Vice President of Conservation Services
Natural Lands, a vibrant, regional, nonprofit organization and leader in land conservation, natural resource stewardship, and public engagement, seeks a Vice President to lead its conservation efforts.
Since the early 1950s, Natural Lands has saved open space, cared for nature, and connected people to the outdoors in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Today, the organization is one of the nation’s largest regional land conservancies and is widely respected for its record of success, technical expertise, respectful and creative approach to partnerships, fiscal strength, and integrity.
Over the course of its nearly 70-year history, Natural Lands has helped preserve more than 125,000 acres. It owns and stewards 43 nature preserves and one public garden across two states and 13 counties. These 23,000 acres include many of the most spectacular and diverse properties in the region, which are enjoyed by more than 125,000 visitors annually. Natural Lands also holds more than 400 conservation easements on 22,000 additional acres, and assists local communities and municipalities, individuals, and partner organizations in pursuing open space and conservation goals. As a result, nearly five million people live within five miles of lands under Natural Lands’ protection.
This is an exciting opportunity to join the senior leadership of a multi-faceted conservation organization, extend its impact in open space preservation and land use planning, advance the organization’s efforts to improve access to thriving green spaces in urban communities, and guide its response to emerging challenges such as climate change and an arriving wave of sprawl in the extended Philadelphia region. The position calls for a strategic thinker who is deeply committed to Natural Lands’ mission. Candidates should possess the vision, knowledge, and leadership talent necessary to guide the “saving open space” portion of Natural Lands’ mission. They should also have extensive experience in crafting and successfully implementing sophisticated land preservation or real estate transactions and a demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and environmental justice.
Saving open space has been at the core of Natural Lands’ mission since its founding. The organization was among the early pioneers in private land conservation in the United States and, over the decades, has earned a reputation as expert at accomplishing complex preservation projects. Similarly, Natural Lands has maintained a long-standing commitment to carefully stewarding land. Its natural resource management staff is nationally regarded and has a depth of expertise in a wide variety of restoration techniques.
Connecting people to the outdoors is a more recent area of mission focus. Over the past decade, Natural Lands has embraced fully its responsibility to share the benefits of access to nature and inspire future conservationists. As a result, visitation to its preserves has more than doubled, more than 6,000 people attend public events annually, and a robust volunteer program provides thousands of hours of service each year.
Natural Lands’ conservation services department consists of 15 professionals responsible for:
- permanent land protection, to include both fee and conservation easement acquisitions for Natural Lands and its partners;
- providing consulting services to municipalities, individuals, and partners to include conservation-minded zoning and subdivision ordinance revisions, park and open space plans, natural resource stewardship plans, and more;
- leadership participation in an initiative aimed at protecting and improving water quality within the entire Delaware River watershed;
- administering a multi-county conservation landscape initiative on behalf of the state conservation agency;
- stewardship of more than 400 existing easements;
- an urban program that is increasing equitable access to the outdoors in Philadelphia and four other under-resourced communities in the region;
- Cartography in support of the department, the broader department, and clients.
The department has earned a reputation for excellence and effectiveness that has enabled it to preserve more than 47,000 acres via nearly 500 transactions in the past 20 years. This includes some of the region’s most complex real estate projects. Most recently, the organization completed preservation of a 1,505-acre tract in suburban Philadelphia through a mix of acquisition and limited development that yielded a new 520-acre nature preserve and more than 30 eased properties sold to private conservation buyers.
Its planning expertise is similarly impactful. More than 140 municipalities have advanced their own open space goals with assistance from Natural Lands. This includes 51 that have adopted the organization’s Growing Greener: Conservation by Design ordinance model; an approach that results in preservation of as much as 60% of land in new developments.
Natural Lands also has a growing presence in urban areas in the Philadelphia area, working to provide residents in under-resourced areas with greater access to green spaces. To date, it has undertaken projects in Philadelphia, Chester, Coatesville, and Pottstown. These include helping to improve neighborhood parks and providing educational programming and outdoor experiences for school children.
The Vice President of Conservation Services will arrive at a time of remarkable growth and opportunity. New properties like Stoneleigh – our public garden – and other recent, high-profile successes have positioned the organization to extend its impact even further. Despite the continued stresses and economic consequences of the COVID pandemic, the organization remains operationally and fiscally strong and well positioned to weather the challenges that lie ahead.
The Vice President will work with the President, the senior management team, the Conservation Services department and the Board of Trustees to make the most of this momentum.
The key objectives for the Vice President include:
Strategic leadership: Pursue the goals of the current three-year strategic plan and help lay the groundwork for the next plan, which will take effect in July 2021. As a member of the senior management team, actively participate in the strategic and operational management of the broader organization.
Department management: Inspire and empower a staff of seasoned professionals and rising conservation leaders. Optimize a complex budget and the profitability of the fee-for-service consulting function. Ensure the work is completed to the highest standards and that the department continues to meet all regulatory and legal standards.
Land Preservation: Guide the existing land preservation staff, providing expertise in crafting complex, multi-faceted transactions. Seek out and implement projects as needed. Support the Board’s Conservation Programs Committee in thoughtfully vetting real estate projects.
Steward Relationships with Essential Partners: Assume responsibility for and maintain existing, strong relationships with critical foundation and public partners. Further the organization’s reputation for excellence.
Urban Conservation: Work with the President and members of the Communications and Engagement department to advance our efforts to expand access to and appreciation for green spaces in urbanized communities in the region.
Diversity: Pursue vigorously and visibly a commitment to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the department’s work, including hiring and partnership building. Lead efforts to address environmental injustice and inequity via the organization’s conservation work.
Fundraising: Embrace Natural Lands’ culture of philanthropy through both relationship building and, where appropriate, direct fundraising, with an emphasis on relationship management and solicitation visit participation to help advance conservation aspects of the mission.
Qualifications & Experience
The successful candidate will bring many of the following qualifications and attributes:
- Informed passion and sense of urgency for the mission of Natural Lands
- Vision, knowledge, and leadership talent necessary to guide the “saving open space” portion of Natural Lands’ mission into the future and to contribute to the organization’s broader strategic direction;
- Minimum of 15 years of experience in conservation, real estate, land use planning, or a related field. Experience at a land trust preferred but individuals with relevant experience in other fields will be considered. Past work experience in the private sector is beneficial; experience in under-resourced communities will be a plus;
- Clear record of success in strategic and operational management; ability to lead in a collaborative way;
- Demonstrated commitment to environmental justice, DEIA;
- In depth land protection or real estate experience and expertise; ability to formulate and execute complex transactions;
- Entrepreneurial spirit and drive; an eye for creative opportunities tied to a commitment to accountability and results;
- Excellent relationship builder and steward; ability to successfully establish, sustain and strengthen relationships with key public and private funders, regulators, partners, public officials;
- Relationships with a culturally, economically, and ethnically diverse set of stakeholders;
- Knowledge of/experience with emerging issues such as climate change, land use trends, and environmental justice;
- Fundraising experience is desired, particularly with foundations and public agencies; aptitude for donor relationship management and advancement;
- Very strong communication skills; superb writing and editing ability; demonstrated experience as a highly effective public speaker; demonstrated cultural competency;
- An advanced degree would be an asset but is not required.