New Partnership Expands Giving Opportunities

Article by Rick Cowen, Board Member

Thanks to a partnership with the Vermont Community Foundation [VCF], The Nature Museum can now receive gifts that support the museum’s work while gaining income and tax advantages for donors.

As a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, The Nature Museum is wholly supported by donations, and program fees, in-kind gifts, and grants. The generosity of our supporters allows us to offer exciting and affordable nature programs, to schools and libraries, day camps for youth and engaging talks and fun walks for adults eager to explore and steward the natural world.

The Vermont Community Foundation (VCF) Planned Giving Partnership is a positive new relationship for us as it allows new ways for our donors to invest in The Nature Museum. Established in 1986 as a permanent source of support for the state, VCF is a family of hundreds of funds and foundations created by Vermonters to serve their charitable goals. The Vermont Community Foundation provides the advice, investment vehicles, and back-office expertise to make your charitable giving easy and inspiring.  

Planned giving is a way of supporting non-profits, such as The Nature Museum, in many different ways: 

  • bequest
  • including The Nature Museum as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy or retirement account
  • charitable gift annuities (CGAs)
  • charitable remainder trusts (CRTs)

Charitable gift annuities make fixed payments, starting either when the gift is made (an immediate-payment gift annuity) or at a later date (a deferred or flexible gift annuity).  Charitable remainder unitrusts and annuity trusts are individually managed trusts that pay the beneficiaries either a fixed percentage of trust income or a fixed dollar amount.

While some planned gifts, such as charitable gift annuities, provide lifelong income to the donor, others use estate- and tax-planning techniques to provide for charity and other heirs in ways that maximize the gift and/or minimize its impact on the donor's estate.

What are the tax benefits of planned gifts?

  • Donors can contribute appreciated property, like securities or real estate, receive a charitable deduction for the full market value of the asset, and pay no capital gains tax on the transfer.
  • Donors who establish a life-income gift receive a tax deduction for the full, fair market value of the assets contributed, minus the present value of the income interest retained.  If they fund their gift with appreciated property, they pay no upfront capital gains tax on the transfer.
  • Gifts payable to charity upon the donor’s death, like a bequest or a beneficiary designation in a life insurance policy or retirement account, do not generate a lifetime income tax deduction for the donor, but they are exempt from estate tax.

IRA Rollover or RMD Distribution

Under the 2015 Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act [PATH], the IRA Charitable Rollover is extended permanently. As a result, you or your spouse (if over age 70 1/2) can authorize your IRA/Roth custodian or plan administrator to make a qualified charitable distribution directly to The Nature Museum, and that tax-free donation can count toward your Required Minimum Distribution [RMD]. Please note that if you take the distribution yourself and then gift it or direct the distribution through a donor advised fund, the amount will count as taxable income. 

Interested in exploring any of these options? Contact our Executive Director Carrie King at 802-843-2111 or by email at


From the Archives: Our Connection to the Earth

Photo by Nima Kasraie

Photo by Nima Kasraie

We were thumbing through past blog posts from the our nature blogger Bob Engle and we came across this gem about the different ways that humans regard the "value" of nature. This was posted in January 2016. 

A number of years ago, a graduate student at UMASS Amherst sent out a questionnaire to members of six professional environmental societies.  These ranged from National Park rangers, to fisheries experts, to the Society of Conservation Biology, which is how he has hooks on me and my colleague, Jenny Ramstetter.  We filled out the thorough form, sent it back, and got the scored results a few months later.  Both of us were shocked at what we saw.

Even though all six groups’s missions involved dealing with nature — its protection, its management and utilization, or its conservation, — Jenny and I scored way out on the end of the curve.  We looked like environmental wackos.  Why?  Primarily because we didn’t value and understand nature as resources to be used to benefit humans; instead we saw enormous intrinsic value in nature, where its primary value was just in its existence.  In many ways, however, these two, very different perspectives have to connect for all of us.

As a human, I need to eat, move about, and live in a dwelling.  So I do use resources from the planet, but I try to minimize my footprint by careful thought and resulting selective behavior.  I also know that I depend on the many services provided by nature — things like flood mitigation by wetlands, detoxification of my effluents by bacteria, or the pollination of the fruits and vegetables that I eat.

These “services” come free, but when possible, it can be useful to steal from economics and conduct a cost/benefit analysis of something’s instrumental value (in dollars) so that we can compare its benefits to the cost of its elimination. In Puerto Rico, for example, a new marina was not built over the “useless” existing mangrove forest on the site.  Hurricanes pummel the Island every 60 years, on average, and mangroves reduce the fury of the storms.  The replacement costs of the already existing storm-damaged structures without the mangroves were determined to be more than the income the marina would generate.  So, no marina.

