Ron Anderson, Past Chair of The Nature Trust of British Columbia, has deep roots in the province and a wealth of knowledge from his involvement with non-profit organizations for over 40 years.
Ron grew up in Vancouver summering on Bowen Island and developed a love of this province when he sailed and camped on islands around Howe Sound and attended outdoor focused camps in the Interior. After graduating from UBC, he was involved in several financial roles until he founded his financial investment firm. When asked to join the board of The Nature Trust of BC, he saw it as an opportunity to do something significant for the future and for his two daughters by helping to “save BC before it’s lost”.
During Ron’s tenure as Chair of The Nature Trust from June 2017 to June 2019 a number of important initiatives were accomplished:
- CEO Jasper Lament, with the Board’s assistance and input, led his management team to develop a new five year Strategic Plan that accelerates our rate of land acquisition in the province.
- The Board formed a new Conservation Fundraising Committee that helps management increase its funding capabilities for these acquisitions.
- The Nature Trust’s financial stability has been increased through prioritizing growth in the endowment.
- Succession planning was elevated in importance both in the senior management ranks and in recruiting at the board level as the Trust transitions to the next generation of staff, scientists and business leaders
While Ron was chair, nine new properties were added to The Nature Trust’s conservation portfolio with the help of partners and supporters– a success story that has continued and brings this organization’s investment in conserving land to more than $110 million and more than 178,000 acres (72,000 hectares) today.
Ron’s Conversation about Conservation took us behind the scenes of The Nature Trust’s board, its vision for the future and the organization’s achievements.
What do you think has contributed to The Nature Trust of BC’s success in acquiring and protecting such an impressive portfolio of vulnerable habitats and species at risk?
The Nature Trust of BC was started 50 years ago by very smart people who set it up to succeed from day one. They put good governance principles in place such as establishing a strong volunteer board that was half world-class scientists and half business people who would make sure the organization was fiscally sound. They included as part of the Trust’s culture to never carry long term debt, so that the organization can remain financially solid.
This organization is remarkably well run. It has a committed and very skilled staff supported by a board that plays a strategic role. I believe we can take The Nature Trust from a small, well run land trust in BC to a much larger and better recognized one in the near future.
How do you see The Nature Trust evolving?
We have a fantastic strategic plan to grow this organization significantly, including to double our fundraising success in order to fund doubling our land acquisitions for the next five years. There is an abundance of ecologically significant land that needs protecting in the province but raising the money to purchase it is the challenge.
How will The Nature Trust meet that fundraising challenge?
We need to tap into all aspects of the business community from Boomers to Generation X to Millennials. For example, a successful Gen X business person made a generous multi-year donation because as a child every summer he used to tour the coast of BC with his family on a 25-foot sailboat. When he was approached to support us, he remembered those beautiful places, saw some in our portfolio of properties, was attracted to the importance of The Nature Trust’s conservation work and so decided to support us.
We need to make it much clearer to more donors why conservation in BC is so critical – why we buy a certain piece of land, what the threat is and what the consequences of not buying it now are. We need to build a case around the reasons for our acquisitions that resonates with more donors. I’m very optimistic that we can do this.
In addition to acquiring properties, The Nature Trust of BC cares for and manages the land. Is stewardship becoming more complex?
I don’t know if stewardship is more complex but it is becoming more important. Management is in the process of developing baseline measures for key properties so we can monitor the improvement of biodiversity on each property.
Several years ago, we instituted a policy to raise a property management endowment with every acquisition, to enable the funding to pay the significant costs of restoring our properties and keeping them in good condition. One example is the Englishman River estuary on Vancouver Island where The Nature Trust and its conservation partners have begun a five-year restoration project.
That means every acquisition includes an extra amount that must be raised, above the direct costs of the property, to go into our permanent management endowment fund. This extra amount is between 15 and 20 per cent of the cost of the acquisition and the earnings are used to pay for future maintenance.
Looking at the bigger picture, what do you think conservation opportunities and challenges are today?
I don’t think land conservation has received the attention and donation money it deserves, both corporately and privately. There’s a staggering amount of money raised for healthcare because it’s much more easily understood. We’re talking about an urgency of vulnerable habitats and species at risk in our province that if not protected will be gone forever. Our staff have done a very good job to get our message out and build a strong donor base to grow The Nature Trust to its current level. But there’s a conservation urgency that hasn’t quite resonated with enough of the larger donor community that we now want to reach, so that we can grow faster and save more of BC’s critical land sooner, before it’s gone.
This urgency is even more critical in BC because we have the largest number of species of any province in Canada and the largest number of species at risk. Our steadily increasing human population is rapidly encroaching. People like to live in the same beautiful areas of BC in which biodiversity thrives.
What is your hope for the future of The Nature Trust of BC?
I believe with our current staff and board that the next five years is going to significantly improve our presence and our message in the province so that more people really understand how urgent the situation is and therefore support The Nature Trust of BC in much more significant ways.
As our former Chair, Dr. Sally Otto said, “We’ve got to save BC before it’s too late.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.