NEEF Glossary of Terms/FAQ


I. Public Lands

II. Friends Group

III. Capacity Building



I. Public Lands

Any federal, state, local, county or regional land or waterway held in the public trust and/or spaces that are accessible to the public. Examples of public lands can include (but are not limited to) national forests, national parks and monuments, national wildlife refuges, and state/local lands that are accessible to the public, such as state parks and forests, community gardens, and urban green spaces. If you have questions about whether your site qualifies as a public land, please email us at




II. Friends Group

A nonprofit organization whose mission is focused on serving a public land or waterway site in the United States and the improvement and responsible use of that site. This includes Friends Groups that serve more than one site, such as a regional group of parks. Whether they call themselves a Cooperating Association, a Friends Group, or simply a partner, they work in cooperation with land managers to meet the needs of the land and the local community.

While there are many nonprofit organizations that partner with public lands to bring people outdoors to recreate, learn, and explore, not all of said organizations are eligible for this grant. NEEF defines a Friends Group as one whose mission is focused on achieving conservation purposes on a specific public land/waterway. Activities typical of a Friends Group can include (but are not limited to):

  • protecting the natural habitat, water quality, and other cultural/historical aspects of a site;
  • ensuring that the site is accessible for outdoor recreational use by the public, especially its surrounding community;
  • hosting public events and programming that engages the community (this can include recreational activities like walking tours or festivals; educational activities like BioBlitzes or bird watching; or volunteer activities like trail maintenance or trash clean-ups).

The organization’s mission should be specific to the land/waterway and its community. If the organization’s mission is more generally focused on outdoor recreation or education on any land and not specific to that public land or group of lands, then they would likely not qualify as a Friends Group.

*If you are still unclear about whether your organization qualifies as a Friends Group, you may email us in advance of writing your proposal at

Friends Group Frequently Asked Questions:

  • Friends Groups are governed very differently than something like a Cooperating Association. Do Cooperating Associations, and similar groups, meet the requirements to apply for your grant? Yes. Cooperating Associations, or any other 501(c)(3) nonprofits, whose mission is focused on serving a public land site in the United States, are eligible to apply. What this means is that the purpose of your organization is to serve a specific public land or group of public lands in your community and that this public land recognizes you as such an organization.

  • Are land trusts eligible to apply? This grant is focused on public lands or lands that are owned by the public, not just open for public use. But, Land Trusts are eligible depending on their work with public lands as defined above. In order to be eligible, a land trust’s mission needs to have a focus on achieving responsible, natural use of the land. If the organization’s central mission is focused on activities aside from conservation (like developing affordable housing, civic buildings, commercial spaces, etc... on this land), then the organization is not eligible for funding.

    As is the case for all applicants, the applying organization should:

    • Be working with at least one public land site;
    • submit a clear partnership letter from that public land site;
    • and make it clear in their application how they work on public land and how the grant funding would strengthen their ability to serve the public land site.
  • Are schools eligible to apply? Although school property can be government-owned, it is not focused on the public's use and enjoyment of the land and nature. For these reasons, schools are not eligible for this grant.

  • My organization has been in existence for several years, but our formal 501(c)(3) status was not granted by the IRS until this past year. Does our tax status factor into the eligibility requirement that states the applicant must have been in existence for at least two years? The time period of two years can be measured from the date the group formed as an organization. We understand that some smaller Friends Groups may have worked through a fiscal agent in the past, or had delays in gaining 501(c)(3) status. Hence, your tax status will not be a consideration in the two-year requirement. As long as your organization has been working to serve a public land for at least two years, regardless of tax status at the time of conception, you are eligible to apply.

  • My organization currently operates under a fiscal agent. If we are invited to submit an application for funding, which financial documents should we provide? Organizations that operate under a fiscal agent should provide the requested financial documents for their own organization, as well as for their fiscal agent.

  • My organization supports public water trails, rather than a land-based public area. Are we eligible? Water-focused Friends Groups are eligible. The term "public lands" encompasses waterways. Assuming these waterways are open to the public, and the organization meets all other requirements, water-focused groups are eligible. When completing the application, you will be asked for the total acreage of public lands that your organization helps to maintain. Please provide the acreage of your partner waterway. 

  • I work for a City Department of Parks and Recreation. We work to support all local city-owned lands. As a government entity, are we eligible to apply? Unfortunately, government entities are not eligible for this grant because they are not 501(c)(3) organizations. However, if the department works with a nonprofit group that helps promote and maintain the land, that group may be eligible. Please feel free to promote grant opportunities with nonprofit partners who are working with parks.

  • My organization hosted a National Public Lands Day Event, are we considered a Friends Group? While many organizations do host NPLD events, doing so does not necessarily qualify your organization as a Friends Group. In order to be considered a Friends Group, your organization must be a nonprofit whose mission is focused on serving a public land site in the US and the improvement and responsible use of that site.

  • My organization partners with multiple agencies to maintain our public land site(s). Some of these agencies are private entities. Is this acceptable? Which agency should we list on the application (and subsequently obtain a partnership letter from)? It is very common for a Friends Group to collaborate with multiple agencies. It is acceptable for your partner land site to be managed by both public and private partners, as long as it is still open to the public and qualifies as a public land based on NEEF's definition. When prompted by the application, please include a partnership letter from the agency that you feel best represents your work and mission, and the one that you work with most frequently. For example, for the Every Day Event Grant, you would include a partnership letter from the managing agency of the land site at which you will be holding your event(s).



