“The most enjoyable part of the job is being in the field looking for timber sales,” he says.
But Schofield is not some rapacious landowner, angling to turn a quick buck at the expense of the environment. In fact, Schofield works for the state of Maryland, and his job is to help steward the pine forests of the peninsula in partnership with a private company called Parker Forestry Services.
Together—in an unusual arrangement that was crafted with the help of the nonprofit community—Parker Forestry Services is putting into practice a Sustainable Forest Management Plan approved by the state. It includes provisions for habitat protection, hunting, horseback riding and other activities across tens of thousands of acres of what are known as the Chesapeake Forest Lands.
The plan also sets a fee—the amount is fixed per acre so as to negate any incentive for over-logging—paid by Maryland to Parker Forestry Services. In return, the company plants, thins and harvests trees for sales by the government to paper mills and other purchasers of wood. Maryland makes about $1 million a year from the venture; Parker Forestry Services brings in about $200,000 or so annually for its work.
It is an arrangement that has existed for nearly a decade and a half, and it runs remarkably smoothly, thanks to the foundation laid by players from all three sectors. It was difficult and ambitious work. And it has become an exemplar of collaboration among government, business and nonprofits.
Each sector, of course, has a distinct role. “A government demands compliance. A business sells goods or services. The social sector institutions aim at changing a human being,” Peter Drucker observed, while stressing that every organization needs to stick to what it does best. Yet, that said, Drucker also discerned over the years the growing “interdependence of organizations,” an “intertwining of functions” and “the blurring of lines” between public and private.
“What used to be simple relationships in which major institutions rarely met each other, and even more rarely had much to do with each other, is becoming an increasingly complex … and crowded living together,” Drucker wrote in The Age of Discontinuity.
Since that book was published in 1968, both scholars and organizational leaders have identified cross-sector collaboration as a big key to solving very complicated social problems. Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, consultants John Kania and Mark Kramer have called this “collective impact.”
Of course, all of this is well and good as a concept; pulling it off is another matter. If you are looking for announcements of grand collaborations among government, business and nonprofits, you won’t have much trouble finding them. If you are looking for persuasive metrics of long-term success, however, you’re going to have a much tougher search. That’s not because joint efforts are necessarily failing. Rather, it’s because most of them are relatively new, and many have not yet involved rigorous assessments of outcomes.
What makes the case of the Chesapeake Forest unusual is that the collaborators had a clear goal, and they achieved it. The results have paid off in ways that are plain to see and easy to quantify.
A WOOD-BE BUYER
By this point, Chesapeake Forest Products already had one buyer lined up: a timber subsidiary of John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance. But Hancock wasn’t interested in the entire piece of property. It was focused on those forests lying on the western shore, which were productive and close to the timber mills. The Conservation Fund, by contrast, saw particular ecological fragility and value on the other side of the bay.
“We said, ‘We want as much as we can get on the Eastern Shore,’” remembers Evan Smith, who was on staff at the Conservation Fund. “And they said, ‘Great, because that’s the stuff we don’t want.’”
The land on the Eastern Shore amounted to 58,000 acres across the Maryland portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. In theory, then, the stage was set. Hancock was willing to give up that piece of property, and Maryland was willing to buy it.
Yet those involved in the deal still had a lot of challenges to work through. For one, the price tag for Maryland’s share of the land was $33 million—more than the state had at the ready. The holdings, meanwhile, were made up of more than 200 separate noncontiguous parcels spread over five counties, few of which cared to part with thousands of acres worth of property-tax revenue. On top of that, local businesses connected to the timber industry depended upon these forests for their survival.
At the same time, many environmental groups opposed any logging on public lands, while voices on the other side objected to taking so much land out of private circulation. Finally, the deal had to happen in a matter of months—not years—requiring a pace that state government rarely, if ever, runs on.
BEERS OVER A BONFIRE
Sampson had about six months to put together a blueprint, and that meant getting in touch with scientists, environmentalists and industry leaders. He assembled a 10-person planning team, and his efforts were overseen by a steering committee made up of Mike Nelson of DNR, Don Baugh of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Larry Walton of Chesapeake Forest Products. Chairing the group was David Sutherland, a senior vice president of the Conservation Fund.
Baugh had an additional responsibility, unofficially, and that was to bring onboard detractors from the environmental community. “I approached one of the officials of the Maryland Conservation Council and brought her together in a very informal setting with the forester Larry Walton, who is a great environmentalist,” Baugh says. “Over a bonfire, and probably a couple beers, I told her we had an unbelievable deal, and she agreed to support it.”
