On Tierra del Fuego

Experience in the World

My experience working in the world has given me unique preparation to provide leadership as a Church Pension Fund Trustee in the 21st Century.

For forty years I have practiced law in New York City, specializing in representing large and small tax-exempt, not-for-profit organizations, including several religious organizations and many secular ones. Until I became general counsel of the Wildlife Conservation Society, I also represented many for-profit companies.

For nearly two decades as outside counsel I represented, among other religious organizations, three denominational church pension funds: The Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board of American Baptist Churches, the United Church of Christ Pension Fund, and the YMCA Retirement Fund.

Each of these is organized as a New York not-for-profit corporation, as is the CPF. Each was formed at about the same time as the CPF. Each provides pension and other benefits for clergy and lay workers, just as the CPF does – but for the clergy and lay workers of the American Baptists, the UCC, and the YMCA, respectively. As is the CPF, each of these three is a “church plan” under federal law.

In representing these funds, my primary responsibilities were in the areas of board and committee governance, fiduciary responsibility, the definition of a “church plan” and the origins of these funds, and their investments.

In 33 years as a volunteer for TEC on responsible investing, from time to time I have interacted with CPF staff and leaders. I have never represented the CPF.

For the last 13 years of employment as a lawyer, I served as the first general counsel of the Wildlife Conservation Society, a global non-governmental organization (NGO). WCS is a New York not-for-profit corporation formed in 1896. In the United States, WCS is probably best known for running the Bronx Zoo. Equally important, WCS operates the largest wildlife conservation field program in the world, with projects in the U.S. and about 60 other countries.

WCS taught me about operating locally, nationally and globally as a New York City-based big NGO interacting with many other NGOs and local, state and national governments and international organizations, including the United Nations and the European Union. My work at WCS also taught me about understanding the political, social, organizational – and scientific – context in which WCS was operating and how to deal with the challenges and opportunities that context presented. We were committed to keeping WCS on mission in the 21st Century, while we recognized that, over time, the specifics of that mission had changed – and that they would continue to change.

Two examples of challenges that became opportunities for WCS:

  • Tierra del Fuego – Through its first century, WCS operated science based field conservation programs in cooperation with local people and government authorities, but without owning land. In the 21st Century, WCS was offered the gift of a large tract in Tierra del Fuego to be held by WCS as a wildlife reserve. This was something new and untried for WCS, but we decided to go ahead.

    Over two years I led the WCS legal team in structuring and negotiating the gifts, conducting due diligence, and carrying out the transfers with multiple land owners. WCS now owns and operates a major wildlife reserve in Chile of over 750,000 acres – larger than Rhode Island, which comprises about 677,000 acres.

  • Madagascar – As climate change became a focus of concern, WCS also saw an opportunity. We undertook an effort to help the Government of Madagascar finance the preservation of the last large forest on the island, the Makira Forest, through carbon credits.

    I led WCS’s legal team in structuring and negotiating landmark agreements with the Government to create carbon dioxide emission reduction credits from/in the Forest and to market them to support its protection. The credits were to be sold in a “compliance” market, but, due to global political conditions, that market has not come about. Instead, the credits are sold in a “voluntary” market, yielding far less revenue – but sales of Makira Forest credits do fund protection of the Forest

Fiduciary responsibility in an inclusive sense has been my professional concern for 40 years as a lawyer. Through my experience applying my knowledge and skills on a daily basis, I know how large not-for-profit, tax-exempt organizations accomplish their various missions. Also, by my experience with church plans, I know how such plans accomplish their missions. My experience has taught me how to do the work necessary to guide a not-for-profit organization through the shifting present, with proper regard for demands arising from without and within, but with an eye always on foundational mission. I know that challenges can be turned into opportunities.