Our Secret Is Out

2016-02-17-1455718604-1381656-trusteescapitol_77064795.jpgHundreds of TNC trustees visited Capitol Hill last fall to discuss conservation issues with more than 100 members of Congress. © Mike Olliver

Mark Tercek is President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and author of Nature's Fortune. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkTercek.

This piece originally appeared in the February/March 2016 issue of Nature Conservancy Magazine.

There's a secret to the Nature Conservancy's success. Without it, our ambitious science-based conservation activities around the world would likely be much less successful.

We don't try to keep our global network of 1,325 volunteer trustees a secret, but their behind-the-scenes actions are often under the radar. Nevertheless, their collective efforts are absolutely essential to everything we do.

Trustees are the committed community leaders from our state, regional and country programs who open doors and build relationships with the diverse private and public institutions with which we work. They are the civic activists who help advance our policy efforts. They create networks of influence. They introduce us to new philanthropists. They enable us to remain a grassroots organization with global reach.

Our trustees bring a wealth of local connections, life experience and real-world savvy to bear on advancing conservation--in their own backyards and around the world. And, frankly, they inject passion and compassion into the day-to-day aspects of making conservation happen.

I recently had the opportunity to witness our trustees in action. At TNC's annual Advocacy Day last fall, hundreds of trustees convened on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to engage more than 100 members of Congress on such topics as practical climate change solutions and resurrecting the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Trustees from other countries met with leaders at the World Bank, USAID and various foreign embassies to discuss how human well-being depends on nature-friendly development.

The trustees put a face on conservation for these members of Congress. They were not seen as part of a special interest group or as professional lobbyists but as constituents--well-informed, influential and concerned citizens. And for the international funding organizations, the trustees demonstrated real-world support for TNC programs.

Furthermore, the energy and vitality of our trustees is contagious. On Election Day 2014, our trustees were instrumental in the success of 27 U.S. ballot measures that TNC supported across the political spectrum--in both red states and blue--that will raise more than $29 billion for open spaces, water protection, parks and trails. In most cases, people voted to raise their own taxes to pay for conservation.

Although the men and women who make up our trustees range from young professionals to retirees, oftentimes it's the most elderly folks who are the most energetic, happy and youthful people in the room. Why is that? I can't count the number of times my wife, Amy, and I have noticed this, especially when we roll up our sleeves and work with TNC supporters.

Perhaps the answer is that joy comes from dedicating your life to making the world a better place. Watching our trustees in action, I've learned that what really drives big and positive change is compassion, caring about others and caring about future generations. In a way, such dedication and compassion act as a fountain of youth. Our trustees are living proof.