Yesterday, we were trying to donate money to the Civil War Preservation Trust, after a precautionary first step of analyzing its accomplishments. Looking around its website we found no financials, no executive profiles, no case studies of successful actions, no priorities identified, no methodology for doing its work, no annual report, no letter to members, no clearly stated principles – just some feel-good generalities about needing to save hallowed ground. We found CWPT used a studied ambiguity in communicating with the public; but we did locate a press release on its website that summarized wins in 2003.
In looking at this release, and in searching the Web for corroboration, we made these discoveries:
The Trust took sole credit for joint wins without naming its partners and it took sole credit for wins in which it had minor supporting roles. It used other people's money to buy land and then sold easements for that land to non-Civil War groups, realizing very pure profits for its own accounts. (We'll take a look at CWPT's income, expenditures, cash flows, and reserves tomorrow.)
In reviewing the outline of one complex land swap and easement deal and in reviewing news stories about the organization, we also discovered the way CWPT defines "winning." According to the Trust, Civil War battlefield land has been saved if any of the following occur:
* Land is purchased outright for future sale or donation to an existing battlefield in the indeterminate future. (Land status after purchase: limbo).
* Land is not purchased but easements are obtained from owners. It does not matter in the least what kind of easements. (Land status after easement purchase: keep off the property.)
* Land is purchased and easements are sold to non-Civil War groups for their management. (Land status: farmland, wetland, nature preserve, bird sanctuary, whatever.)
In sum, the Trust generously defines victory such that any transaction involving battlefield land and CWPT is a win. The deal goes through = the deal is successful.
Donors to such groups as CWPT define victory another way: walking the battlefield. Re-enactors would add "discharging firearms on the land."
Farmer Jones and his family chasing me and mine out of his fields for the next four or five generations is hardly my idea of heritage tourism. Nor is it that of a nature conservancy stringently restricting my battlefield movements to little paths (or banning me completely). A millionaire's countryside housing compound, made more valuable by surrounding battlefield easements, protected from commercialization, and itself under an easement as it dominates a battlefield view, is no kind of win except to the property owner and the next potential buyer.
Try this on. The Trust secures 100% outside funding for the purchase of an easement that allows current owners to carry on what they are doing, sell to anyone, and – if they like – build additional non-commercial structures on their property. That's a real-life Western Maryland easement situation and that's also a "triumph" for CWPT. Enjoy your battlefield, folks. You can see it through these binoculars standing on this highway. Mind the trucks.
Why not buy easements? Because this half-stepping produces "virtual" battlefields that have park status but need not contain one square foot of land on which you can legally place your foot. I'll present such a sham battlefield on Saturday.
Why not take outside money? Because outside organizations have non-ACW agendas that may dictate land use.
Why not make money for the organization through careful and clever land transactions? Because it frees the executives of the organization from member funding and member control. As we'll see tomorrow, CWPT has reached a point financially where it can laugh at its members.
CWPT and other battlefield preservers need comprehensive definitions for completing actions, e.g., the "win" is not an opening of the procurement process, it is the closing of the process that converts land to battlefield park use -- the win occurs when tourist boots hit the sod -- not before. These definitions need to be imposed by members or potential donors on recalcitrant executives. They will not go quietly down that path.
For by declaring victory at the mere purchase of an easement (and with other people's money!), preservation groups can adopt a new mission, the very pleasant duty of acting as multi-generational co-stewards of half-baked land deals. That's sweet if you are on salary in these organizations, if you like coordinating strategy, and if there are a lot of easements in your portfolio. Income without producing results ... it's a dream come true.