The Nature Conservancy California III

Spring-Summer 2014
Project Type
Full team
Project Focus
Market Analysis,
Marketing & Communications
Organization Type


Founded in 1951, the Conservancy is the world’s leading conservation organization, making a lasting difference around the world in more than thirty-five countries and all fifty states. In California, The Nature Conservancy works to safeguard and improve the health of natural landscapes and local communities from Mt. Shasta to the Mexican border, from the High Sierra to Big Sur, and the waters off the coast.


California has developed one of the largest and most complicated water infrastructure systems in the world. Originally, this water system was developed to deliver water to expanding cities and agricultural areas. It was not originally designed to deliver water for ecosystems. Today, some laws and regulations have been added to provide some protection and restoration of ecosystems, but only in a limited manner. Furthermore, the system often doesn’t work well for providing water for agriculture and/or cities. During a drought year, the limitations of the system result in severe cutbacks of water for people and nature. The Conservancy seeks to improve the ability of the system to more reliably deliver water, even in dry years, by:

  • ensuring that groundwater and surface water are managed collectively to meet multiple benefits in a sustainable way,
  • better utilizing new and existing water storage capacity to reserve water in wet times,
  • and increasing the flexibility of the system to deliver water where and when it is needed.

Two initiatives, groundwater reform legislation and a Water Bond, will likely be developed within the next two years. The Nature Conservancy wishes to secure the support of segments of the California Business Community to support principles in these initiatives that will optimize benefits to people and nature. The Conservancy is already engaging conservation organizations, state and federal agencies, water districts, and the farming community to secure support, and these entities tend to be vocal on water-related policy changes. The Business Community has traditionally been less vocal, but the Conservancy believes that it has a vested interest in a sustainable solution to California’s water challenges, and one that could align with the Conservancy’s goals.

Project Objectives

The Conservancy asked an ACT team to identify receptive business audiences for The Nature Conservancy’s outreach on passing environmentally friendly water legislation and then to articulate the associated messaging for each audience.

Project Overview

The team segmented California’s industry and conducted interviews within each segment to determine the interest in water issues and key themes that could be used in messaging. The team also identified best practices from other environmental nonprofits who have worked successfully with industry, as well as complementary organizations with existing industry relationships.

The team segmented California’s business audience as follows:

  • Major water dependency (e.g. food growers, the beverage industry, and home builders)
  • Semi-water dependent (e.g. energy, utilities, forestry, and mining)
  • Small California water footprint, but active elsewhere in the world (e.g. pharmaceutical, technology, and apparel)

Key Recommendations


  • Take a business development approach and target key companies selectively, starting with heavy water users in California
  • Partner for speed and efficiency
  • Consider utilizing existing CEO/Thought Leadership consortiums to reach lighter water users through other nonprofits that have built relationships with industry, such as CERES; organizations such as CERES are interested in partnering with TNC because TNC has domain expertise on water issues
  • Better leverage TNC’s existing corporate (and other) relationships, resources and assets; there are missed opportunities to better coordinate policy strategically with fundraising, as well as across policy areas

Key Conclusions

The ACT team clearly found multiple data points that indicate companies are concerned and involved in practices around water conservation, reuse, and risk management from third-party market research and interviews with companies, other nonprofits, and TNC itself at the global level. The ACT team felt confident saying that it does makes sense to engage businesses on water policy issues.

Translating that into specific messaging that would result in companies advocating for specific statewide issues such as the Water Bond or groundwater reform, however, is likely to be complex, especially since specific legislation is also likely to change over time. For one, the ACT team found that corporate policy interests are mostly limited to water issues directly affecting the local communities in which they operate or are part of global environmental concerns such as climate change. This means engagement must be highly customized to address each corporation’s concerns, and, as has been learned from other nonprofits, may require a process of relationship cultivation that could take several years. However, the ACT team proposed some ideas on how to accelerate that process for certain segments based on case studies, leveraging partnerships, and TNC’s existing corporate relationships both at the chapter and global levels.

Implementing any kind of marketing plan is likely to take significant resources that raise questions around how best to organize around and leverage the current team and how water policy issues are prioritized within the context of TNC CA’s full strategic agenda.

Final Report Outline

  • Midterm review highlights
  • Phase II findings – approaches for business segments, recommended partnerships, and resourcing
  • Conclusions and recommendations
  • Q&A/discussion