For some, however, a dollar value on any part of nature is hard to take.  For such people all organisms have intrinsic value by virtue of being alive.  O.K., but then some interesting questions can arise.  For example: does a panda have more intrinsic value than, say, a rattlesnake; is an uncommon Blue whale more valuable than a common dolphin; or does a Zika virus filled mosquito have any value at all?  The virus?

Thinking ecologically is one way to describe what we’re talking about here. Are we better off thinking that humans are animals too, animals that are just as dependent on the natural world as is any other organism?  When the dust settles (wife and friends), on a global or even regional scale, is my death any more significant than the death of a road-killed gray squirrel?  And, if we acknowledge ourselves to be the dominant species on Earth, do we have any obligation to care for our “only know living companions in the universe?” (E.O. Wilson)  Finally, if most people continue to think they come first, what will be left?

Times have changed substantially.  You can now see The General Sherman sequoia without a sign’s telling you how many houses can be built from it (yup, used to be one).  Further, more of us buy smaller cars, have solar panels, and think carefully about what we eat.  But mostly these are luxuries available only in the developed world.  When “Deep Ecology Meets the Developing World,” (J. Nations) all bets are off.  That said, because the developed world does most of the consuming our connection to our planet, and its thin film of life, is vitally important.

Winter/Spring 2018: Upcoming Talks & Workshops for Adults

Now in its sixth season, our year-long speaker series promises to engage our community of lifelong learners and those interested in expanding their understanding of the natural world. Our first two events include a "talk" followed by a "walk". Chris Bernier of Vermont Fish and Wildlife will be on hand to detail his knowledge of the surprising return of the marten to Vermont. He will speak to attendees Thursday, February 8th at the NewsBank Conference Center in Chester, Vermont.

The following Saturday, February 10th, Bernier will graciously lead an animal tracking workshop at his private residence in Andover. This workshop will include moderate hiking and it's a fantastic excuse to pull out your snowshoes and to learn by doing. We expect this workshop to fill quickly, so if you're interested--- grab your spot! 

To learn more about Chris's talk, please see our recent blog post, which provides a little backstory for the American (formally know as pine) marten, a relative of the fisher. 


Chris Bernier Talk

Thursday, February 8th, 7PM
"The American Marten Comes Back to Vermont"


Animal Tracking Workshop

Saturday, February 10th, 9AM
With Chris Bernier

Save the Date // Upcoming Talks

"Climate Solutions in Plain Sight: The Role of Water" with Judith Schwartz  | March 8, 2018
There’s another story to tell about climate change. And it starts with water. The journalist presents findings from her latest book, Water in Plain Sight, a close study of the world's water supply and what can be done to save it. Schwartz also authored the highly regarded Cows Save the Planet.
Purchase Tickets | View Schwartz's Piece in The Guardian

"SLOW Birding" with Bridget Butler | May 11-12, 2018
This program will help you slow down and develop a deeper connection to birds, a deeper observation skill set, and build a foundation for deeper citizen science. An evening presentation by The Bird Diva followed by a Saturday morning birding field workshop.
Visit the Bird Diva's Website


Twigs & Stems // January 2018

Here are a few links from around the web that caught our attention in recent weeks. Have you seen something that stuck with you that you'd like to share? Post it in the comments! Love what you see here? Follow us on Facebook, as we often post these goodies as we find them. 

Photo by @geelove22 posted by NaturalVermont

Photo by @geelove22 posted by NaturalVermont

Mad About Martens: Wildlife Biologist Chris Bernier to Lead Adult "Talk and Walk" in February


Large, rounded ears, a sleek body with silky fur, and a bushy tail: would you be able to identify an American marten in the wild?

We are thrilled to announce our first "talk and walk" of our 2018 adult speaker series. We invite you to join us for one (or both!) of two special animal programs with Chris Bernier, wildlife biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The first program, “The American Marten Comes Back to Vermont,” will be held on Thursday, February 8, 2018, at 7:00 PM. On Saturday, February 10 at 9:00 AM, Bernier,  a wildlife tracking expert with over a quarter century of experience, will offer an intensive workshop, “The Art and Science of Animal Tracking,” on a remote private property in Andover, VT which features several different habitats.

The American marten, Martes americana, is a carnivorous and slender-bodied weasel which is rarely spotted in the wild. Martens have a long and intriguing history in Vermont, which Bernier will examine in his program on February 8th. In the 1800s, widespread deforestation and the unregulated harvest of wildlife took its toll on Vermont’s marten population; by the early 1900s, the species was deemed extinct in Vermont.  

Beginning in 1989, biologists released 115 ear-tagged martens in southern Vermont in places such as Mount Holly and Wallingford in an attempt to re-establish the population in the southern Green Mountains. Unfortunately, field research in the 1990s indicated that the reintroduction effort had failed- martens were not returning.

