California State Parks Foundation

Spring-Summer 2014
Project Type
Full team
Project Focus
Earned Income
Organization Type


Founded in 1969, California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) is the only statewide, independent nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting, enhancing, and advocating for California’s 280 state parks. CSPF is committed to improving the quality of life for all Californians by expanding access to the natural beauty, rich culture, and history as well as recreational and educational opportunities offered by California’s state park system.  The organization has raised more than $200 million to benefit state parks and in the last decade membership has more than doubled from 50,000 to 130,000. CSPF’s role includes advocacy for policy excellence for state parks, capital and programmatic partnerships with the Parks Department such as summer learning opportunities focused on under-served school children, and a Technical Assistance Center supporting other state park nonprofits.  CSPF has undertaken a 34 acre wetlands restoration effort on San Francisco Bay in the Bayview-Hunters Point area of San Francisco. For this capital project, CSPF’s portfolio has included traditional fundraising as well as hiring and supervising the work of the design and engineering team. With 38 employees and 3600 volunteers, CSPF prides itself on being “Your Voice for Parks.”


CSPF’s $12M annual budget is heavily dependent on memberships (45%) and contributions (40%).  Membership revenue declined after the California State Parks Department’s discovery of previously undisclosed funds. Although membership is steadily recovering, the President and Board are committed to adding a significant earned revenue component, and the Board has established a five-person Revenue Ventures Committee for this purpose.

Project Objectives

  • Benchmark organizations similar to CSPF to determine their success in securing net positive cash flow from earned revenue programs and in promoting membership recruitment and retention and enhanced fundraising from such programs
  • Develop a process to evaluate earned revenue opportunities
  • Analyze several potential business opportunities using the evaluation process

Project Overview

The ACT team interviewed managers/staff from 10 organizations and performed reviews of published reports and web sites of 16 additional organizations, then defined a process for the identification and evaluation of new business opportunities that was appropriate for CSPF to utilize as the basis for an ongoing business development activity, including the skills and experience required to execute and monitor the process. The team then analyzed one business opportunity chosen by CSPF to illustrate how the model works, the California travel tour market.

Key Conclusions

  • CSPF’s mission doesn’t appear to currently lend itself to mission-oriented earned revenues, nor does it appear that CSPF’s assets would currently provide an opportunity for asset-oriented ER. The lion’s share of asset opportunities appear to be co-opted by the Dept. of Parks and Rec, DPR’s concessionaires and partners, and/or the 89 local state park cooperating associations. Therefore, it is seems unlikely that CSPF will be able to achieve its aspiration to realize $1M in ER or $0.5M in earned income.
  • Based on a limited research and analysis of the Structured Tour business using the ACT team’s Evaluation Model and the operational and financial assumptions made, the team concluded that the business did not leverage CSPF’s membership base and did not meet the desired net income/cash flow goal of $500K.
  • However, the 138,000 CSPF members remain a potential audience for marketing additional goods and services, and there might be statewide contracts with governmental agencies that could generate opportunities.

Final Report Outline

  • Work plan summary
  • Benchmark analysis
  • Earned revenue evaluation model
  • Scheduled tours assessment


Some benchmark findings:

  • Earned revenue varied widely (2% to 92% of gross revenue) as did earned income. Some ER produced a lot of earned income and some produced none.
  • The real story though was that most earned revenue and income was a direct function of an organization’s “mission” or “assets”, and there were NO instances of meaningful ER that primarily diversified funding sources.