“Forty years and a million lives changed,” is how Susan Smartt, president and CEO of NatureBridge, describes her organization’s achievements so far. Every year, the nonprofit sends around 30,000 K-12 students from 600 schools across the country on three- to five-day field science programs in spectacular outdoor classrooms: our national parks.
NatureBridge seeks to connect children—who, studies say, now spend less than 1 percent of their time outdoors—to the wonder and science of nature. “It’s about a science curriculum,” says Smartt. “But we’re also helping to prepare kids to solve the environmental challenges we face, and to be ready for tomorrow’s workforce in the green economy.”
Bank sees strengths, supports new center
In 2009, New Resource Senior Vice President Jack Bertges approached NatureBridge. He was familiar with the organization’s work and thought a partnership made perfect sense. The nonprofit agreed wholeheartedly. New Resource’s strong focus on sustainability was the clincher for them. “We want to walk our talk,” Smartt says, “whether it’s paper vendors or banking. So New Resource was a great match for us.”
The timing couldn’t have been better for NatureBridge. The nonprofit’s next big project was a $25 million Environmental Education Center in Yosemite, but conducting analysis for the required environmental impact statement and getting sign-off from the National Park Service was a multi-year process that would cost $8 million. NatureBridge had pledges from private donors to cover this cost, but not all the pledges had been collected.
In addition to a line of credit and various deposit accounts, New Resource set up NatureBridge with a $2 million term loan to cover the gap between the pledges and cash in the bank—underwriting the loan on the strength of the nonprofit’s history, the viability of its proposed campus and its strong donor support. Smartt says, “A more traditional bank would have balked at using donor pledges as collateral. But New Resource was there when we needed them.”
Partners in sustainability
The term loan has since been paid back in full and NatureBridge is $3 million into its capital-raising campaign for the Yosemite Environmental Education Center. Smartt feels she can call on New Resource again for help if there’s another funding gap to get past. In the meantime, she says NatureBridge couldn’t be happier with the bank: “Great service and a commitment to sustainability that runs through everything they do, from their green building to their client list. What more could we ask for?”