Natural Gifts

By Jim Low | November 2, 2006
From Missouri Conservationist: Nov 2006

It was the dream of a lifetime for Graham and Gerhild Brown to own a house in the Ozarks. The couple fulfilled that dream when they bought 189 acres in Dent County and built their retirement home there. When Graham became a widower, he found another dream—creating a natural legacy that would proclaim to future generations his and his late wife’s love of the land.

Brown left his Dent County farm to the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation (MCHF), which turned the land over to the Conservation Department to create Graham and Gerhild Brown Conservation Area (CA). Graham left instructions to sell his house and the surrounding 10 acres and use the proceeds to set up an endowment. Earnings from that endowment and a separate $130,000 trust fund he established now pay for managing the area, ensuring the Browns’ legacy.

Giving as a Community

Sixty miles to the west, Wright County residents had a dream, too. They wanted to ensure that some of Missouri’s most scenic land stayed that way. They envisioned a conservation area that would protect 391 acres—including the headwaters of Bryant Creek and the state’s second-highest point—from development.

The financial challenge was daunting, but the citizens’ group, led by David and Janice Reynolds of Springfield, attacked it with dogged determination. They held bake sales and took on everything else they could think of to raise the $140,000 needed to buy the land.

They found an unexpected ally in the MCHF. Not only did the Foundation’s nonprofit status provide tax breaks for contributors, but its involvement also demonstrated that the project was rock-solid. Seeing that the project had MCHF backing, the Johnny Morris Foundation stepped in with a $100,000 contribution.

It was a huge step toward the creation of Cedar Gap CA.

Giving as Tradition

A unique Christmas tradition is the legacy of Dr. Harry and Lina Berrier. Each December for the past 20 years, the couple has made donations out of profits from their successful Show-Me Barbecue Sauce business.

“The Berriers began donating in 1985,” said Grants and Donations Program Coordinator Kit Freudenberg. “They have made donations every year since then, sometimes twice a year, and have let the money accumulate. Their goal was always to build the fund large enough to do something really magnificent. They have reached that goal, and now they are considering a land purchase.”

The Berriers remained anonymous donors until recently, content with knowing their fund was growing through wise investment by MCHF. They finally consented to let their names be released so others could learn from their example.

“Donations don’t have to be enormous to be important,” said Freudenberg. “By putting money into the Foundation each year as the Berriers have done, you can build up quite a sum over time.”

Giving as Thanks

Mary Bronstein was a lover of wildflowers and a frequent visitor to Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center. After her death, her husband, Robert, wanted to show his appreciation for all the many happy hours she had spent at the Kirkwood facility. It seemed natural to set up an endowment to care for wildflower plantings around the nature center building. Interest from the trust pays for refurbishing the flower beds each spring and putting them to bed in the fall.

What is the MCHF?

Separate from the Conservation Department, but dedicated to the same goals, the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation was formed in 1997. It is governed by a board of directors consisting of business and community leaders who have a history of conservation involvement. The board also includes several former Conservation Commissioners, officers of the Conservation Federation of Missouri and retired Conservation Department staffers. They are responsible for ensuring that people’s donations are used as they were intended.

Citizens set up the MCHF to do things a government agency cannot. The foundation can move quickly on real estate purchases. It also can guarantee that contributions will be used for specific projects. Furthermore, accepting donations of land and other real estate is much simpler for the Foundation than for the Conservation Department, as the Browns’ example demonstrates.

As a nonprofit group organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code, the MCHF offers tax advantages otherwise not available to donors. Gifts to the Foundation can be particularly advantageous under certain circumstances.

For example, when someone donates stocks or bonds, as former Conservation Commissioner and Foundation President Howard Wood did, the Foundation can sell the securities and put all the proceeds to work for conservation. If Wood had sold the stock, worth $500,000, and donated the money, he would have had to pay capital gains taxes on any increase in value the stocks showed since purchase, decreasing the value of his gift.

Finally, the MCHF can do things that are beyond government’s financial means.

