CNM Partnerships

Partnering with the National Park Service and Cabrillo National Monument


 The purpose of this document is to:

  • Define the types of partner relationships within the National Park Service
  • Describe partnerships within Cabrillo National Monument
  • Help answer the question a donor might ask: “where would my contribution best benefit Cabrillo National Monument?” (Hint: look at the last section)

Partnerships within the National Park Service

“Who but a fool would take his left hand by his right, and say to himself, how d’ye do, Partner! I must have partners!”

– Herman Melville

Melville must have worked for the National Park Service.

Why would an NPS unit need a partner?

  1. If the NPS unit has inadequate fiscal resources, staffing, and/or land base to fully support its mission or achieve its vision.
  2. If the NPS unit has legal constraints that prevent it from fully supporting its mission or developing its vision.
  3. The simple addition of new perspectives may reveal previously undiscovered flaws or areas for improvement and suggested remedies and enhancements.
  4. To foster a shared sense of stewardship.

Who are NPS Partners?

The National Park Service has thousands of partner organizations that work on projects and programs in parks and communities around the nation. Here are just a few:

In parks…
  • Friends Groups and the National Park Foundation, that raise friends and funds to support the work of parks.
  • Cooperating Associations, to operate bookstores for park visitors.
  • Universities in the national network of Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units, to study park resources to make science-based management decisions.
  • The Student Conservation Association and other youth organizations, to offer opportunities for kids to experience national parks.
  • Educators in our Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program, offering a summer working in parks and then sharing that experience in the classroom during the school year.
In communities…
  • State Historic Preservation Officers and the Internal Revenue Service, to review and approve projects that use federal tax credits to give historic buildings new lives.
  • States, to make Land and Water Conservation Fund grants to support local recreation projects.
  • Indian Tribes, on historic preservation.
  • Organizations that provide volunteers, funding, logistical support, and advocacy for the National Trail System.
  • National heritage areas, to promote local history and encourage heritage tourism.
  • Communities, to help them conserve rivers, preserve open space and develop trails and greenways.

Partnerships are collaborative efforts between an NPS unit and another entity, such as cooperative associations, friends groups, Volunteers-in-Parks (VIPs), businesses, and concessioners. They also can include entities such as program providers, Conservation Corp, marketing agencies, tour operators, permit managers, special program supporters, tribal entities, artists-in-residence, volunteer groups, individuals, state and local governments, other federal agencies, scientists, scholars, gateway communities, media professionals, historical societies, museums, colleges and universities, school districts, tourism commissions, conservation groups, health organizations, and libraries.

These partnerships can be non-profit partners or for-profit partners, many of them generating revenue for the park unit, or some, like VIPs, providing voluntary help and services. They can be formal or informal alliances, short-term or long, a single individual or large corporation. They each offer to their partnering NPS unit a different type of support and are each governed by their unique authorities, director’s orders, laws, rules, and types of agreements required between them and the NPS unit.

Cooperating associations, friends groups, and Volunteers-in-Parks are all non-profit partners defined by national program guidance. Each is governed by its own director’s order. Cooperating Organizations are under Director’s Order 32, Friends Groups are under Director’s Order 21, and Volunteers-in-Parks are covered by Director’s Order 07.

Other non-profit partners are generally program or need specific and governed by regional and park superintendent agreements.

For-profit partners are commercial operators, known as concessioners and lessees, with NPS contracts to provide necessary and/or appropriate visitor services such as food, lodging, recreational services and retail operations. They are governed by Director’s Order 48A.

Other partners, such as large corporations, can be revenue-generating partners, though not necessarily a commercial operator or non-profit entity, and are governed by specific types of agreements and/or contracts required by their NPS partner.

Venn Diagram

NPS says “Through these partnerships, the Service has received valuable assistance in the form of educational programs, visitor services, living history demonstrations, search-and-rescue operations, fundraising campaigns, habitat restoration, scientific and scholarly research, ecosystem management, and a host of other activities. These partnerships have produced countless benefits for the Service and for the national park system… and produce or enhance products or services that help each partner achieve their vision consistent with their mission. Effective partnerships deliver better products and services than each player could independently.”

