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Networking for conservation: social capital and perceptions of organizational success among land trust boards

Tatyana B. Ruseva, Appalachian State University
James R. Farmer, Indiana University
Charles Chancellor, Clemson University


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As an important component in collaborative natural resource management and nonprofit governance, social capital is expected to be related to variations in the performance of land trusts. Land trusts are charitable organizations that work to conserve private land locally, regionally, or nationally. The purpose of this paper is to identify the level of structural and cognitive social capital among local land trusts, and how these two types of social capital relate to the perceived success of land trusts. The analysis integrates data for land trusts operating in the U.S. south-central Appalachian region, which includes western North Carolina, southwest Virginia, and east Tennessee. We use factor analysis to elicit different dimensions of cognitive social capital, including cooperation among board members, shared values, common norms, and communication effectiveness. Measures of structural social capital include the size and diversity of organizational networks of both land trusts and their board members. Finally, a hierarchical linear regression model is employed to estimate how cognitive and structural social capital measures, along with other organizational and individual-level attributes, relate to perceptions of land trust success, defined here as achievement of the land trusts’ mission, conservation, and financial goals. Results show that the diversity of organizational partnerships, cooperation, and shared values among land trust board members are associated with higher levels of perceived success. Organizational capacity, land trust accreditation, volunteerism, and financial support are also important factors influencing perceptions of success among local, nonprofit land trusts.

Key words

land conservation; land trusts; networks; organizational success; social capital

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087