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Nonprofit conservation organization application process

Knowles-Nelson Stewardship grants


Nonprofit conservation organizations (NCOs) may apply for funding from eight Stewardship grant subprograms to help fund the acquisition of land and conservation easements. Grants subprograms are described in the “subprogram” tab below.

Four grant subprograms are open only to NCO applicants:

  • Natural areas
  • Habitat areas
  • Stream Bank protection
  • State trails

NCO Stewardship offers three application deadlines each year: March 1, August 1, and November 1 (if funds remain).
Any organization considering an application is encouraged to contact the regional project manager to discuss potential projects before applying.


Before applying

Contact a DNR Grant Project Manager

Applicants should contact a DNR Grant Project Manager as early as possible. Project Managers can evaluate whether or not a project is likely to qualify for Stewardship funding and identify questions that need to be addressed early in the application process.

Eligible Applicants

An eligible nonprofit Stewardship grantee is defined in state statute as "a nonprofit corporation, a charitable trust of other nonprofit association whose purposes include the acquisition of property for conservation purposes and that is described in section 501(c)(3) of the internal revenue code and is exempt from federal income tax under section 501(a) of the internal revenue code."

In addition to the eligibility requirements described above, any organization applying for a grant must also be able to demonstrate that it has the capacity to finance a land purchase and long-term management obligations of Stewardship property.

Applicants must complete and submit the Grant Eligibility Application Form 8700-380. In addition, organizations may be asked to submit the following items.

  1. Most recent IRS filing and/or most recent year-end financial statements.
  2. A copy of the most recent audit and/or balance sheet.
  3. A description of endowment funds or designated assets dedicated to long-term property management.
  4. A board-adopted resolution indicating the organization's commitment to continual progress toward implementation of Land Trust Standards and Practices [exit DNR].

Applicants with annual income below the threshold requiring a 990 return to the IRS, or that do not have the material listed above should contact the Nonprofit Grant Manager to discuss eligibility before applying.

Eligible Projects

Grants to NCOs must fund land or easement acquisition. Stewardship grants cannot fund:

  • property acquired more than one year before a grant application is submitted;
  • property subject to use restrictions that prevent the property from being managed for conservation or public recreational purposes;
  • property used for licensed game farms, deer farms, shooting preserves, forest nurseries or experimental stations;
  • property that will not be used for nature-based outdoor recreation. "Nature-based outdoor recreation" is defined as activities where the primary purpose is the appreciation or enjoyment of nature, including hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting, cross-country skiing, canoeing and multi-use trails. Land purchases for activities not defined by appreciation or enjoyment of nature, such as sports fields, swimming pools or skate parks are not eligible; or
  • property purchases not conducted on a willing seller - willing buyer basis.
Matching Funds

Stewardship grants cannot exceed 50% of eligible project costs. Applicants must provide the remaining funds, known as "sponsor match" from non-state sources, including federal funds and private contributions. The character of match funding may limit the amount or influence the timing of a Stewardship grant award. Read more on sponsor match under financing your project.

Board Resolutions

Every NCO Stewardship grant application must be approved by the NCO's Board of Directors. A Board resolution must accompany an application. That resolution must formally request financial assistance, authorize a representative from the organization to act on its behalf and agree that the organization will abide by the terms and conditions of the Stewardship program. See a sample resolution in Appendix A [PDF].

Timing of the Stewardship Grant Cycle

Stewardship grant review and approval typically takes between 8 and 12 months to complete. Applicants are advised to consider that timeline when negotiating with sellers.

Application materials

Applicants must submit one hard copy and one electronic copy of each part of the application material. Please submit electronic copies of each application document, rather than one large file of the whole application package.

Application deadlines are postmark deadlines. An application is considered complete only when all required attachments in the application checklist have been received.

NCO Application Forms And Instructions First-time Applicants Must Submit Real Estate Resources Conservation Easement Projects Must Review And Follow Links To Information Referenced In NCO Project Scoring Criteria: A Caution To Project Sponsors About Confidential Information

DNR respects that some information collected in the grant application process may be sensitive, including sellers’ names or proposed purchase prices. However, most information in grant applications is by law public record and may be shared with members of the public. If you have questions about what information can remain confidential in the grant application process, please raise those with a DNR grant specialist.

Note: Many current browsers do not open PDF forms or allow them to be saved or submitted:

  1. From a desktop computer, download the PDF form (right-click on the link, then select "Save link as" or "Save target as").
  2. Make a note of the file location and file name so you can access the file from your device.
  3. Do not double-click the file. Open the Adobe Reader software then select "File > Open" then browse to the PDF file you saved on your device.