Most NPS units have multiple partners. There are some overlaps, but they are not competing or conflicting organizations, they are complementary and compatible entities, each bringing its own unique contribution, each fulfilling a specific need.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis was recently interviewed about NPS partnerships:

Question: How significant have partnerships been to establishing the National Park System since 1916?

“Our founder and first director Steven Mather could never have achieved this extraordinary accomplishment without partners such as the railroads which helped promote the park idea.”

Question: How essential are partnership skills in today’s NPS workforce?

“Partnership skills are a core competency. Our employees must be able to find and welcome partners, to reach common ground and leverage each other’s skills and resources.”

Question: How do you rank a successful partnership track record in selecting park superintendents?

“At the top of my list. Superintendents who approach each partner with the spirit of opportunity and a willing cooperation are the best of the best.”

Question: What can NPS realize through partnerships?

“Sustainability. Connections. Commitment. The results are truly greater than the sum of the parts. Neither the partner nor the NPS can achieve such results alone.”

Question: What are the most essential ingredients to ensure successful NPS partnerships?

“That the NPS goes to the table with something to offer rather than to take. That we are willing to share the risk and that we will work equally hard through the rough patches.”

As Brian O’Neill, former superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and author of “21 Partnership Success Factors”, pointed out, “Every time we do it ourselves, we miss out on an opportunity for community engagement.”

Partnerships within Cabrillo National Monument 

Cabrillo National Monument has a Cooperating Association (The Cabrillo National Monument Foundation), a Friends Group (The Cabrillo National Monument Conservancy), and a Volunteers-in-Parks program (VIP), along with many other regional or program specific partners.

Cooperating Association

Cooperating Associations are established under specific legislative authority to provide program or financial assistance to NPS in the areas of public educationinterpretation, research, and related visitor service activities. Association operations are an integrated part of interpretive service no different from exhibits, walks, talks, films, etc. Funding to support this work comes from income earned from the sales of educational and interpretive materials, conducting educational programs and field institutes, and raising contributions to support the interpretive and educational mission of the parks. The public face of the cooperating association is most often the park visitor center bookstore and only organizations with a cooperating association agreement may operate these facilities. These associations have a general agreement with NPS renewable for five years, are guided by policy provided in Director’s Order #32: Cooperating Associations, are tax exempt (filing IRS 990), and serve and are accountable to public. Together, NPS Cooperating Association bookstores are the largest independent bookseller in the country and in 2006 generated $82.5M net revenue and donated $52.7M to NPS Interpretation and Education such as cave exploration, trail rides, interpretive talks, reenactments, archaeology internships, museum purchases, and kids camps. In the 2008 fiscal year, 71 cooperating associations operated more than 100 outlets in 325 units of the National Park Service.

The Cabrillo National Monument Foundation (CNMF) serves as the Cooperating Association partner for Cabrillo National Monument. The purpose of CNMF is to provide program or financial assistance to CNM from income earned in the areas of public education, interpretation, research, and related visitor service activities. The public face of the Cooperating Association is the park visitor center and bookstore.

CNMF’s Mission: Cabrillo National Monument Foundation is dedicated to enhancing the efforts of the National Park Service to preserve and promote the natural environment, cultural resources, and quality visitor experience by supporting its educational, interpretive, and scientific programs.

CNMF’s Vision: Cabrillo National Monument is the premier supporter of the educational, interpretive, and scientific programs at Cabrillo National Monument, meeting the needs of the National Park Service.

CNMF began as the Cabrillo Historical Association in 1956 and has donated over $1.6M to CNM since then. Some of their recent projects include:

  • Ecological Effects of Trampling in the Tidepools
  • Lighthouse Tactile Sculptures
  • Exhibit Panel for the Military Wayside Exhibit on Fort Rosecrans
  • Initial Plans for the Old Point Loma Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters
  • Species inventory studies for plants and macro-invertebrates
  • Bat inventory
  • Development of a Larval Tracking Method.

Other assistance to the park includes:

  • Publication of the quarterly newsletter Explorer
  • CNM’s elementary school education program
  • Acquisitions for the CNM library
  • KPBS promotion for CNM
  • Publication of a book on the Resources of the Point Loma Ecological Reserve
  • Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) Program.

