Interview by: Ashley Byars
The National Park Foundation helps guide charitable giving to the greatest needs within the National Park Service. As the Director of Account Management at the National Park Foundation, Hollis Hughes oversees a portfolio of more than 65 corporate partners whose generosity has contributed to helping preserve some of America’s most treasured places.
We talked with Hollis to learn more about:
- Her career journey from major gifts to working on the Corporate Partnerships team
- How the National Park Foundation’s partnership with Union Pacific Railroad helps to engage more than one million youth in educational programming
- What impact changes in corporate partner interests have had on the organization’s partnership priorities
Q: To begin, tell us about how you got your start in cause partnership work, what your role at the National Park Foundation entails and one thing you love about your job.
A: I started working in cause partnerships at the National Park Foundation (NPF) about 9 years ago when I joined the team after doing major gifts and foundation grants for a park partner—Ford’s Theatre Society. I came to NPF to be a writer for the Corporate Partnerships team and worked my way up to the account team. Today, as Director of Account Management, I oversee the team responsible for managing our portfolio of 65+ corporate partners.
Additionally, I lead the corporate partner stewardship and communications strategy, deepening relationships with our corporate partners and leveraging new opportunities for support. My role is largely support and strategy: I help my team identify and develop strategies for retention and growth, while also implementing processes and infrastructure to streamline and increase efficiencies.
I love that my job surprises me with new opportunities and challenges every day. We’re fortunate to work with a variety of brands, each of which brings their own perspective and creative approach to the partnership. I enjoy hearing a partner’s goals and figuring out how we can work together to deliver meaningful impact. Our national parks lend themselves beautifully to partnerships: they offer so many different resources and experiences—they are truly for everyone.
Q: Tell us more about the National Park Foundation’s vision of inspiring all people to connect with and protect America’s national parks. What inspires you about this vision?
A: Someone once called our national parks ‘America’s Best Idea’ because they represent a truly American value—they belong to all of us, for all time. That’s a powerful legacy and responsibility for us to carry on. The National Park Foundation is committed to this belief and actively works to help create opportunities for all people to experience the parks and discover their own meaningful connections. NPF also believes that we need to play an active role in preserving these cultural, historical, and natural treasures so they can continue to thrive for future generations.
I’m inspired by NPF’s mission as a park-lover; my family’s story can be found and traced through a number of sites in the National Park System and I have strong memories of my own childhood visits. As an adult, I see our role in the parks as a form of civic engagement that inspires me to contribute my time and energy for the benefit of all.
Q: Union Pacific Railroad has been a great supporter of your Open OutDoors for Kids program. What made youth engagement and education the right focus area for this partnership?
A: Union Pacific Railroad’s history is deeply intertwined with the story of America’s national parks. When the National Park Service was created more than a hundred years ago, Union Pacific helped connect people to these places by providing infrastructure for and transport to iconic western parks like Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Death Valley. Although the railroad no longer carries passengers to parks, it is still deeply committed to the core goals of community access, education, outreach and engagement.
Today, NPF and Union Pacific work together to connect the next generation with America’s national parks through NPF’s Open OutDoors for Kids program (a signature Youth Education and Engagement initiative), which provides national park experiences for thousands of students across the communities where Union Pacific operates. Since 2018, Union Pacific has helped connect over 250,000 young people to national park experiences.
I’m proud of this partnership because it would have been easy to focus on the past, but we both wanted to look to the future and serve the next generation of young people. Thanks to partners like Union Pacific, NPF has engaged more than one million students in educational programs connecting them with national parks across the country. Our goal is to connect another one million students to parks by the end of the 2024-25 school year.
Q: How do you ensure partnerships are mutually beneficial for both your organization and your partners?
A: Great partnerships start with listening. We really prioritize hearing from our partners about their priorities, goals, timelines, target markets, etc. Once we understand what they want to achieve, we look for alignment with NPF’s mission, goals, and initiatives. The right partnership will ensure all boats rise—and set expectations appropriately for who is delivering what and how the partnership should leverage each brand.
I know it can be hard for nonprofits to say no to some companies because we prioritize the cash commitment, but nonprofits should appreciate what they are bringing to the table and know their worth. I think the National Park Foundation has really come into its own doing this over the last couple years and I’m proud of that.
Q: Your partnerships seem to focus on many different areas of NPF programming, from conserving native wildlife to connecting youth with nature. Have you seen any trends or changes in corporate partner interest areas during your time at NPF?
A: From an impact perspective, we have seen an uptick in interest in carbon sequestration as companies look to build a net-zero strategy. Serving youth, particularly individuals from historically marginalized communities, continues to be a priority as the divide between those with access to parks and those facing barriers continues to grow.
As it relates to partner activations, nearly all our partners are coming to us looking to do impact storytelling and/or content together. As an organization, we are investing in our ability to tell our stories across the board and are thrilled to have partners that are interested in helping us leverage the work we are already doing.
5 Fun Facts about Hollis
- Last book read – Meetings with Marvelous Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World, Christopher De Hamel
- Favorite place to unwind -Somewhere green. Either my neighborhood national park (Fort Reno), or in my backyard.
- Best advice you’ve been given – Give credit to others for their contributions and take responsibility for your mistakes.
- Hobby/Talent – Or trying to get back into running (slowly)
- Most interesting place you’ve visited – Jordan
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