On February 22, 2017, Shirley Heinze Land Trust was awarded the Seal of Accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance Accreditation Commission. The Commission, an independent body of the Land Trust Alliance, awards accreditation to land trusts that meet standards for excellence, uphold the public trust, and ensure that their conservation efforts are permanent. This achievement places us among the elite land conservation organizations in the country.
“It is exciting to recognize Shirley Heinze Land Trust with this distinction,” says Tammara Van Ryn, Executive Director of the Commission. “Accredited land trusts are united behind strong ethical standards ensuring the places people love will be conserved forever. Accreditation recognizes that Shirley Heinze Land Trust has demonstrated sound finances, ethical conduct, responsible governance, and lasting stewardship.”
The recognition didn't come without the shedding of a little blood, sweat, and tears.
The next step was a pre-application for Accreditation, originally planned for submission in 2012. Several unforeseen events - moving to our new office at Meadowbrook, a capital fundraising campaign, and key staff vacancies - prevented us from meeting that target date. We postponed our application for a year, but the board simultaneously re-committed itself to completing the process.
The new deadline for pre-application was the spring of 2014. An Accreditation Subcommittee of board and staff was created to address each of the 12 Standards and Practices. We enlisted a consultant to assist with policy and process work. Standing committees adopted new policies and procedures while refining existing ones. Staff instituted new monitoring, acquisition, and fundraising procedures. The board and reviewed several by-law amendments and new policies, including a state-of-the-art conflict of interest poilcy and evaluation process that was selected to serve as a model for other land trusts.
The full application was submitted in the spring of 2016. An interview by the Accreditation Commission with the board and staff followed. More supporting documents were requested and provided. Then, finally, after seven years of getting our house in order - and all the while continuing to grow and build a robust land trust - we became one of the 372 accredited land trusts in the country!
John A. Swanson, President of Shirley Heinze Land Trust, says: "Accreditation signifies the continued organizational advancement of Shirley Heinze Land Trust. We meet or exceed the high national standards which have been established for such organizations, and we utilize ’best practices’ in the ongoing conduct of our work."
It goes without saying that this wouldn't have happened without a tremendous amount of support from outside the organization. “This designation is a testament to Shirley Heinze Land Trust’s integrity as a nonprofit,” says Executive Director Kristopher Krouse. “It also attests to the fact that exceptional land conservation is occurring right here in Northwestern Indiana, thanks to the many partners, donors, and volunteers who are working with us to shine a national spotlight on the natural environment of our region.”
This years-long process required us to demonstrate what we always believed to be true: that Shirley Heinze Land Trust is an organization with integrity and good governance. It also elevated us to an even higher level by institutionalizing a culture of professionalism and formalizing procedures and practices that will stand the test of time.