The Foundation relies solely on revenues generated by the bookstore in the Visitor Center at the park, visitor convenience services, and the membership program to fund such things as the park visitor user guide The Cabrillo Journal, printing of the park brochure, subscriptions and books for the park library, living history programs and scientific research.

Special events like the Whale Watch Weekend and Intertidal Life Festival in January, Parks and Open Spaces in June, NPS Founder’s Day in August and the anniversary of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse in November are funded by the Foundation, as well as the education program that supports development, printing and distribution of materials used in conjunction with local schools and busing for students from economically-disadvantaged schools to visit the park. Cabrillo National Monument Foundation funds training, uniforms, and recognition of park volunteers.

Friends Group

Friends Groups are any nonprofit organizations established primarily to assist or benefit a specific park area, a series of park areas, a program, or the entire National Park System and whose activities are governed by Director’s Order #21: Donations and Fundraising. Their mission includes fundraising, advocacy, and volunteer support. A friends group can be the vehicle to provide an outlet for citizens’ passion about a park’s mission. Groups vary in size, structure, and purpose and benefit NPS in various ways, such as providing volunteer services, assisting with resource management and preservation, conducting fund-raising efforts, and publicizing important issues. Funding to support the activities of the group come from events, donations, memberships, and, often to a lesser extent, earned income from sales online or off-site. Each group has a general agreement with NPS renewable for five years and is tax exempt (filing IRS 990). In 2010 there were over 200 self-identified friends groups serving the NPS, and in 2004 NPS Friends Groups donated about $35M in cash support and $14M in non-cash support to the NPS.

The Cabrillo National Monument Conservancy (CNMC) serves as the CNM Friends Group. It is a relative newcomer to CNM’s circle of non-profit partners having been established in January 2013.

CNMC’s Mission: To conserve the natural resources and cultural heritage of Cabrillo National Monument and the National Park Service, and to promote education and public involvement.

CNMC’s Goals:

  • Raising awareness of both local and international communities to the unique features of CNM through special events and publicity thus creating stronger advocates and support of San Diego’s historical past
  • Improving visitors’ experiences in understanding the relationship humans have with their land and sea environments
  • Enabling CNM to act as a Community Center for educational, artistic, and inspirational opportunities
  • Enriching the cultures at both CNM and her sister park in Ensenada, Mexico through strong and active international partnering
  • Fostering collaborative relationships with CNM’s other partners to maximize benefits to the park.
  • Promoting CNM as the pride of San Diego and the NPS

CNMC’s Objectives:

  • Advocating for the park
  • Heightening public awareness
  • Engaging youth
  • Enhancing the volunteer program
  • Increasing community outreach
  • Raising funds for projects that support the park’s mission

In July 2013, CNMC conducted its first fundraiser by hosting the first-ever, and sold-out, public viewing of 4th of July fireworks from Cabrillo National Monument. In addition to making this an annual event, the group is planning several future fundraising events such as sunset walks in the park, movies, concerts, and lecture series, Artist In Residence receptions, and selling Crabrillo plush toys and badges.

The group is adopting both the Bayside and Tidepool Trails and the tidepools themselves, is interested in helping the park develop the Ballast View area, improving the park infrastructure and resources to provide wi-fi capability and interactive interpretation, fostering the relationship with Cabrillo National Monument’s sister park in Ensenada, Mexico, and being responsive to emergent park needs not covered by funding from other sources.

The Conservancy is currently inviting participation on its board of directors and soliciting membership.

Hybrid, or dual-role, organizations. In the picture above, the overlap of the Cooperating Association and Friends Group circles represents a dual role organization, a hybrid, combining both a Cooperating Association and a Friends Group into a single group. Today, there are Friends Groups, Cooperating Associations, and Hybrids that do both Friends and CA functions under separate authorities and agreements in support of their parks with Hybrids emerging as the most viable model. There are many variations around the NPS. It is imperative they have the will, capacity, and staff to do both the Cooperating Association Interpretive role and Friends Group fundraising functions effectively. To date there are less than dozen of these dual role organizations in the NPS though there appears to be an interest in this model given the evolution of nonprofit partner capabilities matched with the park needs. The security of an earned income stream, the benefits of an established identity and constituency as a park partner, as well as the capabilities and expertise of an established board and staff are all considerations in adopting this model. The board composition of these groups is important and should reflect the need for experience in publishing, retail, and fundraising as well as other areas of expertise felt to be important. Cabrillo National Monument is open to establishing a dual organization with CNMF and CNMC.


