Tips for organizing an outreach event

Encourage the landowner to begin thinking about the land and talking to others in the same situation. This could occur through formal workshops; informal conversations; or even casual events, such as hikes. These events don’t have to be directly related to conservation-based estate planning; often issues relevant to land ownership—such as wildlife, recreation, land management, or natural history—can be an important first step in initiating contact and discussion with a landowner.

Landowners have a strong preference for receiving information regarding the future of their land through mailed materials. One strategy to consider is to send written information about their options, then follow up the mailing by organizing a local event or setting up a private meeting with a professional.

You are not going to teach landowners everything they need to know in a two-hour program. The goal instead is to instill in them the confidence to take the next step and connect them with local people who can help, whether a professional or a peer.

Ask a professional to speak to provide technical information. The type of expert will vary based on the goals of the program and could include an estate planning attorney, a land protection specialist, a CPA, or a land appraiser. Importantly, prepare the expert before the program to ensure that he or she won’t overwhelm people with facts. Turning a fire hose of information on landowners may lead to confusion or reinforce their feeling of being overwhelmed. Keep the information simple and let landowner questions guide the depth of the content. Try conducting programs with specific emphases to reach landowners in different situations and in different stages of the process. For example, programs may focus on taxes, appraisals, conservation easements, or the ecological value of the land.

Be sure to include at least one landowner who can tell his or her story of conservation-based estate planning. An expert is great for facts, but fellow landowners can share the reasons that motivated them, how they went about it, and the lessons they learned—all in their own, non-expert language. Landowner stories show others that it can be done and are regularly evaluated as one of the most valuable aspects of outreach events.

Be sure to hold the program in a location that is familiar, comfortable, and neutral. Examples include a community center, restaurant, or library.

Encourage discussion throughout the program. People typically rate the question-and-answer session as one of the most valuable parts of a program. This type of discussion covers a lot of information, ensures that people understand the important points, and gives landowners a chance to hear about the experiences of other landowners in similar situations. Remember: There is immense value in peers sharing their knowledge and experiences with one another.

Life is messy, so stress flexibility. Land can be used in a number of ways to meet personal and financial goals. There is a solution to meet every landowner’s particular goals; it’s just a matter of working through those goals to find out which combination of conservation-based estate planning tools will work best.

When marketing the program, don’t rely exclusively on e-mail blasts and newspaper announcements. Time spent on the phone personally inviting landowners will produce the best results, particularly if the landowners know the person inviting them.

Pie and coffee are one of the most valuable conservation tools we have. Always have food and drinks available. Food creates an open atmosphere that encourages informal discussion. It also often extends the amount of time people stay at the end of the program, again increasing the likelihood of connections being made. Consider reserving the last thirty minutes of the program for dessert and conversation.

Evaluate the program. Find out what people liked and how you can improve the next program. This need not be a scientific survey. A few simple questions—What did you enjoy most? or How can this program be improved?—can be very insightful. Asking landowners to include the amount of acres they own and the action(s) they will take as a result of the program can also help you document the impact of the program.

Follow up the program with a personal contact. The program evaluation can be used as an opportunity to see if landowners would like to provide their contact information for a follow-up call or visit. The follow-up allows you to check in with landowners on their progress and to help them in any way that you can.