Lessons Learned: Tracking Success Across a Watershed

The St. Croix River Association (SCRA) is a non-profit in St. Croix Falls, WI with a full-time staff of 10. Their mission is to “protect, restore, and celebrate” the St. Croix River and its 8,000 square mile watershed spanning the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. With nearly 80% of this land held by private owners, it is crucial to engage those owners to ensure the health of the lands and waters of the St. Croix.

One way SCRA does this is through the My St. Croix Woods program. Developed collaboratively and led by SCRA, the program is modeled after successful woodland owner programs in Wisconsin. Learning from those efforts, they built in systems to ensure that they have the partners and service providers to fulfill the needs of landowners, can follow up on next steps, and can report on outcomes and adapt to new needs as they become apparent.

Landowner event. Photo by Nicole Butler.

A major part of this strategy was integrating monitoring and evaluation into the program from the start. As the program was being developed, SCRA built a Microsoft Access database using a shell created by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) for tracking landowner engagement. This streamlined the process of determining the necessary information to capture and programming the keywords needed to make retrieving relevant information easy—and simplifies data sharing with MN DNR and other partners.

SCRA was already using Neon, a CRM (customer relationship management) software, to track and engage with their members, donors, and volunteers—and they wanted to use it with landowners too. They utilized the software’s custom entry field features to align it with their Access database. The value of a program like Neon (and other CRMs) is that it keeps constituents engaged. If a landowner needs a follow-up email in six months, the system can send out the programmed message automatically. This supports the relationship that keeps the landowner moving toward land management.

 

SCRA also developed and implemented a landowner intake system to record landowner information such as acreage, tenure, tax incentive program enrollment, and primary use. This information is gathered through county tax rolls and other public records and entered into the tracking system before a messaging campaign is launched. They then use their database to prioritize parcels to target based on geographic priorities and initial criteria such as “land tenure less than 10 years” or “acreage greater than 100 acres”.

When SCRA launches a direct mailing campaign, each landowner targeted has that activity added to their record in the system. When a landowner acts on the call to action by calling SCRA, additional information is collected and added to their record. The call is conversational, using the intake form as a guide to collect details about the landowner. They gather information like reasons for owning land (beauty, recreation, hunting), management priorities (improving timber production, conservation/restoration for water quality, transitioning ownership), and interests relative to the landscape (camping, natural history of the area, fishing). They even assign the landowner to one of the TELE types. By collecting all of this data, SCRA can better target future messages and direct landowners to relevant partner programs.

As a landowner engages in activities like attending a partner workshop or calling a referred service provider, that is also captured in the system. This makes it possible to articulate the progress a landowner makes from initial contact to taking action on the ground—their progress along the Ladder of Engagement. Following the landowner’s activities also makes it easier to identify landowners that are ready and able to take advantage of new opportunities for financial and technical assistance when they become available.

Since SCRA handles landowner outreach, intake, and tracking for the My St. Croix Woods program, they also handle referrals to service providers. This requires follow-up to find out how landowners were served. While regular check-ins from service providers haven’t become routine yet—moving them into the mindset of regularly reporting their actions is showing promise. Even more encouraging is the feedback SCRA is getting straight from landowners. The follow-up mechanisms they have set up through their tracking system are proving effective in verifying action and supplementing service provider reporting, also serving as a tool for continued engagement.

 

This system is paying off. Since launching the first messaging campaign in fall 2017, they have seen landowners moving along the Ladder of Engagement, from receiving a mailing to calling SCRA to contacting a service provider to taking action on their land. They have also been able to demonstrate a 75% continued engagement rate—showing that the relationships being built and maintained are worth the effort.

Their ability to report on the effectiveness of their engagement is making SCRA an invaluable partner in facilitating high quality service delivery to landowners and leveraging funding for more intentional outreach and programming across the region. The organization has even won new funding to expand the area targeted by the program. They are now capitalizing on the tracking systems in place, demonstrating how showing results that extend beyond acreage can garner dollars and improve landscape management.

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