January 2015 Bidders Call Notes

The following notes were taken during an January 23,2015 informational conference call held for organizations interested in applying for one of the Cox Trust’s new RCP grantmaking programs.   It was hosted by Prentice Zinn of the Cox Trust with Emily Bateson of Highstead serving as an advisor on the call.

Prentice Zinn: First let’s talk about positioning for both programs.

Easement/ Due Diligence program:

Most likely the review committee will look at this round as cherry picking. They want to see organizations that are poised for success, and who are ready to move onto their next step. The first round will likely be a horse race between about four organizations that are ready to move. The Cox Trust will then likely fund two organizations – or maybe just one if the program is incredible – so any runners up this spring will be candidates for a subsequent round. During this round we really need to learn about how folks will design fund programs and pull it off successfully.

One question we’ve heard a lot is, “what constitutes readiness?” We want to see actively conserving RCPs with a lot of their ducks in a row, a lot of fire and readiness and ideas about how you’ll implement a fund like this. Some have said they need something like this already. For this process a lot of self-awareness is needed among applicants.

Innovation Fund program:

For this program, there’s more money to spread around, which means more flexibility in the types of projects that will be funded.

Most review committees like geographic diversity and varying organizational capacity. We’re not going to be looking for one particular type of organization. In total, approximately 7-10 projects will be funded in each round, at around $10-20K each. We will likely see that a lot of organizations will want the full $20k, but it is up to you how you position your request, and to know how much you need. There is no size agenda at this point.

We’re looking for coalitions that are self aware and know what they need; that have built trust and have worked on projects together, and know how to make a coalition effective. They should know what will help them move forward and speed up the work. We’re looking for lots of strong leadership, expertise and back and forth among partners. You need to be able to tell a strong story of what you already have and what the next phase is. There needs to be momentum and wind in the sails. There need to be concrete projects, clear deliverables and outcomes. Be able to show that you’re building and doing things as a collective.

Those in the emerging, early phase should get ready for subsequent rounds. That way you can see who and what gets funded this round, and what level you need to get to by the time you apply. It’s not about you at this point. The organizations that received grants through this first round will already have a lot of skin in the game and this fund will reward that.

What types of projects will it fund? That’s up to you, but keep in mind that it’s not about a little project fund, but about the coalition as a whole. Small projects won’t be competitive, we need a bigger narrative.

You should know that funding will likely get more competitive as we go. For organizations coming back for renewed funding, the bar will be raised because we’ll be able to see your progress. There will also be more competition as people find out about this initiative and people get their act together to apply.

Q & A

Katy Fyrberg of GMA or Emily Bateson of Highstead will chime in as needed.

Q: The program appears to support payment of transaction costs for both conservation easements and fee land acquisitions. However, as I drill down into the eligibility criteria I find a statement that says “cannot be used to acquire direct real estate interests in land”. I assume this means one cannot apply the funds to the actual purchase price, but the funds can be used to support the fee acquisition’s transaction costs?

PZ: Yes – The purpose of the program is to capture the landowners that want to donate land and the costs associated with that transaction – it is not intended to cover transaction costs for a full fee purchase.

Q: We are in the process of working with 160 acres, and purchasing an easement. Currently we are about two thirds of the way through our fundraising.

PZ: So it’s not eligible. The program is about RCPs working together and building tools and transaction funds to maintain over the long haul; not about project level stuff other than giving the resources to make the deal ahead.

The purpose of the fund is for all those due diligence costs related to the transaction that the landowner doesn’t want to pay for in donating the land.

Q: So we should propose our own internal process? What type of commitment would be appropriate from the landowner in order for us to move ahead?

PZ: It’s up to you to figure that out. We won’t micromanage the process, but you should have a sense of what it all means.  This program is a risk for you and for the Cox Trust.

Looking ahead, we may do a call with some other folks that have already done this. We’ll have a Q&A so you can find out how did you handle a particular question just to see how folks are approaching the process.

Q: We’re currently providing services and support to 11 organizations. We haven’t done an RCP, but our end goal and purpose is to grow and to acquire land. We’re about to be heading into strategic planning.  There are a number of organizations that we’re involved with that are active in getting and protecting land. I’m wondering if we’re eligible for the innovation grant while we’re in this first stage of planning or do we need to be further along?

