An African American woman looks out at the landscape in Zion National Park.

How the National Park Foundation Uplifts Communities

The National Park Foundation (NPF) goes far beyond the maintenance and preservation of parks across the country – they bring their work into local communities to uplift them and create a unique outdoor experience for all. Their mission includes a desire to, “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” In 2017, NPF made a commitment to enhancing the capacity of “park partners,” or local philanthropic organizations in communities across the country, with the “Strong Parks, Strong Communities” program.

What is the Strong Parks, Strong Communities Program?

The “Strong Parks, Strong Communities” program is based on a partnership between the National Park Foundation, National Park Service and Friends Alliance. These organizations share a common goal of expanding and enhancing the work of park partners around the country. The “Strong Parks, Strong Communities” coalition accomplishes this goal by strengthening the capacity of current partners and onboarding new ones, establishing environments that encourage peer-to-peer learning, and by creating events that allow partners to come together for collective philanthropic opportunities. Highlights of this program include:
  • Strategic Growth Initiative: This initiative provides direct support to philanthropic park partner organizations to encourage further leadership development, strategic planning and fundraising, along with other measures to increase their reach and scale.
  • National Park Affinity Groups: The coalition assists coordinators of the Battlefield Affinity Group, National Park Learning Alliance and the Development Leaders’ Network to provide community resources, webinars and foster a space of creativity and learning.
  • Friends Leadership Institute: As part of this initiative, leaders of Friends Groups can participate in a year-long professional development program that focuses on identifying leadership styles, building relationships and people skills along with constructive feedback for growth.
  • Capacity Building Grants: Based on the building capacity of each partner organization, NPF provides grants in order to better serve the community as a whole. Grants can be used for a variety of reasons, from new technology to leadership professional development.
This year, NPF invested $1.7 million in grants to support this program and to fund 41 new projects over the next year. These grants are used across a variety of capacity-building projects unique to each partner organization in the hopes of driving change in local communities. Park partner organizations who receive these grants can use them to help reach their own goals with a focus on taking park philanthropy to the next level.

Robert F. Smith’s Commitment to the Environment

As a child who grew up in Denver, Robert F. Smith spent a lot of time outside exploring nature and fishing with his family. His love for nature cultivated his passion for philanthropic initiatives that support the environment. Smith supports the preservation of African American historical sites across the country and has contributed, along with Fund II Foundation, to the National Park Foundation’s African American Experience Fund. Thanks to Smith’s support, the Foundation has been able to preserve the birth and life homes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the Pullman National Monument in Chicago.

“The national parks hold a special place not just in my family’s history, but in the history of our nation. These sites are where many of our ancestors and leaders spent time, lived, thrived, fought, and gathered. On a personal level, I’ve always felt a calling to preserve these spaces and share their stories with my community.”

Learn more about Smith’s passion for the outdoors and other outdoor organizations he supports like Anglers of Honor and Lincoln Hills Cares.