At no other time in history had the private land conservation movement in America been so threatened. Conservation easements had become the tool of choice for more than 1,000 land trusts coast to coast, resulting in over a million acres of new conservation every year. But abuses of the tax code associated with conservation easement donations, combined with questions about the capacity and intent of land trusts to enforce the terms of these easements, created a perfect storm.
Congress and the Senate Finance Committee launched an investigation into land trust business practices, threatening to eliminate any tax incentive for donating an easement or set up an IRS commission to oversee and approve conservation projects before they could happen. The Land Trust Alliance, the national association for land conservation organizations, was called upon to lead the communication campaign to respond to this crisis, and it turned to Metropolitan Group for assistance.
Together we managed the crisis, immediately helping the Land Trust Alliance articulate and communicate all the benefits private land conservation brings to local communities, as well as a reasoned response to legitimate concerns raised about land trust business practices. By engaging the land trust community in this challenge, we built a powerful new brand for private land conservation that put people at the center of the picture and built confidence that land trusts had the professionalism and staying power to conserve land in perpetuity. The brand was reinforced by a multi-strategy communication plan and a set of powerful messages that could be used and shared by local land trusts.
Within two years, Congress responded by reversing course. Rather than eliminating tax incentives for conservation or creating a new IRS commission to regulate it, Congress enacted the largest expansion of tax incentives for conservation in over two decades and embraced private regulation of the land trust movement through a new Land Trust Accreditation Commission that Metropolitan Group also branded.
Seen by many as the crowning achievement of the decade, this work built the confidence on Capitol Hill that the land trust movement needs for mission success.