Educating about Protection

Educating about Protection

Last week, I wrote about how two words – “educate” and “protect” – are used by land trusts in describing what they do but that serve to further distance themselves from the some of the same people they wish to serve – or at least partner with. (See Othering.)

In response to the post, Carol asked, “Great article but what’s the solution?” This week’s post will help answer that question.

One alternative to the word “educate” was offered by Lisa in another comment, “We use the term ‘engagement.’ How do you engage with your members, with your volunteers, with the public? It’s a two-way street. It is important to meet people where they are, and try to understand them, then you can have a dialogue that is respectful.

I like that a lot. I also like the words “discuss” and “explore.” Each of these words avoids the inferred hierarchy of “educate.” We are equals. I have knowledge, skills, and tools I can bring to the table and share. So do you. Let’s spend some time together to explore how we might work together.

It seems to me that the word “educate” stems from an attitude that we “know” something of value that the other person does not. In fact, we may be right. We may also be wrong. We’ve all seen the line graph heading upward, only to be revealed later as a temporary blip in an otherwise downward trend. Also, the other person may know something of value that we do not. Will we be open to contrary information, will we be equally open to learning, and will we be able to find common values if our attitude going in is as educator? Perhaps we could offer to “discuss” and “explore” instead.


Alternatives to the word “protect” are somewhat less satisfying. “Conserve,” “preserve,” and “guard” all come to mind, but “preserve” comes with its own baggage, and “conserve” and “guard” are equally ill-defined. Guard from what?

I think we should continue to use the word “protect,” but that we should always provide context for that protection. “Protection from subdivision and development” is very different from “protection from habitat destruction and resource extraction.” And “protection for natural area ecosystems” is different from “protection for affordable agriculture.”

Also, protection should be seen as an active term in the context of system management rather than as a museum-style preservation term. Anyone who has had to deal with aggressive non-native species will know what I mean.


In both cases, the words make assumptions that imply a hierarchy. They treat current landowners and even the general public as “others.” This is what Vu Le refers to as “othering.” We have science and technology and GIS, and we’re well positioned to show “them” exactly what to do in their own best interest. They just need to be educated, and if we listen hard enough, we will find places where our solutions will fit their problems.


But this blog is about communicating with donors. In many of our communications we treat members and donors as “others” too. What we can do with donors is apply the we/us/our filter to our writing. Here’s how:

In all donor communications – solicitations, thank-you letters, web material, newsletter articles, and everything else – highlight all the occurrences of the words “we,” “us,” and “our.” Now ask, “Does the pronoun explicitly include the reader?” If the answer is No, consider rewriting the sentence.

We need all kinds of people to make land conservation happen. We need land protection specialists, attorneys, scientists, administrators, and volunteers. And we need members and donors, too. I’m not saying put donors on a pedestal or inflate their importance, as some seem afraid of. But I do think they should not be “othered.”


Here are several examples (with rewrites) I have pulled out of my recent mailbox:

Help us carry out these programs and our other vital work.”

You can help carry out these programs and other vital work.

We are writing to tell you how much we value your support. It has helped us achieve so much over the past two decades, and we miss hearing from you.”

I am writing to let you know that your support has achieved made much of this work possible over the past two decades. I hope to hear from you soon.

With your help, we will make strides in improving the health of the Bay as we continue our efforts to protect this vital and cherished natural resource.”

Working together, we will make strides in improving the health of the Bay and protect this vital and cherished natural resource.


In each of these cases, becoming conscious is the first step. The more we see it, the more we will see it. And the better chance we will have of making an even greater difference.






Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel courtesy of


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  • Barbara Romanansky
    Posted at 16:51h, 16 June

    Thank you David for always reminding us to be mindful of the use of appropriate pronouns in our correspondence. Now that I am so very much more aware of the use of “you”, not “us”, I wince when I read correspondence from other non-profits!

    That said, I’m not buying the “education” part of your writing. I feel it’s just a case of semantics. Don’t we, after all, “educate” the public about health concerns, nutrition, parenting, etc? Aren’t we “educated” in school? How about “Adult Education” programs at local high schools and colleges? Yes, I totally agree, we need to “Engage” the public about the importance of land conservation, but don’t we do that through education? Do we engage or do we teach about the amazing world found in a vernal pool, which most folks have never heard about?

    In my work, I am guided by Baba Dioum’s quote: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” To me, taught = educated.

  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 16:35h, 13 June

    Great perspective and discussion from everyone! Thank you for facilitating and for making me think more clearly about our communications. Your examples are appreciated!

  • Kristie Nackord
    Posted at 14:12h, 13 June

    From my In-Box this morning.

    Hi David~

    I sure am appreciating your posts of late that are exploring the “othering” we (myself totally included) find ourselves doing (it’s part of the human condition, no, believing ourselves to be separate?!) and that you are helping to illuminate specifically here in conservation. What a gift! I’m pretty sure some of the greatest religions have been trying to tackle this one for millennia!

    I love this week how you are highlighting the inclusivity of our work. It truly takes a village doesn’t it? What I am finding myself doing these days is more and more looking through the lens of community as I gaze upon my communications, to help create more inclusivity in my language, online and offline. Because community is inclusive by its very nature. It recognizes that it truly does take a village to create the betterment for all. All of us, with all of our gifts. As I see it, land trusts have amazing gifts, as you also pointed out this week: lawyers, GIS, scientists, talented personnel, access to specialized consultants, etc. And the rest of the community has gifts too: landowners, passion, vision, hands, tools, money, hearts, votes, etc. Earth has her gifts too: wildlife, water, land, air, gravity (hey, we could float right outta here!), dark skies, minerals, magic… Together, as a community, with each of our beautiful and unique gifts, we make/create conservation.

    As a communicator in the beginning, I felt like I had to “prove our worth” as a land trust. (Yet another human condition to have compassion for, no? The mind always trying to prove its worth to ensure its survival?!) That is when my language tends toward the our/we/us that you awesomely pointed out. That language also arises for me when I’m seeing the land trust as separate from the community doing this thing for them as opposed to with them. I really appreciate how you pointed that out this week too, as well as the questions around “protect” and “from whom” or “from what”? All great questions and I like your suggestions and ideas on how to use the word protect. More to contemplate there for me.

    As I begin to shift my gaze that is more community-oriented I see that we are all ‘in it’ together. Call it the middle, call it the pedestal, we’re all there (wherever that is) together. Same-same and on common ground. From that vantage point it is much harder for me to see a donor as an ATM machine to acquiesce to, or to treat any differently than anyone else in ‘my community’. Each one of us, with our amazing gifts, are essential and critical to the whole.

    I have much to learn with all of this and by no means have it all figured it out and again appreciate the awareness that you are bringing to our land trust community around this topic. May we all find inspiration!

    Thank you for your weekly commitment to writing blog posts! Much appreciated, David.


    Kristie Nackord

    • David Allen
      Posted at 14:19h, 13 June


      Beautifully said – thank you for composing this and sharing it with me. I don’t always know who I am reaching and when, so it’s always extra special when someone takes the time to validate what I have written.



  • Lisa Haderlein
    Posted at 09:03h, 13 June

    Wow, does Vu know that his othering post led to four of yours! 🙂 Thank you for the sample language. You make Tuesdays better!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 14:22h, 13 June


      Even more impressively, Vu’s post of almost a month ago now, stimulated hundreds of conversations around the country. It turns out there are lots of people asking these same questions and getting into similar conversations.