“Missourians are extremely supportive of conservation,” said Freudenberg, “but they also have very high expectations of conservation. People are asking more than the conservation sales tax can deliver. The Foundation supports conservation programs by obtaining funds from other sources. In recent years, this added money has helped the Conservation Department stretch available funds for projects such as the Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus and land restoration. Planned giving through the Conservation Heritage Foundation is one way Missourians can be partners in projects they especially want to see accomplished.”

Priorities and Planned Giving

Freudenberg said the reasons for planned giving are highly personal. For some, the love of a place or activity provides the motivation. For others, it may be a desire to give back to an activity, such as hunting, that has provided a lifetime of fulfillment.

Whatever the reason, said Freudenberg, every gift should be based on careful forethought. People who rush into decisions about donations, bequests and other gifts risk losing potential benefits to both themselves and their favorite project.

“Planned giving means carefully assessing your assets and looking for the best way to structure a donation,” said Freudenberg. “Assets can be tangible things, such as cash, land, buildings, stocks or bonds, or something that is intangible, such as a conservation easement. Each one has a different set of considerations that should be discussed with a legal or financial advisor.”

The MCHF has a variety of ways for donors to contribute to conservation, each with unique benefits. One arrangement is a life estate, where a landowner can reap the benefits of donating property for conservation while continuing to live on and retain control of the land as long as he or she lives. The Foundation receives the property upon the donor’s death.

Another strategy is to donate funds for a charitable remainder trust. Under this arrangement, donors receive payments from the trust as long as they live. The money in the trust passes to the Foundation for conservation upon the donor’s death. MCHF has invested funds with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks for assistance with deferred giving plans.

“If you watch the Foundation’s work, you can’t help but be impressed by two things,” said Wood. “First of all, many of the projects provide seed money—initial funding to get something started. An example is the new [anti] vandalism reward program, similar to Operation Game Thief and Operation Forest Arson. The other thing that is notable is that a large number of the projects involve partnerships with every kind of conservation entity you can imagine. That multiplies the benefits to conservation.”

“The Conservation Heritage Foundation provides a way for the little guy to play a part in big things,” said former Conservation Commissioner Randy Herzog.

Former Commissioner Anita B. Gorman agreed. “By donating what they can for things that are important to them, anyone can make a real difference. Far from getting lost in a sea of donations, these are the sea.”

MCHF Achievements

Since its formation nine years ago, the MCHF has accumulated an impressive list of achievements, including:

  • Bringing together 13 groups to raise $256,000 and restore 770 acres of wetland in the upper Truman Lake watershed.
  • Funding the creation of more than 200 outdoor classrooms and buying outdoor equipment, such as canoes and fishing gear.
  • Funding disabled-accessible hunting and wildlife viewing blinds and fishing piers.
  • Organizing outdoor skills camps for urban youths.
  • Raising $4.3 million for the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center in Kansas City.
  • Purchasing electronic surveillance equipment to deter vandalism at conservation areas.
  • Funding habitat work for grassland birds, such as prairie chickens and bobwhite quail, as well as other wildlife.

Getting Involved

You can make contributions or receive more information by contacting the Foundation at MCHF, P.O. Box 366, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0366, call (573) 634-2080 or (800) 227-1488, fax (573) 751-4467, or e-mail

Earmark Projects

Missourians who want to support conservation but don’t know where to start can choose from a number of categories set up by the MCHF. Contributing to one of these allows donors to focus their contribution in one area.

One of these exciting “earmark” programs is the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund. This money is available to help landowners with stream conservation.

An example of the program at work took place in Miller County. The county commission’s efforts to stabilize a road crossing on Little Tavern Creek unintentionally destroyed fish habitat and a traditional swimming hole. It also caused the bridge approach to flood during heavy rains, making road problems worse. Money from the Stream Stewardship Program helped fix the problem, while at the same time restoring habitat for the endangered Niangua darter.

Other earmarked-gift categories include:

  • Land and Coldwater Stream Acquisition
  • Nature Centers
  • Habitat Restoration and Conservation Area Improvements
  • Kids Fishing and Youth Hunting Events
  • Missouri Stream Teams
  • Natural Resource Research Projects
  • Wildlife Enforcement and Hunter Education Programs
  • Anti-Vandalism Reward Fund

This Issue's Staff

Editor in Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Writer/editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Designer - Susan Fine
Circulation - Laura Scheuler