III. Capacity Building

Strengthens a nonprofit's ability to operate more effectively at an organizational level. To understand capacity building, a nonprofit must think about how it operates, not about a program or initiative. Capacity building is strategic and requires reflection on organizational strengths and weaknesses. Grant proposals must align with one of the following project types. 

  • Organizational Assessment (e.g., systematic review of an organization's processes, work environment, and organizational structure; obtain valid information about the performance of the organization and factors that affect performance, etc.)
  • Strategic Planning (e.g., define organizational strategy or direction, develop mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy, etc.)
  • Board Development (e.g., enhance the skills of the organization's board members)
  • Communications (e.g., update or create website, paid social media campaign, etc.)
  • Finance (e.g., purchase of and/or training for accounting software, etc.)
  • Fundraising (e.g., direct mail campaign, purchase fundraising tracking system, etc.)
  • Tax Exemption Process
  • Technology (e.g., purchase database software, replace outdated systems, etc.)
  • Staff Training (e.g., develop basic training for new staff; attend training(s) that strengthen the skills, competencies, and abilities of staff, etc.)
  • Volunteer Recruitment (e.g., develop new volunteer partnerships, develop tools to improve the volunteer experience, etc.)
  • Volunteer Training (e.g., develop new training material for volunteers, create a lead volunteer program, etc.)

Again, NEEF will not fund that fall outside of the aforementioned list as we do not consider them to be capacity-building. If your project aligns with more than one of these project types, please select the one that best represents the long-term impact the project will have on your organization. This application question is for NEEF's internal purposes and should not limit your proposal.

    Capacity Building Frequently Asked Questions:

    • What is the difference between a capacity building and a programmatic project? Your capacity-building project should have an impact on your organization first, then, ultimately on the land you serve. In thinking about capacity building needs, an organization may ask:
      • Does this activity allow my organization to operate more effectively, or does it have a limited effect on a program or initiative? For example: improving fundraising skills affects the entire organization over a long period. However, having a fundraising dinner for a program only affects that program for that fiscal year.
      • What are the major operational areas that need attention and will help the organization grow and achieve its mission? For example, there may be a need for financial management software, a donor database, and upgraded communications materials. Not being able to do them all, an organization must select one that is going to move them forward strategically.
      • Is there a bottleneck in the organization that is stalling growth? For example: an organization may need to recruit new volunteers, but not have a way to reach the local community, such as a website.
      • Does development of a website qualify as capacity-building? Yes, website development does qualify as capacity building and is eligible for this grant. This is assuming that the website will represent the entire organization and is not tied to a program or project.
      • One of our employees is working with us specifically on our organizational capacity. Would their salary qualify? This is a possibility, but you would need to make a strong case that the work the employee is doing will contribute to the long-term growth of the organization. You would need to detail the specific capacity-building elements the employee is working on, as well as the time they spend on it. When their work is over, will your organization be more effective over the long-term, as a direct result of their work?
      • Our organization wants to hire a part-time fundraising staff member to assist us in securing funds for each of our programs? Could the grant funds be applied to this employer's pay? This grant would be applicable to their pay if their position is part of a long-term plan to improve the fundraising capacity of the organization. If you are hiring someone with the goal that they become permanent fundraising staff, that would qualify because it would add to the overall effectiveness of the organization.

    With so many different ideas of what builds an organization's capacity to do their work, we offer the following examples of what this grant would and would not fund. These examples are meant to be helpful and not to limit your ideas.

    What qualifies as capacity building...

    A Friends Group wants to hold several volunteer events at their local state park, but have not had much success in the past with recruiting volunteers. They want to send their staff member to a workshop on how to recruit volunteers and give them a positive experience. They need funding for the workshop and travel. This qualifies because it is building their long-term capacity for recruiting and retaining volunteers. It also has the potential to increase their volunteer base, help them better serve the public land and connect with their community more effectively.

    What does NOT qualify as capacity building...

    A Friends Group wants to put on a large volunteer event at their local state park to pull invasive species. In order for the event to be a success, they need to buy equipment and supplies. This would not qualify for a capacity-building grant. It would be a one-time expense that is not designed to build or strengthen the organization's overall effectiveness and long-term sustainability. This project however, would be a great National Public Lands Day or Every Day Event Grant!

    What qualifies as capacity building...

    A Friends Group wants to enhance their local national park's environmental education programming. Not knowing whether they have the capacity or whether they will add value, they want funds to hire a consultant to do an assessment. The consultant will look at their capacity and expertise to carry out the project, what effect it would have on their long-term goals and finances as well as the park's openness to this potential new program. This project, though focused on program efforts, allows the group to answer key questions that would affect their current work, their long-term sustainability, their relationship with the park, and their impact on the community using the park.

    What does NOT qualify as capacity building...

    A Friends Group wants to enhance their local national park's environmental education programming. They want funds to hire a naturalist to create an education program centered on the wildlife in the park. While we love to see quality environmental education, this project is focused on creating a specific program and does not build the organization's overall capacity.

    Other examples of what does NOT qualify as capacity-building:

    • trail maintenance
    • investments in equipment and supplies
    • single-day projects or events

    *After having read through the FAQ page in its entirety, if you are still unclear about whether your project qualifies as capacity building, please email us at