The Last Word with…Brook McDonald

Brook McDonaldBrook McDonald was "fortunate enough to grow up near parks and other open spaces," and "played a lot outside as a kid."

"I learned how to shoot the basketball at my neighborhood park and played in the creek across the street in the woods. My first jobs in the summer were working with the local parks department supervising playgrounds and summer camps, and teaching T-ball," said McDonald, who is the president and CEO of The Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit land and river protection organization in Naperville, Ill., that was founded in 1972.

"I knew I wanted to study conservation and the environment in college, so growing up in parks and working in parks and natural areas was a huge influence," he said. "I also played sports all my younger years, so being around parks and athletic complexes was just part of growing up."

Noting that The Conservation Foundation works primarily in the Northeast Illinois collar counties—DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will—he said that its mission is "to partner with park and forest preserve districts, landowners and local communities to preserve open space (make more parks and forest preserves), and clean up our rivers and streams. We do tons of community education and outreach, as well as land transactions and ecological restoration.

"My job is to make sure we are doing all of this at an extremely high level, and ensuring we have both the human and financial resources to do so. I do a lot of fundraising and marketing, public speaking, managing staff and strategic planning. I have to keep the ship moving in the right direction," he said.

McDonald, who said he is in "the tail-end" of his career, wants to "ensure that TCF stays impactful in the future and remains a successful, reasoned voice for conservation."

His priorities are to ensure that the foundation is "positioned financially to remain relevant in the future, and seen as a local, community partner that helps improve the quality of life for future generations," he said.

"We have positioned ourselves over the past few years as being very local and working at the neighborhood level, helping homeowners, homeowners associations and municipal partners achieve their conservation goals," he explained. "Projects include anything that helps improve the environment in a local area, such as building rain gardens and other community gardens, implementing a rain barrel program, helping create local community parks, cleaning up a stream through a subdivision, planting trees in an open area—things [that] improve the quality of life where people live."

He said the foundation does this "through community partnerships and annual agreements with municipalities and park districts, where we work together on tailored conservation plans. People see us as 'part of their community' and value us as a community partner, because we are working on things that are meaningful, relevant and impactful to them.

"Financially, we have set up an endowment fund that will be built from planned gifts. This money will help ensure we have long-term, sustainable and unrestricted funding to do the things that need to be done, and rely less on restricted grants, which have a tendency to come and go," he said. "In addition, we are building our individual donor base, focusing especially on major donors."

When asked what recreation activities he enjoys in his free time, McDonald said he loves to garden and "pretty much do anything outside in my yard, which is more than an acre of conservation and native landscaping," he said. "I love to volunteer and participate in woodland restoration and stewardship activities, mostly on TCF properties. I am an avid kayaker and angler, love to hike and camp, and enjoy ending a great day outdoors around a campfire with friends and a cocktail."