October 19, 2015|By Reggie Hall
RALLY (also known as the National Land Conservation Conference) is the largest land conservation conference in the country. This year’s RALLY was held in Sacramento, California, and attended by more than 1,800 land trust staff, volunteers, donors, agencies and others from all 50 states, Canada, Australia, South America and beyond. Quite an impressive gathering, considering there were only 255 attendees at the first RALLY in 1985. This annual conference is THE opportunity to gather with colleagues, learn new skills, make new friends and catch up with old ones and hopefully return to our operating regions with a renewed sense of vigor. We may also have had a little fun while we are all together.

I've been attending Rally for more than a decade now, and every year has a different energy and feel. Here are the top five things I’ve learned at RALLY:

1. More local land trusts are pursuing business ventures. I heard many stories about land trusts using land to generate revenue. The revenue might be used to finance the acquisition of the property or it might simply be a new look at an old holding to generate stewardship funds or unrestricted revenue. For example, one land trust is completing a timber harvest on an old preserve to improve habitat, and another is entering into a joint venture with a mitigation banker on a wetlands project. It could also mean the purchase and protection of farmland and instead of selling the land to a farmer, holding onto the property and leasing it instead. 

2. There are a lot of investors and private capital interested in land conservation. Globally there is more than $50 billion worth of capital available to achieve conservation. However, there is more than a $300 billion need. Just a little discrepancy! Now what about land conservation in the United States? Heard about "mission impact investing" yet? All of the big finance houses on Wall Street and wealth advisors are talking about it. They have hundreds of millions of dollars available and they are looking for ways to invest. Can you help them? Do you know which groups work in your area and use private capital for conservation? If you don't, I suggest you find out. Start with the Conservation Finance Network's website - www.conservationfinancenetwork.org. They have numerous articles on a variety of topics in the field and they can also provide a few phone numbers of groups to contact in your region.

3. You never know whom you're going to meet. That person in the hotel elevator or sitting next to you in a plenary could be a fellow land trust staffer, the benefactor of a foundation or even a federal agency chief. You just never know, and you definitely won't if you don't say, “Hi.” It doesn't stop when RALLY ends. Seated next to me on the flight home was the executive director of a land trust who had attended one of the sessions I had taught, and so we just picked up our conversation right where we left off.

4. No matter how many RALLYs you've attended, you always learn something new. It could be a statistic referenced during a plenary, it could be a new skill or section of tax code or it simply could be yet another way to solve a challenge that you face in your own work. The knowledge base at RALLY is astounding and you can't help but learning something new.

5. You get physically exhausted but inspired. I don't know about others, but for me RALLY feels like a marathon. Pre-breakfast coffee meetings, followed by breakfast meetings and then plenaries, concurrent sessions, dinners, receptions, post reception meetings… bed at some point. And yet, through the long physical hours, my spirit is uplifted by comparing notes, sharing war stories, and making contacts with people who are equally passionate about conservation.

These are just a few of the things I have learned by attending Rally. I know there is always more to learn, so I’ll be ready to RALLY again next year in Minneapolis. Until then...RALLY on.