Networking for Conservation: Understanding the Contributions of Social Capital and Organizational Networks to Private Land Protection
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Empirically, this study integrates data for 24 land trusts operating in western North Carolina, southwest Virginia, and east Tennessee. The analysis draws on: i) semi-structured interviews with land trust executive directors; ii) survey responses from land trusts’ board members (n=95); and iii) analysis of organizational documents (e.g. IRS Form 990). Structural social capital is measured using two-mode affiliation network data derived from board members’ responses regarding their membership or leadership positions in other nonprofit organizations. We use the National Center for Charitable Statistics NTEE codes to classify board members’ organizational affiliations in our relational data. Quantitative network measures (e.g. density, centrality, diversity) are then computed and analyzed, along with a more qualitative understanding of network content and function (bonding, bridging, or linking social capital). Next, we use principle component factor analysis to elicit different dimensions of cognitive social capital, including interpersonal trust, collective vision, cooperation, communication effectiveness, and organizational culture. Last, bivariate and multivariate (OLS regression) analyses help relate social capital measures to reported levels of organizational performance (mission, conservation goals, and financial goals) and the record of land protection (number of conservation easements, total acreage protected). The analysis controls for organizational resources and state conservation tax policy terms. Preliminary findings show that while linking social capital is critical for land protection, the conservation success of many low-capacity land trusts is largely explained by bonding, bridging, and cognitive social capital. We draw lessons that can support the work of land conservancies in a time of constrained state budgets and commitments to land protection.