Ann Taylor Schwing, an attorney with Best, Best & Krieger, is one of the four original accreditation commissioners chosen in 2006.
She’s currently on her third and last term and says she’s enjoyed the entire experience. She recalls the first two years being spent developing the program, the application, and the materials.
“It took a lot of initial work”
They began with a pilot program, which helped them prepare before implementing the regular accreditation process.
As they developed the process—they reviewed other accreditation programs like those for hospitals, schools, museums and zoos and found that the museums and zoos had the model that best fit the goals they had for the program.
“It’s been learning process for all,” says Taylor Schwing. “We’ve learned as much, or more, as the land trusts.”
The renewal process for the first round of land trusts that were accredited is underway, and she’s looking forward to watching the process unfold.
“It kind of brings it to a completion for me”
The accreditation process is all done on paper, or through electronic document review, with the rare exception of a site visit, she says.
Other accreditation programs—such as those for schools or colleges—will include having a group come and visit the site for a week and look at all the documents and review policies in person. That wasn’t realistic with an all-volunteer commission, she says.
Taylor Schwing enjoys working with the 19 commissioners. “Some have more expertise in one area than in other so they are able to share expertise and learn from each other.”
She’s also enjoyed learning about other organizations.
“I’ve really enjoyed seeing how different land trusts deal with the same problem and how it is different for different land trusts across the country”
She describes some of the different issues she’s encountered. For example, in the east where the land is all built up, 10 acres is considered to be a sizeable amount. In California, that might be too few acres for an easement.
She also enjoys learning how different organizations carry out their duties—whether they are paid staff or volunteers.
“It’s a function of the experience and the kind of people they have on board,” says Taylor Schwing.
“It’s just fascinating to see how different it can be and be successful.”
She points out that the commissioners are committed to the success of the organizations they review.
“We want it to be successful!”
She keeps volunteering her time, even after two terms, partly out of curiosity.
“I’m learning all the time.”
Like the other commissioners, Taylor Schwing doesn’t have a set territory, but she disqualifies herself from working with land trusts in California and says it’s a common practice on the commission.
“There are 49 other states,” she says.
Her advice for land trusts going through the process?
“Read the stuff on the website,” she says referring to the suite of guidance documents on the website including a requirements manual. “We’re not trying to keep any secrets or make it hard”
But, she notes, it is a time consuming process—and commissioners take very seriously the charge that they are given to review applications.
“And we’re really happy when people succeed!”
Despite the time and work it takes to become accredited, Taylor Schwing believes it’s an important accomplishment.
“Outsiders can find a level of confidence that a land trust is a quality organization when they see that it’s accredited,” she says.
In addition to her desire to keep learning, Taylor Schwing continues to commit her time because she believes in the value of accreditation and enjoys the relationships she’s built with the other commissioners.
“The other commissioners are really good people,” she says. “I didn’t realize how many good friends I would make when I joined the commission.”
By Dawn Van Dyke
Photo courtesy Photos by Marissa