A Volunteers-in-Parks (VIP) program provides park support as outlined in Director’s Order #7: Volunteers-in-Parks. The primary purpose of the VIP program is to provide a vehicle through which the National Park Service can accept and utilize services and voluntary help in labor and expertise from the public ( All NPS units have volunteer support. In the 2005 fiscal year, 137,000 volunteers donated 5.2M hours to NPS, a value of $91.2M.

The primary objective of the Volunteers-in-Parks Program at Cabrillo National Park is to assist the rangers in meeting the NPS and CNM missions by providing labor, expertise, skills, and talents to all areas of the park, such as:

  • Artist-in-Residence
  • Tidepool Protection, Education, and Restoration Program (TPERP)
  • Visitor Center and entry gate
  • Living history
  • Community outreach
  • Tidepool, Herpetology, and Bird Monitoring
  • Greenhouse and non-native species removal
  • Curatorial maintenance lighthouse and museums
  • Librarian
  • Interns
  • Docents

In 2012, CNM’s 192 VIPs contributed more than 9,300 hours for a total monetary value of $219,521.

Commonalities and Differences between Cooperating Associations, Friends Groups, and Volunteers-in-Parks

The fundamental commonalities between Friends Groups and Cooperating Associations are their national program level not-for-profit status, providing financial return to the NPS, and providing labor to their partnering NPS unit. In addition, both can be members of the Association of Partners for Public Lands. They each usually have a Board of Directors or Trustees, members and/or their own volunteers.

The fundamental differences between Friends Groups and Cooperating Associations are the focus of their mission and the source of their income. Cooperating Associations have a very specific mission focus to provide program and financial support to the NPS in the areas of education, interpretation, and research. Their primary mission is to provide educational support. The income to support these activities is generated in large part from the sale of interpretive and educational items in park visitor center bookstores. Only Cooperating Associations may operate these facilities. Friends Groups generally have a mission to provide support for the overall mission of the park partner. Their primary mission is to provide financial support. Funds to support their work come from donations and fund-raising, membership, special events, and perhaps from earned income generated through sales through on-line or other off-site (i.e., not in the park) venues.

“Cooperative Associations had their start in Yosemite NP in 1924. They were intended to support the NPS Interpretation and Education and Scientific Research Function. In the early 80’s, a few CAs in the Pacific Coast initiated major capital fundraising campaigns. There was pushback from Washington that this might undermine Congressional authorities for Cooperating Associations and parks were encouraged to instead establish Friends Groups for fundraising activities. Non profit organizations have played key roles in getting parks established and partially funded since the beginning of the National Park System but many parks began to create fundraising Friends Groups from scratch in the early 80’s. Most Cooperating Associations have always done some low key fundraising.” (Partnerships Program Chief, Pacific West Regional Office National Park Service). 

The VIP program is distinguished from a cooperating association or friends group in that individuals have specific duties at a park or with a program function to provide labor and/or expertise to their partner park. Cooperating associations and friends groups are established under formal written agreements to assist parks in supporting needed park programs and projects that have been beyond the reach of appropriated dollars.

Commercial Services

Operators/Concessioners/Lessees are for-profit organizations and are businesses with which NPS contracts to provide necessary and/or appropriate visitor services such as food, lodging, recreational services, and retail operations. They have a signed contract, lease, or commercial use authorization that has typically been issued subject to a competitive bidding process. As of October 2012, over 100 National Parks had commercial operators comprised of over 600 concessioners grossing more than $1 billion every year.

Cabrillo National Monument has no commercial operators at this time.

