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Approaching Accreditation

In 2004 the Land Trust Alliance commissioned a group of land trust leaders to study the best way to ensure long-term public confidence in land trusts. The result of that process was the development of a voluntary accreditation program for land trusts. Since then, the Land Trust Accreditation Commission formed and developed an accreditation program which is currently being tested in advance of a 2008 public launch.

Not surprisingly, accreditation is a topic of considerable interest to Maine’s land trust community. At the top of people’s minds are questions about when to enter the accreditation process, how to do so without loosing ground on other projects, and what resources are available to help them prepare.

One of the most important considerations for land trusts to keep in mind is that the entire accreditation process is built upon the very Land Trust Standards and Practices that most land trusts in Maine adopted long ago. In other words, what candidates for accreditation will be judged upon will, in many cases, be activities that land trusts are already engaging in – albeit the accreditation process will require more formalization of many of these activities. The accreditation process will be rigorous, but it should not present land trusts with a slate of foreign concepts.

Many land trusts are approaching accreditation incrementally. Many groups will be working over the next few years to assess and put in order the policies and documentation that will be required of a successful application. An incremental approach allows organizations to evaluate where they are, what they need to do, and develop a plan for doing so over the coming few years while maintaining their on-the-ground conservation efforts.

Another common theme of conversation relates to the benefits of accreditation. Will all the work – and it will be considerable – preparing for accreditation be worth it? Beyond the public assurance that your organization is operating in accordance with sounds practices, an accredited organization will have strong institutional procedures that will have distinct benefits. In the words of Scott Dickerson, Executive Director of Coastal Mountains Land Trust - one of the participants in the accreditation pilot program – “Preparing for accreditation and completing the application provide a land trust with a truly comprehensive ‘hit by the bus’ folder of core information.” In other words, organizations that have gone through the application process will have solid records for managing their organization and conservation properties that will convey key procedures, decisions, and other critical information to future staff and board members. It will create the institutional memory that is so important to any land trust.

Preparing for accreditation may seem a daunting task, but the program is designed (and is currently being tested with this in mind) to be achievable by any land trust committed to putting the policies and systems in place to ensure the ethical, legal and technically sound operation of the organization and long-term protection of land. And thankfully in Maine we have a strong community of land trusts willing to help and learn from one another.

Considering accreditation? Check out these helpful resources.

- Land Trust Accreditation Commission
- Land Trust Operations Circuit Rider
- Land Trust Alliance
- Maine Association of NonProfits