Tate gift creates big potential for Colorado’s conservation community

private land that is under conservation easement
A view of some falls along Park Creek in northern Larimer County, CO on private lands protected under a conservation easement held by the Nature Conservancy of Colorado on the Roberts Ranch. This parcel is a part of the Laramie Foothills Mountains to Plains Project which is a unique partnership between public agencies, land trusts and private landowners that has protected over 29 sq. mi. of land with astonishingly rich natural and cultural heritage values. Photograph by Michael Menefee, all rights reserved.

Bob Tate retired from his first career in real estate and human resources in 2003, but that only gave him more time to launch a second career making lasting impacts on Colorado’s land and water conservation efforts.

Since coming to Colorado, Tate, who studies at the Warner College of Natural Resources himself, has been a diligent supporter of Colorado State University’s natural resources conservation programs. As a respected thought-leader in Colorado’s conservation community, Tate has doggedly explored collaborations among the state’s land trusts, research institutions, other non-profits as well as public partners. These are the groups Tate wants to pull together to secure the future of private lands conservation.

Recently, Tate’s passion took a large stride forward thanks to a unique gift he made to Colorado State University, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, and the Nature Conservancy.

Funding a Game Changing Tool for Conservation

The Colorado Natural Heritage Program, housed within Warner College at CSU, is an important partner in Tate’s mission. CNHP develops tools to serve conservation stakeholders, including COMaP, which is a map of all conserved lands in Colorado, including conservation easements on private land.  Now CNHP is poised to launch a game changing tool in 2020, thanks to Tate’s recent gift.

A conservation easement is a popular device for conserving private lands in perpetuity, protecting high-value conservation elements such as wildlife, water, and rare species habitat, to name a few.  Traditionally, the emphasis of conservation easements has been to reduce or remove development rights from some or all of a conserved property.  The value lost through the easement creates a tax benefit for the landowner and the value preserved creates benefit for the general public.

But total conservation values go well beyond a parcel’s development potential, though, before now, there was no easy way to identify and measure these additional value elements.  Currently, Dr. Andrew Seidl in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, is leading a team that is developing a way to measure these for all Colorado land owners.

Donors and recipients pose together
Bruce Geiss, Bob Tate, Andrew Seidl, and David Anderson, pose as Bob Tate presents gifts to the Colorado Natural Heritage Program and Department of Agricultural Resource Economics, March 27, 2019.

Enter the Colorado Conservation Environmental Review Tool, being funded by Tate’s gift, CNHP’s new comprehensive web-based application that advances planning, environmental, education, and regulatory assessments, as well as a comprehensive valuation of conservation portfolios using the methods developed by Dr. Seidl’s team.  According to CNHP’s website, CERT users will be able to archive and access an extraordinary range of pertinent data within the boundaries of any existing or potential conservation parcel.

From these data, CERT can quantify the full suite of natural goods and services that a parcel may provide and more broadly define the economic value of a conservation easement. Accordingly, the market for conservation easements can be reinvigorated and state support of the conservation tax credit program can continue to grow, all pointing to a more sustainable future.

“When we get this new process streamlined and implemented, it will transform the land trust community,” said Tate. “In my opinion, there is much more potential for new deals, and for new acres placed into conservation. There’s a lot more to do out there. By bringing more land trusts into the deal-making and by creating quicker processes, we create happier landowners, and a better regulatory function.”

Uniting Two Transformational Visions

But Tate’s vision doesn’t stop there.  Like many others, Tate recognizes that one of the great challenges for land trusts is the perpetual obligation to fund the stewardship of conservation easements received from land owners. Basic fundraising is just as essential to these nonprofit organizations as it is for all nonprofits.

Quick to seize an opportunity, Tate discovered Realty Gift Fund, a unique nonprofit that exclusively accepts charitable gifts of real estate for the benefit of all other nonprofits.  RGF was formed by real estate/philanthropy professionals to fix a chronic problem for donors and nonprofits whose charitable pipeline of real estate gifts has been historically blocked.

According to Bruce Geiss, COO of RGF, “Real estate is America’s largest asset class, accounting for over 40% of America’s wealth, but accounting for less than 2% of total annual giving.  We are determined to fix that.” RGF provides a facilitating role, linking donors to nonprofits by accepting major gifts of real estate (of all types) which are typically rejected by nonprofits due to complexity and risk.

Bob Tate discussing conservation around a conference room table
Bob Tate (center) meets with Colorado National Heritage Program and Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics researchers as he presents gifts to each group, March 27, 2019. Tate’s gift originated from real estate and was facilitated by Realty Gift Fund represented by Bruce Geiss (right), COO.

RGF’s ground breaking mission appealed to Tate, who used one of his own rental homes to demonstrate the program works.  RGF accepted his gift, assumed the risks and financial responsibility of owning the property (including paying off Tate’s mortgage) and positioned the property for market.  The net proceeds from the sale created the strategic cash gifts for Tate’s nonprofits, all identified in the Donation Agreement.

According to Geiss, “Realty Gift Fund is an experienced team of real estate/philanthropy professionals with the resources to directly accept real estate gifts, trigger the tax benefits to donors, then direct the cash proceeds of income or sale to the nonprofits identified by the donor”.

Geiss continues, “Our goal is to make the process safe and easy, so that nonprofits can launch permanent and active real estate giving campaigns without taking any risk.  Because of the generous tax benefits, gifts of appreciated real estate motivate donors to give more than when giving cash”.   Having proven the concept with his own gift, Tate is spreading the word to the land trust community, urging them to ask existing donors for gifts of real estate that is ripe for charitable giving.

Combining their real estate backgrounds with their nonprofit work, Tate and Geiss agree that “the days of turning away gifts of real estate are over. Adapting fundraising programs to actively seek gifts of real estate is essential to growth and survival.  And collaboration among specialized nonprofits, allowing each to do what they each do well, is simply smart”.

And for Tate, successfully uniting two transformational visions “will make me a totally happy man.”