PZ: You need to be further along. To work collaboratively, you need to have certain things in place and things you are able to do. Having an action plan for any coalition defines what the collaborative is about. You each have an important role but how do you fit in with the role of RCPs in Maine.

Q: In reading this we’re responding to the bit about collaboration. We’re figuring out how to collaborate, but we’re coming at it from the organizational side instead of from the conservation side.

PZ: The Trust has worked on organizational side in past. It’s not that getting ready isn’t getting stuff done, but now the Trust is really focused on projects and progress.

Q: We are a nine year old land trust and we’re working with four organizations. None of them are officially 501c3 public charities  – is it ok for one agent to have a Fiscal Agent?

PZ: Yes.

Q: We had initially hoped to attract this type of funding to hold in the partnership, and then re-grant as opportunities come along.

PZ: I think that may be generally how happens. The ownership is by the land trusts and the RCPs have a say in how the grants will go out the door. But that sounds like a bunch of different land trusts going to the bank. This program is not about funding those bankrolls, but funding a collaborative and putting tools in place.

Emily Bateson: It may be helpful to look at transaction cost funds. For example, the Quabbin to Cardigan has a re-grant program, but it is under a very collaborative strategy for implementation.

Q: Shifting the focus to the Innovation grants – We have our strategic plan in place. Now we’re looking at getting funding for land acquisition.  What was meant by internal and external feasibility analysis?

PZ: That could be any number of things. It could be that you need to raise money, or reach out to landowners. You may need to do research, or externally you may need to do R&D on landowners. Anything that says what’s going to move you faster to hit your conservation targets that you’ve laid out.

Q: There are a number of organizations involved with us in conserving land. So far partnership activities have been about sharing information to further goals. But we haven’t conserved as part of the partnership.

PZ: That would be a low priority.

Q: Is there an opportunity between now and the deadline for questions? We’re working with a collaborative on its conservation effort, and thinking about strategic issues. Is the any particular rationale for one organization versus another to be the actual applicant? Or do we just need to decide who will be the lead?

PZ: Of course. We are always available for questions. You should position your work the best you can. It doesn’t matter who is the lead. Strategically, you need someone to manage the process and to be responsible for reporting, so it’s up to you to make that decision. Just worry about it internally, and make the case for that.

Q: Logistically, what is the grant period for each program? 1, 2, 3 years? Is there a possibility for multi-year support?

PZ: My understanding is it’s up to you how long your projects are.  The review committee is not going to care that much as long as it’s about how you’re managing it. They’re going to be one-year grants, but with the opportunity to reapply next year. There’s not a limit to how many grants you can get. We’ll expect people to come back. We’re not making multi-year grants because we have a lot to learn about how things work out. Subsequent grants will be based on performance, so each time the bar will be a little higher to some degree.

Q: We feel ready for both programs, so we’re trying to see where an application might be most competitive.

PZ:  It’s hard to tell without knowing the context. It’s going to be all about who else comes in the door. It might be competitive for both. The guidelines say that you’re better off to pick one to apply for, you won’t get funding through both initiative, but it’s up to you. There’s no way of knowing what else will come in the door.

Q: This is something we’ve been hoping for, and we’re appreciative of the opportunity.

Q: This has been a stumbling block for landowners, so we’re excited to think about strategies for the region.

PZ:  One goal is to elevate the awareness of the need for this type of thing. Obviously a million dollars doesn’t go very far in the long run, but hopefully it will spur other programs of this sort. At that point you guys will be the ones telling the stories about what works

Q: The timing for us is really good. We have been working on a watershed with two landowners, and we’re about six months away from starting the project.

Q: What is the timeline for this year? When can we expect decisions from this initial round?

PZ:  We’re looking at May-ish for the first round decisions, then it will probably be appropriate to open it again in September for another cycle. That’s not confirmed at this point, but we may do another round this fall. We need to decide quickly but it’s not definite yet.

Q: Can you look at the application questions without going in and out of the application?

PZ: Yes the print packet is posted online on the Cox Trust website for each initiative, so you can see the questions without getting into the application. Everything is there for you if you want it.

EB: Once criterion for the donated land easement – you should have a conservation plan with focus areas on the RCP. This will help prioritize the re-grant program and maximize the effectiveness.

PZ: Thanks, any questions contact us, we want to make this work for the RCP community, so let us know how we can help to the extent possible.

Q: What is the best way to contact you, email or voicemail?

Prentice Zinn: Email. (pzinn@gmafoundations.com)

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