy. [44] In 2017 he praised Republican President Donald Trump for having “the most pro-business administration since the Founding Fathers.” [45]

Former Duke Energy CEO James E. Rogers is a former board member for the Nature Conservancy. [46] Duke is a power company that generates power from fossil fuels and nuclear fission.

Business Council

The Nature Conservancy has a 13-member “Business Council” made up of mostly S&P 500 component firms, several of which are chemical companies and large users/producers of fossil fuels: AECOM, Bank of America, Bayer, BNSF Railway, Boeing, BP America, Cargill, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, The Mosaic Company (a potash and phosphate fertilizer producer), PepsiCo, and UPS. [47]

Criticisms from the Left

Left-of-center activists and environmental advocacy organizations have criticized the Nature Conservancy directly and the institutions it is associated with.

Texas Oil Drilling

In 2014 left-wing author Naomi Klein and Center for Biological Diversity executive director Kieran Suckling each harshly criticized the Nature Conservancy over the terms of a 1995 conservation agreement TNC had reached with Mobil (now part of ExxonMobil). The Nature Conservancy had persuaded the energy company to donate a 2,300-acre parcel of Texas prairie land, with the objective of preserving the habitat of an endangered bird. As part of the deal, Mobil was permitted to retain the right to drill for oil and gas on the land (presumably the only non-natural development that would be permitted, with the property otherwise forever protected in its natural state). [48]

Speaking to the New York Times, Suckling said the Nature Conservancy had “just lost its moral compass.” Similarly, Klein asked: “If the largest environmental organization in the world can’t figure out how to stop pumping oil and gas, how are they going to help the rest of us figure it out?” [49]

Corporate Alliances

In 2013, writing in The Nation, Klein criticized the Nature Conservancy for its association with the oil companies on its business council, and with Duke Energy, what she called “one of the largest US coal-burning utilities.” She also asserted TNC had “at least $22.8 million invested in the energy sector, according to its 2012 financial statements” and (quoting a Washington Post report) had “accepted nearly $10 million in cash and land contributions” from British Petroleum (BP). [50]

Similarly, Dow Chemical Company, prominently represented both on TNC’s board (in the person of former Dow CEO Andrew Liveris)[51] and on the Nature Conservancy Business Council,[52] has been a frequent rhetorical punching bag for many left-of-center environmentalist organizations. In November 2017 the League of Conservation Voters criticized a regulatory policy regarding pesticides involving Dow and the Trump administration, noting “Dow gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund in January.” [53] In other statements criticizing the use of pesticides created by Dow, the Sierra Club (in August 2018)[54] and the Natural Resources Defense Council (in March 2019)[55] both made the same observation about the $1 million donation. [56] In 2011 the NRDC took out a full page ad in the New York Times challenging Liveris (then the Dow CEO) to cancel production of a particular herbicide the organization objected to. [57]

Controversies

IRS and Senate Investigations

In late 2003 the Nature Conservancy was informed it would be the subject of an IRS audit that a tax law expert interviewed by the Washington Post characterized as extraordinarily broad in scope and invasive for a charitable organization. The IRS investigation occurred after a series of reports by the newspaper earlier that year revealed controversial business practices by the Nature Conservancy. [58]

One revelation was that the Nature Conservancy had given a $1.5 million home loan to Steven J. McCormick, the then-president of TNC. The Post reported McCormick repaying the debt after reporters began asking questions about it. [59]

Similarly, the newspaper reported free housing and use of TNC-paid automobiles given to employees of the Nature Conservancy, but allegedly not reported to the IRS. A related concern involved TNC paying a contractor’s wife for work the contractor had done, potentially to conceal the man’s reported income from the IRS and thus reduce his personal tax exposure. [60]

An internal auditor working for the Nature Conservancy had produced memos complaining of the practices later exposed by the newspaper and had specifically warned of IRS repercussions and public embarrassment. [61]