Other Cabrillo National Monument Partners

Cabrillo National Monument has joined with the other federal and city landowners on the Point Loma peninsula to form the Point Loma Ecological Conservation Area (PLECA). The five agencies collaborate to manage nearly 700 acres of protected and endangered habitat

  • In partnership with the San Diego Maritime Museum, the Maritime Museum built a replica of the San Salvador, Cabrillo’s flagship
  • Some of the other organizations CNM has, or had, partnership agreements with include:
    • The National Parks Conservation Association
    • The National Park Foundation
    • Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network
    • The American Latino Heritage Fund
    • High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network
    • NPS Southern California Research Learning Center
    • Coastal Southern California Science and Learning
    • SD Children and Nature
    • UCLA’s National Center for History in the Schools and UCLA Kretz Center
    • San Diego Unified School District (Ticket to Ride)
    • Educational Innovation for Teaching and Learning
    • United States Geologic Survey
    • Association of Partners for Public Lands
    • California Mediterranean Research Learning Center
    • Commission on Science That Matters, Elementary Institute of Science/Groundwork San Diego
    • US Citizenship and Immigration Services
    • Pala Native American Learning Center
    • Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans
    • Naval Base Point Loma
    • and more

“As a donor, which of Cabrillo National Monument partners should I give to?”

The short answer is “any of them…….or all of them!” People give to the organizations they most believe in and want to support, and you have three good ones to choose from at Cabrillo National Monument: The Cabrillo National Monument Conservancy (a Friends Group), the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation (a Cooperating Association), and the Cabrillo National Monument Volunteers-in-Parks program. Any of the three would welcome your contribution, as your valuable time or funds is crucial to the continued operation of Cabrillo National Monument. Consider becoming a member or donating to either the Conservancy or the Foundation. Or donate your time and skills by becoming a member of the Volunteers-in-Parks program.

Ask yourself, which group offers what you’d be most interested in, and provides a structure you are most comfortable with? Where can you make the most impact?

The Foundation’s focus is the bookstore and donations, with program and financial support given to the areas of education, interpretation, and scientific research. The Conservancy’s focus is fundraising, advocacy, and community outreach with program and financial support given to the overall mission of the park.

Do you want to participate in the Conservancy’s community outreach and fundraising, or perhaps become involved in the Foundation’s management of the park bookstore and solicitation of donations? Revenue for Foundation sponsored projects comes through donations, memberships and sales of publications and other educational items. The Conservancy is the philanthropic partner and official fundraising arm of Cabrillo National Monument focused on raising funds and friends within the community, and receives revenue through events, memberships, and donations. The Conservancy has no paid employees or physical office space at the park as the Foundation does.

What projects or programs at Cabrillo National Monument is the Foundation or Conservancy raising funds for, and how do they fit with your ideas for the park? A review of some of these projects is included in the paragraph above titled Partnerships within Cabrillo National Monument.

Are you interested in joining a start-up like the Conservancy or an established organization like the Foundation?

What benefits do each offer to their members and donors, and is that something important to you?

Are you in agreement with the percentage of each organization’s revenue they give to the park in light of the services they also provide and their operating expenses?

Do you want to be a board member and help make policy and guide the actions of the group? If so, which group has an opening on their board that would serve your needs as well as its own?

Or, would you rather donate your time, skills, talents, and expertise as a park volunteer? The Volunteers-in-Parks program at Cabrillo National Monument offers many opportunities including working in the tidepools, lighthouse, or Visitor Center; doing living history interpretation, wildlife monitoring, and museum or greenhouse curation; or lending your artistic talents to the Artist-in-Residence program; and many more.

Each of Cabrillo’s three non-profit partners has a mission to support the park, though each does it in a slightly different way. A good way to start deciding where to put your time, effort, or money would be to look at their websites and talk to the group’s point-of-contact to see what best fits with your strengths and their needs.

Cabrillo National Monument Foundation:

Cabrillo National Monument Conservancy:

Cabrillo National Monument Volunteers-in-Parks:

 We look forward to having you join us in any way you choose!

This document is excerpted from several NPS websites, documents, and individuals including:

Management Policies 2006: The Guide to Managing the National Park System

Director’s Order 32: Cooperating Associations

Director’s Order 21: Donations and Fundraising

Director’s Order 7: Volunteers-in-Parks

Interpretive Development Program Module 320

Partnerships Program Chief, Pacific West Regional Office National Park Service

National Park Service website on Partnerships

Last revised 11-Jan-16


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