By lending the credibility of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Baugh and his colleagues were able to win over most other skeptics, too. “You don’t find a lot of environmental groups willing to stick their necks out like that,” says the Conservation Fund’s Smith.
All the while, Governor Glendening’s office and the Department of Natural Resources were also keeping busy. “The pressure I had was to get it through the process,” Glendening says. That meant, in part, securing buy-in from the five different counties, some of which wanted to allow residential development on the land. Glendening found this pressure reasonably easy to resist. “It was balanced off by people who didn’t want their forest turned into a subdivision,” he says.
Griffin also worked to make sure that the tax revenues lost by the counties would be made up by the state. And Nelson, Griffin’s second in command, kept everything on the government side on track. “I was just the mechanic,” Nelson says, modestly. “I was the one who had to get the appraisals done, take the project to the board of public works and structure the ‘Mother-may-I’ with the legislature.”
REACHING CRITICAL MASS
In any project of such scope, there are tense moments and near misses. Resolving them tends to require setting aside self-interest, even to the point of costing one’s career.
One such moment came in the summer of 1999, when the deal reached a sudden point of urgency and required the governor’s approval. “Pat Noonan called me,” says John Griffin. “He said, ‘John, this has reached critical mass. Mellon and Hancock need an answer by Monday, or they’re going to walk.’”
Griffin, in his capacity as secretary of Natural Resources, requested a last-minute meeting with the governor on the Friday before the Monday. Told that his approval was required immediately, Glendening felt he was being backed into a corner. He was angry. He approved the deal, but Griffin was fired a month later.
“John was the kind of guy who would fall on his sword,” says Smith. Griffin simply says, “All of us in our professional careers need to make those decisions from time to time.”
‘Partnership’ is an abused word, but that was a partnership. We had trust in each other. We respected each other.
Senior Vice President, The Conservation Fund
THE ROOTS OF SUCCESS
On September 10, 1999, the deal was finalized. Maryland had its 29,000 acres, and the Conservation Fund—with financing from the Mellon Foundation—had its 29,000 acres.
The following year, the Conservation Fund transferred its land to the state—land managed by a new company, Vision Forestry, which was led by consultant Neil Sampson and Larry Walton, formerly of Chesapeake Forest Products. In the meantime, the Conservation Fund had established the management contract with its fixed per-acre fee and all net income from the sale of wood products going to the state of Maryland.
Vision Forestry won two more successive contracts, before losing out in 2011 to a lower bid from Parker Forestry Services.
According to Kip Powers, regional forester of Maryland’s DNR, the Chesapeake Forest has paid for itself, taking into account both its original purchase price and ongoing operating costs. Logging continues to take place on some of the lands. Recreational activities are made available to the public on other sections. The Delmarva fox squirrel, once classified as an endangered species, is now off any such list and thriving.
So why did the deal work? What made this effort succeed when others do not?
What comes up again and again when you ask those involved are the terms “trust” and “respect” and variations of “goodwill.” Nearly everyone wanted the deal to happen, and they trusted one another to disagree on matters of principle, not narrow self-interest.
“‘Partnership’ is an abused word, but that was a partnership,” Sutherland says. “We had trust in each other. We respected each other.”
Sampson notes that the end goal—the mission—was always clear enough that it could motivate everyone even absent a designated whip hand. “There was no coercion or legalism involved with any of this,” he says. “I suppose everyone was operating on a platform of mutual objectives.”
This also made for good-faith discussions, which, Glendening stresses, included as many people as possible. “Even if you have complete authority and all the money in the world, you should never undertake a project of this magnitude without involving the other stakeholders … from the beginning,” he says.
If trust and open communication were essential, so was competence. Everyone involved with the deal managed his or her part properly. Leaders from different organizations came to count on one another to deliver—and they hardly ever disappointed. “You had this collection of individuals who were very skilled in what they did,” Nelson says.
In other words, everyone fulfilled what Peter Drucker saw as a basic responsibility—that is, to be “accountable for the performance of their institutions,” something that requires leaders to be “concentrated, focused limited.”
“They are responsible also, however, for the community as a whole,” Drucker wrote. “This requires commitment. It requires willingness to accept that other institutions have different values, respect for these values and willingness to learn what these values are. It requires hard work. But above all, it requires, commitment, conviction, dedication to the common good.”
It requires seeing the forest as well as the trees. *
What will you do on Monday that’s different?
REACH BEYOND YOUR OWN WALLS
Gather your team and discuss how you can, in Peter Drucker’s words, “take community responsibility beyond the walls” of your own institution without compromising “the single-minded concentration” that you need to be effective.
Set up an executive exchange with a high-performing organization from a different sector. Everyone is sure to learn a lot by spending time—and making a contribution—in each other’s world.