Evaluation and award

Evaluation and approval of NCO grant applications include:

  • Ranking - DNR staff evaluate projects per criteria measuring each subprogram's purpose and priorities. Projects are prioritized for funding according to their score. Current ranking criteria are on the "application materials" tab.
  • Review - In addition, DNR will also review: property appraisal(s); land management plan; property title; archaeological, hazardous waste and endangered species inventories.
  • Notification of local governments - State statute requires that DNR notify the county and local governments with jurisdiction over the property that Stewardship funds may be used to purchase the property. Those governments have an opportunity but not an obligation to pass resolutions in support or opposition to the acquisition.
  • Additional approvals - If hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking or cross-country skiing will be prohibited on a property to be purchased with Stewardship dollars, that prohibition must be approved by the Natural Resources Board before a grant will be awarded. If the property to be purchased is located north of State Highway 64, or if a grant will exceed $250,000, it will need to be approved by State Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance.

Awarding The Grant

After a project has cleared all reviews and required approvals, DNR will issue a Grant and Management Contract detailing terms and conditions of the Stewardship grant award. Grant contracts are recordable documents that define perpetual land management requirements for the land and reflect the state's interest in the property. In order to be paid, Stewardship grant contracts must be recorded against the deed to the property.

Grant Payment Options

Grant recipients may receive payment either at closing or as reimbursement. For detailed information about grant payment, contact DNR grant specialists.

To request payment, use form 8700-001 Grant payment request [PDF] .

Stewardship Subprograms

NCOs may be awarded funds from eight Stewardship grant subprograms. DNR will determine which subprogram is the most fitting funding source for a land purchase based on the purposes and priorities for each subprogram and on the applicant’s long-term plans for the property.

Stewardship NCO subprograms

Four subprograms are administered as NCO grants, and available only to NCO applicants.

Habitat Area Grants

Habitat area grants are awarded to conserve wildlife habitat in Wisconsin in order to expand opportunities for wildlife-based recreation such as hunting, trapping, hiking, bird watching, fishing, nature appreciation and wildlife viewing.

Land purchased with habitat area grants must be open to the public for low-impact nature-based recreation. Habitat areas are not intended for intensive recreational use such as mountain biking, motorized vehicle use, horseback riding or camping.

Natural Area Grants

Stewardship natural area grants complement the State Natural Areas (SNA) Program, dedicated to the preservation of Wisconsin's native natural communities and habitat for rare plant and animal species.

Land purchased with natural area grants must be open to the public for low-impact nature-based recreation and scientific study. Natural areas are not intended for intensive recreational use such as mountain biking, motorized vehicle use, horseback riding or camping.

Streambank Protection Grants

Streambank protection grants are awarded to protect water quality and fish habitat.

Priority is given to land or easement purchases along designated Outstanding or Exceptional Resource Waters, projects that connect sections of protected stream corridor, and projects that will mitigate the impact of agricultural runoff.

State Trail Grants

State trail grants are awarded to purchase lands or easements identified as part of the State Trail system including designated State Water Trails. Priority is given to lands along nationally designated Ice Age and North Country trail corridors and to lands that connect established trail systems.

Stewardship Local Assistance Subprograms

NCOs may also apply for land acquisition funds from the Stewardship local assistance subprograms. These are administered via a different application process and grant cycle than the NCO grants described above.

Acquisition And Development Of Local Parks (ADLP) Grants

ADLP grants are awarded to improve community recreation areas and acquire land for public outdoor recreation. Priority is given to land acquisition where a need for additional recreational land is supported by an approved comprehensive outdoor recreation plan.

Acquisition Of Development Rights Conservation Easement Grants

The purpose of the acquisition of development rights (ADR) subprogram is to protect natural, agricultural or forest lands that enhance and/or provide nature-based outdoor recreation. ADR grants can only fund conservation easement purchases.

Urban Green Space Grants

The intent of the Urban Green Space Program (UGS) is to provide open natural space within or in proximity to urban areas; to protect from development areas within or in proximity to urban areas that have scenic, ecological or other natural value; and to provide land for non-commercial gardening for the residents of an urbanized area.

Urban Rivers Grants

The urban rivers subprogram program aims to restore or preserve the character of urban riverways through the acquisition or development of land adjacent to rivers. Purposes of the program include supporting economic revitalization through the restoration or preservation of urban riverfronts and improving outdoor recreational opportunities by increasing access to urban rivers.