Yellowstone’s 2 major charitable support groups to merge

Two charitable organizations that share a common mission of supporting Yellowstone National Park will merge, following a growing trend among nonprofit groups that support national parks across the country.

The Yellowstone Association and Yellowstone Park Foundation announced on Thursday a plan to merge, creating a single entity that will raise funds and engage in educational efforts in support of Yellowstone.

The new organization expects to be operating jointly by March 2016, and will be fully integrated by February 2017. The merger will be implemented throughout the course of next year, which also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service.

The combined nonprofit group will be in a better position to support Yellowstone Park, said Jeff Brown, executive director of the Yellowstone Association, which is based in Gardiner, Mont.

“Both organizations are highly motivated to do whatever we can to support Yellowstone,” Brown said. “We’re pretty sure if we combine these two, we’ll be able to provide more support, programs and volunteers than we can individually.”

The Yellowstone Association, founded in 1933, is the park’s nonprofit educational partner, operating 12 educational stores in and around the park, with gross annual sales of $3.7 million. The Yellowstone Association Institute offers nearly 600 in-depth courses each year.

The Yellowstone Foundation, based in Bozeman, Mont., has served as the park’s official fundraising partner since 1996. The organization has raised more than $100 million and funded hundreds of projects, ranging from trail maintenance to wildlife research and native cutthroat trout restoration.

Brown said charitable educational and fundraising groups that support parks around the country have been merging, streamlining and simplifying the process for donors to contribute. Similar mergers of charitable groups have occurred for Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Sequoia and Rocky Mountain national parks, he said.

Both groups are financially healthy and have similar budgets, Brown said, making the merger a union of equals, not an effort by one organization to prop up or take over the other.

“The boards of both groups have decided that education and philanthropy will be co-equal priorities,” he said.

Federal tax filings for the Yellowstone Association show the group took in more than $8.5 million in gross revenues in 2013, and listed net assets of more than $12.6 million. Filings for the Yellowstone Park Foundation for 2013 show the group collected almost $7.4 million in gross revenues, and held more than $9.9 million in net assets.

The combined organization will maintain existing offices in Bozeman and Gardiner, and will adopt in 2017 a new brand identity that will be developed in the coming months, Brown said.

Yellowstone managers, including Superintendent Dan Wenk, approve of the merger, Brown said. And there are unlikely to be staff cutbacks or program reductions as a result of the consolidation. The merger would more likely result in expanded operations, he said.

Both groups share some common members, but supporters are also sometimes confused about how the two groups differ, Brown said. The merger will “make it really easy for people to support Yellowstone through one organization with a single mission,” he said.

Karen Bates Kress, president of Yellowstone Park Foundation, said that “combining both organizations will result in a more responsive organization that will better promote, protect and enhance the Park experience for the millions of visitors each year.”

Brown said there is “a lot of excitement in both organizations—both at the board and staff level—because we see a lot of untapped potential, and we all want to do everything we can to support Yellowstone.”

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

DISCLOSURE: Ruffin Prevost is a regular paid contributor to Yellowstone Quarterly, the official newsletter of the Yellowstone Association.

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