After reports of layoffs and financial issues at Yellowstone Forever, the official nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park, it was announced that Heather White, CEO and president of the organization, will resign effective Friday.
John Walda, treasurer of the board of directors of Yellowstone Forever, will serve as interim president and CEO, effective immediately. Walda retired last year from the National Association of College and University Business Officers where he was president and CEO. White will work with Walda on a transition.
In May the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported on layoffs at the organization, along with quotes from multiple sources that there were financial issues facing the nonprofit. Yellowstone Forever was created three years ago when two Yellowstone-affiliated nonprofits, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Yellowstone Association, merged. At that time there were concerns about a culture clash after the two nonprofits merged, and it was up to White and her top employees to smooth out any issues.
But the reports of the financial issues in the Daily Chronicle were left out there, along with criticism of White’s $286,626 compensation package reported in the latest financial disclosures. Yellowstone Forever’s financials, including White’s compensation package, are not a secret: the nonprofit posts plenty of information on its website, as well as reports on Guidestar, the website devoted to financial information from nonprofits. When looking through the most recent Yellowstone Forever 990 (Yellowstone Forever’s fiscal year runs from March 1 to February 28, so this 990 covers finances through February 28, 2018), it’s easy to see where the talk of million-dollar deficits reported by the Daily Chronicle arose: Yellowstone Forever reported a $1.63 million gap between revenues and expenses for the year ending Feb. 28, 2018, along with a tripling of salaries, $2.9 million in fundraising expenses (including two big contracts to two Washington, D.C. marketing firms) and an increase of over $11 million in overall expenses from FY2016 to FY2017. On the other hand, Yellowstone Forever more than tripled its contributions to Yellowstone National Park operations in that same period. (Though the missions are not totally analogous, take a look at the most recent 990 filed by the National Park Foundation, the official fundraising partner of the National Park Service.)
White’s resignation was announced by Kay Yeager, Yellowstone Forever chairman of the board.
“We are grateful for Heather’s leadership and her commitment to Yellowstone Forever and Yellowstone National Park,” said Yeager via a Yellowstone Forever press release. “Heather has been a tireless advocate for the organization and the park, has raised tens of millions of dollars for our mission, increased our brand awareness, and has brought energy, enthusiasm, and professionalism to her role.”
“I’ve worked for almost three years to help accomplish the merger of the two predecessor organizations of Yellowstone Forever—Yellowstone Association and Yellowstone Park Foundation—into a single foundation,” White said via a Yellowstone Forever press release. “I am proud that Yellowstone Forever is now reaching more people than ever before with our educational mission and digital reach. Since 2016, we have provided millions in cash grants to the park and in-kind aid. It’s now time for me to explore new adventures, and for a new leader of Yellowstone Forever.” White added that “it has been a privilege to help establish the mission, vision, and priorities of the organization, and to work with the board of directors and talented staff. I’m confident that Yellowstone Forever is poised for continued success.”
Walda will spend time in both the Bozeman and Gardiner, MT, offices of Yellowstone Forever. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to help serve the organization and its mission,” said Walda via a Yellowstone Forever press release. “Yellowstone National Park is among the world’s greatest natural treasures, and I’m humbled to be asked to lead the organization that supports the park. During my 13 years on the National Advisory Council and board of Yellowstone Park Foundation and then Yellowstone Forever, I have seen firsthand the tremendous time, talent, and financial contributions that our organization provides to the park. I look forward to working more closely with the leadership of the park, our donors and supporters, and our employees.”
Image of crowd perusing the Mammoth terraces near Palette Spring by Jacob W. Frank, courtesy National Park Service.