Public Lands Alliance on Corporate Philanthropy in National Parks

By Dan Puskar posted 06-16-2016 14:14



To our members and stakeholders: 

America’s public lands, and especially our national parks, have been recipients of private support since their inception. As the National Park Service has considered revisions to its policy regarding philanthropic partnerships, some controversy has arisen over how the NPS might change its relationship with corporate America. Several media outlets, from Fortune to Sirius XM, have reached out to the Public Lands Alliance as an expert on this issue. I want to share with you the reasons that underlie the quotes and interviews I have given to the media on behalf of the Alliance. 

National parks are not solely supported by the American taxpayer and they never have been. American citizens, charitable foundations and businesses have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to improve the experience of park visitors. Philanthropy has restored vital habitat, maintained trails and provided the new generations of stewards with educational and inspiring opportunities. Businesses and corporations have played a vital role in each of these impacts, and recent discussions in the media have focused on an important question: what kinds of recognition should corporate donors receive within the boundaries of national parks? 

Park enthusiasts agree that advertising should not be permitted in national parks, that parks should never be renamed like sports stadiums and that the natural, cultural or historic wonders within park boundaries should never have huge logos blocking their view. Congress has passed laws codifying these principles and the draft policy released by the National Park Service in March 2016, known as Director’s Order #21, affirms them. 

Opinions are more varied when it comes to where and how corporate names or logos may be displayed to recognize a significant contribution. Some sincerely believe that corporate logos have no place in national parks and that it is an oxymoron to suggest that such displays can be “tasteful.” I respectfully disagree with this position for a simple reason: hiding the history of park philanthropy or current philanthropic activities by denying donor recognition to corporations would encourage park visitors to assume a falsehood. Those who give more than their fair share to preserve parks and create educational and meaningful, inspirational opportunities in them should be recognized. All credit should not be given solely to tax payers whose own mark, the National Park Service arrowhead, is rightfully visible throughout park lands. 

In my own experiences in the field and at the national level, most corporations that I have worked with would never want to upset their employees, customers, shareholders or stakeholders by engaging in an activity that would widely be seen as commercializing a national park. Instead, it is the passion of those constituents and a greater awareness of social responsibilities tied to their brands that animates corporate contributions. 

Generally, the draft revision of Director’s Order #21 makes valuable adjustments to existing policy that will enable park philanthropy to embrace best practices used by prominent universities and museums. We led an effort to consolidate the advances and the concerns that nonprofit park partners have with the draft recommendations. Overwhelmingly, our community believed that the NPS struck a reasonable balance. It prohibits the display of logos on donor boards and walls, paving stones and other park furnishings like benches. It permits the use of logos as part of a short credit line on temporary materials and interpretive displays, as well as on a limited basis on vehicles. 

The Alliance encourages all park enthusiasts to engage in these discussions about park philanthropy and the role of donor recognition. We have contributed to several media outlets because we believe it is important to clarify what the draft revision of Director’s Order #21 permits, as well as to dispel myths and exaggerations. On behalf of the Alliance’s board of directors, I wish to thank our incredible members for helping to improve this important partnership policy and to leading productive, thoughtful conversations across the country about this important issue. 



Dan Puskar
Executive Director
Public Lands Alliance


On June 8, 2016, the Knowledge@Wharton Radio Show interviewed Dan Puskar about corporate philanthropy in national parks on SiriusXM Radio. Knowledge@Wharton is a daily, call-in business interview program, broadcasting live from The Wharton School's historic Ivy League campus. Host Dan Loney and special guest Americus Reed, Wharton's branding professor, were in attendance, as well as Reginald Chapple, Chief of the Office of Partnerships and Philanthropy for the National Park Service. Click here to listen to an audio clip from the interview. 


Update 7/6/2016: Listen to the full interview here.