But the story doesn’t end there: since the early 2000s, evidence collected across the state has indicated a surprising comeback: a small American marten population in the northeastern corner of the state in addition to seven confirmed marten sightings in southern Vermont. It appears that marten have now established two distinct populations in Vermont; is it possible scientists’ reintroduction efforts were not a failure after all, or are these animals the product of natural recolonization? Bernier will share his expertise on this amazing animal population and answer questions at the February 8th program.

While most wild animals, including the marten, are elusive and difficult to spot, winter time can be a rare opportunity to witness these incredible creatures. Bernier continues his partnership with The Nature Museum on Saturday, February 10th with an exclusive winter animal tracking opportunity. Bernier, who will be accompanied by a state Wildlife Specialist and the Nature Museum’s Environmental Educator, will lead a 2.5 hour workshop in Andover, VT for a small group of participants. The group will trek through the snowy landscape, discussing habitat types, animal tracking tips and tricks, forest management, and land conservation. The group will pass through terrain that is intimately familiar to Bernier while hunting for tracks of various animal species. Participants can expect a moderate hike. Experienced hikers are preferred, snowshoes and winter gear required. In case of inclement weather, the snow date for the workshop will be Sunday, February 11th. Space is limited- buy your ticket early for this one-of-a-kind animal tracking workshop. These events are recommended for adults and children over 13. 

Our Favorite Nature Museum Photos of 2017


After taking a look back over the year, we're super charged for what lies ahead in 2018! There were so many highlights this year here at The Nature Museum that we pulled together a little retrospective of the year. Check it out-—you may see yourself or another nature lover you know!

We're so excited for next year; we've been hard at work finalizing our adult speaker series this winter and spring and we are ready (almost) to share some of the stellar speakers we have lined up. 

Thank you again for being beside us for the journey!

The Nature Museum Is Expanding!

By Laurie Danforth, Board President


Are you aware that Vermont is the second greyest state in America, just slightly behind Maine? Vermont is blessed with miles of trails, but few accessible outdoor options for people with ambulatory or visual challenges.  Here at The Nature Museum (TNM) we have become aware of the increase in visitors who need accessibility support. We have been dreaming of addressing that need by providing a meandering trail amidst native plantings of trees, shrubs, and perennials which would be appropriate for all people. A trail with whimsical elements, and educational opportunities, and inviting for wildlife and all ages whether in a stroller or a wheelchair.  

A year ago I shared The Nature Museum’s dream with Mary Hudson. Mary and her husband, Bill Chapman, have been the museum’s neighbors since TNM purchased the Grange building in the late ‘90’s.   Mary was instantly fascinated by the idea and proceeded to work tirelessly to help make the first and most important step of our dream come true: the land.   

Today I am thrilled to publicly announce that the Chapman Family has donated 3.5 acres to The Nature Museum: a parcel of land between our building and the Windham Foundation’s goat barn. This historic gift substantially increases our “outdoor classroom” and will enable us to fulfill our mission of connecting people to nature in a much more inclusive way.  We are deeply grateful to the Chapman Family, including Bill Chapman, Jr., and Shannon Beaty, who welcomed the idea of gifting the land to TNM, seeing it as a way of continuing the Chapman family’s history in Grafton.

Mary Hudson has this to say about her family’s generous donation:

It was, in some ways, an easy decision to transfer 3.5 acres of our land to The Nature Museum because it corresponded so well with our family’s values.  Laurie Danforth shared with me her ideas about adding our land to the Museum’s holdings, paving the way for substantially expanding the scope of the Museum’s nature programs.  This prospect aligned closely with my own ideas about future use of our land, and a deal was born. This gift of land honors Bill’s devotion to Vermont and furthers my own interest in protecting the natural environment.

Board member Rick Cowan explains the significance of this substantial addition of land.  “The Chapman Meadow gift is transformative for The Nature Museum (TNM).  By allowing TNM to expand beyond our building’s modest footprint, it enables us to create a dramatic yet accessible nature trail that will make us an even more exciting destination for nature lovers of all ages.”    

The Chapman Meadow is not only a gift to The Nature Museum, but also a future benefit to all who live in and visit our hometown.  We hope that it will be a destination for residents of Grafton as well as visitors from far and wide.  As we move ahead, we look forward to sharing the process with everyone who cares about creating broader opportunities to experience the beauty and wonder of Vermont’s natural world right here in the heart of Grafton.  We hope that you will join with us as we take the next steps to make our dream a reality.  

Twigs & Stems // December 2017

Here are a few links from around the web that caught our attention in recent weeks. Have you seen something that stuck with you that you'd like to share? Post it in the comments! Love what you see here? Follow us on Facebook, as we often post these goodies as we find them. 

"Looking for the sublime? It's in this Swiss Valley." Image by Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

"Looking for the sublime? It's in this Swiss Valley."
Image by Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times