Updated Jan. 15, 2021
Nonprofit organizations provide services that benefit communities by providing resources and support. In addition, many nonprofit groups work with the National Park Service on projects and programs in parks around the nation. These partnerships between the nonprofits and the parks play a key role in welcoming visitors to parks, preserving history, lands and living things in parks and extending the benefits of parks into communities.
There are several nonprofit groups that operate in and around Death Valley National Park. Those in the immediate vicinity of Death Valley, including the three discussed here, are these nonprofit organizations:
Amargosa Conservancy (Amargosa Land Trust)
Amargosa Opera House Inc.
Death Valley ‘49ers Inc.
Death Valley Conservancy
Death Valley Natural History Association
Laws Railroad Museum & Historical Site (Bishop Museum & Historical Society)
Besides the organizations listed above, the National Park Foundation and The Fund for People in Parks (Community Initiatives) contribute a significant amount of funding to Death Valley National Park and at least one of the local nonprofit groups.
Before donating to a nonprofit group, government agencies and professional charity watch groups recommend researching and evaluating nonprofit organizations. Some examples of those recommendations in addition to registry search sites are listed below:
Federal Trade Commission Before Giving to a Charity
California Attorney General Charity Research Resources
Charity Navigator 5 Steps to Informed Giving
Charity Watch Charity Donating Tips
IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search
California Attorney General Registry Verification Search
Candid 990 Finder
Of the six nonprofit groups that operate in the immediate area of Death Valley National Park, including the three discussed here, none have been evaluated by Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.
There are various reasons a nonprofit group has not been evaluated, and the fact that a nonprofit organization has not been evaluated is not any sort of negative reflection on the organization.
Most donors prefer to do the research and work themselves and online websites like GuideStar, Charity Navigator and Charity Watch can be helpful. Once donors have identified a charity that they wish to support, they should further evaluate the organization. Here are items recommended by the American Endowment Foundation:
1. Look at the charity’s mission and determine if this is important to the donor.
2. How many people has the organization helped, has that increased or decreased over time? Given the budget, is that number reasonable?
3. Review financial information. Is it transparent and recent? Are the expenses in line with the budget? Has the budget increased or decreased?
4. Talk with the organization’s leadership. Has there been turnover of key staff members? How can the donation be best utilized?
5. Identify who is on the board of directors. Are there many or few board members? Are they business or community leaders?
6. Evaluate the main supporters. Are there many funders or few? Have key funders been involved for some time?
7. Discuss with the leadership how the donor can be most helpful in addition to financial contributions.
8. Visit the organization if possible or volunteer to really get to know the people and quality of the work.
9. Determine that the organization has a very good reputation.
10. Feel confident that contributions and efforts will be appreciated and utilized effectively and efficiently.
Officers, Directors and Mission
Amargosa Opera House Inc.
The Amargosa Opera House Inc. was formed and received its nonprofit status by the IRS in 1973. The founding officers were Marta Becket Williams, Thomas Williams and Danny R. Jones. The purpose of the nonprofit organization was “To engage in the business of displaying artwork and providing repertoire ballet performances.” The organization’s mission on the 2017 IRS 990 return states the mission is now the “Cultural advancement, cultural performances and conservation of national historic monument.”
The Amargosa Opera House Inc. has mostly operated with three officers per year. Marta Becket last served as president in 2015 and died in 2017. The California Attorney General sent the nonprofit a notice of intent to suspend or revoke the nonprofit’s registration in 2017 regarding reporting requirements. The nonprofit president Fred Conboy was able to correct the situation and the nonprofit is listed as current with their registration.
Death Valley Conservancy
The Death Valley Conservancy submitted its application to the IRS for nonprofit status Oct. 21, 2008 and was approved Jan. 29, 2009.
Preston Chiaro is listed as president with the qualifications of “Business Leader, CEO Rio Tinto Energy & Minerals and former CEO of U.S. Borax (a subsidiary). Borax has deep ties to the heritage of Death Valley and a long, sustained history of generous support of Death Valley National Park going back to 1933.” Henry Golas is listed as secretary & treasurer with the qualifications of “Historic Preservation Consultant, Death Valley Supporter/Activist Over 25 Years.”
The mission statement and planned activities listed in the application are “To ensure excellence in education, resource stewardship and visitor experiences at DVNP for present and future generations. The Corporation will also seek to make educational, historical materials and experiences available to the public – connect the public to the heritage, values and experiences of the DVNP area. The specific and primary purposes of the Corporation are to (i) preserve, restore and enhance the natural beauty and features, the ecological systems and the cultural and historic heritage of DVNP and its associated environs, resources and heritage, (ii) to enhance the educational, interpretive, historical, research and experimental opportunities relating to DVNP, (iii) to increase public awareness, enjoyment and appreciation of DVNP and its associated environs as well as their collective cultural heritage, and (iv) to support the efforts of the NPS and other organizations and individuals in furtherance thereof.”
In the application to the IRS for nonprofit status Oct. 21, 2008, the Death Valley Conservancy listed that they are represented by attorneys Thomas McHenry and Carol (Kari) Krusmark, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Los Angeles, California. Kari Krusmark became the vice president of the Death Valley Conservancy in 2011. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP also provides legal services to Rio Tinto.