Conservation easements, TNC’s signature policy tool, also came under scrutiny. The Post revealed numerous instances of the Nature Conservancy selling land parcels at a steep discount to contributors seeking to build large homes. In exchange, the secondary buyers would make large contributions to TNC for the difference in price. In one example provided by the newspaper, TNC purchased a New York property for $2.1 million, applied conservation easement restrictions excluding most of the land from development (but allowing a single residential homesite), and then swiftly resold it to a contributor and local TNC trustee for $500,000. The contributor/trustee then made a $1.6 million tax-deductible contribution to TNC (the difference between the two prices). [62]

Shortly thereafter the U.S. Senate Finance Committee held hearings to investigate TNC’s use of conservation easements. Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said the newspaper account had exposed “very questionable practices” by TNC. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) said he was “very concerned by reports that individuals and organizations are improperly benefiting from tax breaks on charitable donations.” [63]

As a result of the exposure of Nature Conservancy’s practices, Congress nearly eliminated the tax break, according to a 2017 report in Fortune, which said conservation easements were saved due to intense lobbying from the Land Trust Alliance. [64] Shortly after the Washington Post reports, the Nature Conservancy announced several changes to its business practices, stating it would no longer engage in land deals with employees and officers, and would cease making personal loans to employees. [65]

Sexual Harassment Allegations

In May 2019, Politico reported that two senior Nature Conservancy officials had left the organization after an investigation had finished looking into sexual harassment allegations. The report identified the officials as Mark Burget, the leader of TNC’s North American operations, and Kacky Andrews, who lead global TNC’s global programs.[66]

The investigation was conducted by McDermott Will & Emery, an international law firm. They concluded that female employees believed that TNC’s “culture can make it difficult for women to thrive,” TNC failed to investigate claims made through their employee hotline, TNC didn’t sufficiently train their employees how to conduct themselves, and TNC didn’t provide enough reporting about harassment claims to their board.[67]

Another point of note from the investigation related to an undisclosed relationship between two unnamed executives. The two executives were labeled No. 2 and No. 3. No. 2 was responsible for the performance review of No. 3, and recommended that No. 3 get a 15 percent raise, which was granted.[68] Then, No. 2 recommended No. 3 for an executive committee position, which was also granted.[69]

Leadership

The CEO of the Nature Conservancy is Mark Tercek. Until 2008 he was a partner and managing director at the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs. [70] As of 2018, TNC reported his total annual compensation at $818,838. [71]

Tercek’s personal charitable foundation, the Mark and Amy Tercek Foundation, has given $842,000 to the Nature Conservancy, all of it since 2008, the year Tercek became CEO of TNC. Contributors to the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund, a donor-advised charitable fund run by Tercek’s former firm, have directed at least $3 million to TNC, with all but $43,000 arriving since 2008. [72]

Financing

The Nature Conservancy’s total revenue for 2017 exceeded $1.1 billion, and for 2018 was nearly $1.3 billion. Dues and private contributions accounted for 58.3 percent of combined revenue during those years, investment income provided 16.2 percent, government grants 9.6 percent and land sales/gifts 9.3 percent. A combined $157 million (6.6 percent of total revenue for the two years) is listed as “other income” in TNC’s 2018 annual report. [73]

Since 1998 at least eleven large foundations with a history of giving to left-leaning advocacy organizations have each given well over $1 million to the Nature Conservancy. There are also at least three foundations with a history of giving to right-of-center and libertarian policy organizations that have a similar history of donating to the Nature Conservancy. [74]

Left-of-Center Donors

Right-of-Center Donors

Lilly Endowment Inc: From 2004 through 2015 Lilly gave $4 million to the Nature Conservancy. Since 2000 Lilly has also given $9.5 million to the libertarian Atlas Network, $2.8 million to the right-of-center Federalist Society, and $1.9 million to the right-of-center Pacific Research Institute.

Herrick Foundation: From 2008 through 2017 Herrick gave $3.1 million to the Nature Conservancy. Since 2000 Herrick has also donated $12.5 million to the right-of-center Heritage Foundation, $5.3 million to the right-of-center Mackinac Center for Public Policy, $1.9 million to the right-of-center Acton Institute, $514,000 to the libertarian Cato Institute, and $60,000 to the right-of-center Federalist Society.

Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation: From 2006 through 2010 this foundation gave $1 million to the Nature Conservancy. This foundation is named after the founder of Koch Industries and his spouse, Mary, who were the parents of libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch (sometimes called “the Koch brothers”). As of 2017 both Charles and David occupy[75] two of the seven seats on the board of this foundation. With their own foundations, the brothers have provided significant funding to a wide variety of libertarian and right-of-center policy and political organizations, such as Americans for Prosperity and the Cato Institute.

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  57. Fallon, Sylvia. “Tell DOW Chemical to “end this chemical arms race.” The Natural Resources Defense Council. July 7, 2015. Accessed April 11, 2019. https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sylvia-fallon/tell-dow-chemical-end-chemical-arms-race
  58. Stephens, Joe; and David B. Ottaway. “IRS to Audit Nature Conservancy From Inside.” The Washington Post. January 17, 2004. Accessed April 12, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2004/01/17/irs-to-audit-nature-conservancy-from-inside/40cf20c3-50c8-4c8d-93bb-48374acd6915/?utm_term=.69b7cd0b06cb
  59. Stephens, Joe; and David B. Ottaway. “IRS to Audit Nature Conservancy From Inside.” The Washington Post. January 17, 2004. Accessed April 12, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2004/01/17/irs-to-audit-nature-conservancy-from-inside/40cf20c3-50c8-4c8d-93bb-48374acd6915/?utm_term=.69b7cd0b06cb
  60. Stephens, Joe; and David B. Ottaway. “IRS to Audit Nature Conservancy From Inside.” The Washington Post. January 17, 2004. Accessed April 12, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2004/01/17/irs-to-audit-nature-conservancy-from-inside/40cf20c3-50c8-4c8d-93bb-48374acd6915/?utm_term=.69b7cd0b06cb
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  68. Colman, Zack, and Gavin Bade. “2 Executives Depart Nature Conservancy after Harassment Probe.” POLITICO. May 29, 2019. Accessed May 31, 2019. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/05/29/the-nature-conservancy-harassment-probe-1488630.
  69. Colman, Zack, and Gavin Bade. “2 Executives Depart Nature Conservancy after Harassment Probe.” POLITICO. May 29, 2019. Accessed May 31, 2019. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/05/29/the-nature-conservancy-harassment-probe-1488630.
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  72. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted April 12, 2019.
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  74. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted April 10, 2019.
  75. Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation. 2017 IRS Form 990
  76. “Mark Tercek.” The Nature Conservancy. Accessed April 12, 2019. https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/who-we-are/our-people/mark-tercek/ 
  77. The Nature Conservancy. 2017 IRS Form 990. Accessed April 12, 2019. https://www.nature.org/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/documents/form-990-tax-return-fy18.pdf 

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Harry Drucker
    Former Board Chair, Illinois Chapter (2013-2014)
  2. Njambi Good
    Former External Affairs Officer
  3. Margot and Roger Milliken
    Former Board Member (Roger Milliken)
  4. Bruce Boyd
    Former Senior Manager
  5. Dawn Laguens
    Former Consultant
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: June - May
  • Tax Exemption Received: March 1, 1954

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2016 Jun Form 990 $914,539,673 $810,283,620 $6,697,479,313 $782,237,564 Y $729,132,653 $129,551,983 $22,086,183 $11,676,838
    2015 Jun Form 990 $958,808,662 $796,011,941 $6,712,500,146 $788,531,235 Y $717,080,310 $172,631,710 $23,249,994 $10,417,908 PDF
    2014 Jun Form 990 $949,990,421 $748,695,565 $6,503,755,176 $741,454,233 Y $708,946,532 $134,562,207 $26,321,865 $10,396,346 PDF
    2013 Jun Form 990 $859,133,843 $752,216,964 $6,168,924,112 $762,252,116 Y $610,766,647 $183,578,557 $28,940,474 $9,078,094 PDF
    2012 Jun Form 990 $949,132,306 $756,406,814 $6,006,480,347 $785,374,442 Y $685,668,095 $151,038,082 $30,407,026 $7,977,450 PDF
    2011 Jun Form 990 $997,037,763 $852,695,208 $6,013,579,638 $833,020,912 Y $653,451,355 $232,038,350 $18,730,485 $7,032,849 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    The Nature Conservancy (TNC)

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