Nonprofits Profit through Partnership

By Erica Place on November 10, 2022 in Blog

Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa strengthens stewardship throughout the region and helps to build the next generation of conservationists

Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa staff and INHF interns stand in a cirlce at a work site.

There are many different types of organizations across the state doing conservation and outdoor recreation work.

There are government entities like parks and recreation departments, the county conservation system, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; entities with strong community presence in the form of chapters like Pheasants Forever or Iowa Audubon; private companies that can provide seed for your prairie restoration or fish for your pond; and nonprofit groups that rely heavily on community support to execute their mission.

It’s in the last category that INHF falls as a land trust and 501(c)(3), and we have the great fortune of working alongside the entire spectrum of Iowa’s conservation organizations. Some of our best work is done in partnerships, and there’s lots to gain from teaming up.

One longstanding INHF partner is Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI), an AmeriCorps program modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. CCMI is a job skills training program and engages youth and young adults in meaningful service, leadership development and environmental stewardship. Also a nonprofit, CCMI is funded primarily through contracting their crews to complete projects across the Midwest. The Iowa Field Crew program engages around 45 crew members every year.

“Some are coming to the program because they want experience and certifications,” explains DeWitt Boyd, Iowa Program Manager. “Others just want to figure out what they want to do with their life. But service to the environment is important to all of them.”

Crew members receive a living allowance and education award that can be used for student loan payments, and serve three-month, half-year or year-long terms. They often camp at worksites as they travel from host to host, completing projects like footbridge construction, invasive species removal or other habitat management. At the end of their term, they’ve networked with natural resource professionals, learned skills like teamwork and conflict resolution and come away with tons of experience and training. And through working with a variety of hosts, they have a much better idea of what job opportunities are available in this field.

As you visit your local parks, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter at least one CCMI project. They even have crews dedicated specifically to tasks like trail construction or monarch monitoring in Iowa and hope to someday also create a crew dedicated to water trails.

INHF is one of the many organizations who hosts CCMI crews each year, supplementing the work of our permanent and seasonal staff.

“From a stewardship standpoint, we couldn’t do what we do without them,” reflects Ryan Schmidt, Central Iowa Land Stewardship Director. “They’re that important.”

Especially when you’re a small nonprofit, there’s tremendous value in having a reliable partner to get good conservation work done. Crews are specifically booked to coincide with prescribed fire season, when many hands and eyes are needed to get the job done safely. And while getting good work done is always the focus, we can’t lose sight of the responsibility to shape the next generation of natural resource advocates and professionals. That’s what makes it mutually beneficial for CCMI.

Also focused on developing people, INHF is intentional about taking time to educate and inspire CCMI members just as we do our own seasonal staff. Schmidt expands on our philosophy when hiring a crew: “Give your best effort every day – physically and mentally. Come ready to work because we’re going to ask a lot of you. But what’s the point of being out here if we’re not enjoying it and learning from each other? These are young people trying to get into the field and make a difference.” It’s bigger than the project. “We treat members with respect and as equals, and that gives us results. That extra time comes back to benefit INHF and land conservation as a whole.”

Amy Yoakum, Iowa Assistant Program Manager, hears from crew members about why they enjoy INHF projects, and she feels the same way. “INHF just ‘gets it.’ They know it takes a village to train the next generation of land stewards. They very much look at our members as a work in progress, and take the time to nurture them, explain the projects, and the history. They value our values, and they thank them for their work. The members feel it.”

“I really appreciated how Ryan and Derek went out of the way to explain their conservation methodology to me and to answer all of the questions I had,” remembers Rose Caplan, CCMI Field Crew Leader, of her experience working on an INHF project. “I felt very supported in my desire to learn!”

With values so closely aligned, it’s no surprise that individuals will often end a summer with INHF and move on to a term with CCMI, or vice versa. A couple current fulltime INHF staff got their feet wet in the conservation field as a CCMI crew member.

“It played a huge part in shaping my career and giving me the skills I needed to succeed in this profession,” remembers Jered Bourquin, INHF Blufflands Associate. “I had some of the best role-models to look up to and guide me during my time with the Corps and that is what I hope to be to the Conservation Corps crews that we [INHF] work with. Knowing that these young adults are the next generation of conservation practitioners makes it all the more important for us to take the time and teach them what we have learned so that they can avoid our mistakes and better serve our collective conservation mission.”

People benefitting through mentorship and collaboration, the land benefitting from many hands with shared goals. It’s a win-win. A true partnership, not just the transaction of hiring a crew.

With no shortage of project requests, CCMI is sure to stay busy. But projects with INHF will remain a fixture on their calendar. Because when two nonprofits come together, there’s profit.