Sandra Moore became a director of the conservancy in 2012. Sandra Moore is married to Jeff Moore who worked for US Borax at Ryan Camp. Scott Smith, whose name appears in certain years, is an employee of the conservancy and not an officer or director.
Death Valley Natural History Association
The Death Valley Natural History Association registration of charitable trust is dated July 14, 1963. The officers and directors were Tilly Barling, M. Edd Burton, George D. Curtis, Esy Fields, Russell M. Johnson, Joe Kern, Wesley E. Niles, Margaret Rayner and Kenney L. Scruggs.
The mission stated in the registration is “to engage in the promotion of the scientific, educational, interpretive and historical activities of the National Park Service. The specific and primary purposes for which it is formed are: 1. To cooperate with the National Park Service in stimulating interest in educational activities and encouraging historical and scientific investigation relating to Death Valley National Monument by: a. Sponsoring, preparing, publishing and selling books, pamphlets, folders, maps, technical bulletins or other printed material. b. Buying, handling, and selling or otherwise distributing such Government and private publications, illustrative and visual aid materials, goods and merchandise as may be approved by the Superintendent of Death Valley National Monument. c. Obtaining, preparing and disseminating photographs, slides, motion pictures, and other visual aid materials for purposes of explaining and interpreting facts relating to Death Valley National Monument. d. Obtaining and acquiring material, equipment, and services suitable for use in developing the scientific, historic museum and interpretive work at Death Valley National Monument. e. Assisting in the developing and maintenance of the Death Valley National Monument library facilities. f. Assisting in the preservation of objects or documents important to Death Valley National Monument and in gathering and preserving of historic and scientific information. 2. To cooperate with the United States Government generally in the completion and development of Death Valley National Monument for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. 3. To take and hold by purchase, gift, devise or bequest, either real or personal property or both, and/ or carry out the obligations or provisions of any trust imposed by will or deed of trust, or otherwise where the trust is created for any charitable or public purpose, and where the same is not repugnant to any law of the State of California, and to use and dispose of any property of any kind for the purpose only for which this corporation is formed. 4. To accept, hold and disperse funds received by donation or other means for the purposes of this corporation. 5. Promote programs of research in Death Valley National Monument.”
The Death Valley Natural History Association has four officers consisting of the chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer. Board officers sit on the board as regular members before being elected as officers. The length of a term is three years and may be renewed by board approval. At the completion of two terms the board member may serve in an advisory capacity for one year and then the term cycle can continue. Advisory members are not usually found listed on IRS Form 990 Part VII Section A.
The backgrounds and professional experience of the officers and board members is extremely diverse. In addition, employees with Rio Tinto have maintained a regular presence in board officer positions. Mike Rauschkolb was the U.S. Borax Landman from 1984 to 2006 and a Rio Tinto project manager from 2006 to 2011. Nathan Francis was employed by Rio Tinto in 2011 as a Land Manager. In the above chart Rauschkolb served as the chair 2008 to 2011. Nathan Francis served on the board in 2013 and was then elected to officer positions 2014 to 2018. Francis then served in an advisory capacity in 2019 and returned to an officer position in 2020.
Compensation of Officers, Directors and Key Employees
The chart below contains information from the IRS 990 Form Part VII Compensation of Officers, Directors, Trustees, Key Employees, Highest Compensated Employees and Independent Contractors.
Form 990 Schedule A – Part II Support Schedule for Organizations Described in Sections 170(b)(1)(A)(iv) and 170(b)(1)(A)(vi); or Part III Support Schedule for Organizations Described in Section 509(a)(2); Section C. Computation of Public Support Percentage
Public Support Test. For an organization to qualify as a publicly supported organization under section 170(b)(1)(A)(vi), either:
33 1/3% or more of its total support must come from governmental agencies, contributions from the general public, and contributions or grants from other public charities; or 10% or more of its total support must come from governmental agencies, contributions from the general public, and contributions or grants from other public charities and the facts and circumstances indicate it is a publicly supported organization.
Part III. Support Schedule for Organizations Described in Section 509(a)(2)
Public Support Test. For an organization to qualify as a publicly supported organization under section 509(a)(2):
More than 33 1/3% of its support normally must come from gifts, grants, contributions, membership fees, and gross receipts from admissions, sales of merchandise, performance of services, or furnishing of facilities in an activity which isn’t an unrelated trade or business under section 513; and no more than 331/3% of its support normally must come from gross investment income and net unrelated business income (less section 511 tax) from businesses acquired by the organization after June 30, 1975.
IRS Form 990 Information
Information Sources and Credits:
- Amargosa Land Trust
- Amargosa Opera House Inc.
- American Endowment Foundation
- Bishop Museum & Historical Society
- California Attorney General
- Charity Navigator
- Charity Watch
- Community Initiatives
- Death Valley 49ers Inc.
- Death Valley Conservancy
- Death Valley Natural History Association
- Federal Trade Commission
- Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
- Internal Revenue Service
- National Park Foundation
- National Park Service
- Rio Tinto
(Please notify author on the website contact page for errors, omissions or suggestions.)