Q. What is a land gift?

Christa: Land gifts are donations of any sort of real estate. They are as diverse as the towns and landscape you pass through while driving around Vermont. Over the years we have received farms, homes, and vast fields and forests.

Q. What sort of land is suitable for this kind of donation?

Christa: We are open to considering all kinds of parcels. Gifts of farms or farmland hold the potential to launch a new farm business. A forestland gift could expand an existing wildlife corridor, protect a watershed, or establish a new town forest. A homestead, ski house, condominium, or business could be sold and the proceeds used to advance our land protection and restoration efforts around the state. Considering all the possible outcomes makes for exciting conversations!

Q. What does VLT do with a land gift?

Christa: It depends on the specific property and the circumstances and preferences of the land donors. If there are no conservation values, like with a ski house or condo, we simply sell the parcel. If the land would benefit from protection, we conserve it, then find a buyer. In a few cases, we have become long-term owners of land that we manage to fulfill our mission of connecting land and lives. The Brewster Uplands property in Cambridge and the Pratt Refuge in Duxbury are two examples.

Q. How can someone donate their land to VLT? What are the steps involved?

Christa: The first step is contacting me. Each parcel is as unique as the person who owns it. I enjoy learning about the land and about the individual’s reasons for considering a gift of this magnitude. After a conversation with them, I consult VLT’s GIS Director who reviews the property—its location, ecological attributes, and proximity to other conserved land. If the property meets our initial criteria the next step is a site visit. Other due diligence includes a hazardous materials inspection and perhaps a forest analysis or a farm viability discussion. If we agree to accept the gift, our legal team begins working with the donor’s attorney for the real estate transaction.

Q. What motivates people to donate land?

Christa: The strongest thread that connects all the land gifts I’ve worked on is a deep commitment to the land. These are people who really care about Vermont’s working landscape. They also value the work VLT does to conserve and steward the land and all the precious benefits it provides—wildlife habitat, clean water, biodiversity, local food, forests, and places for people to connect with nature. They want to participate in caring for the land, especially in a changing climate that demands urgent nature-based solutions.

Another common thread is when there is no clear recipient or future use for the land. Most often, there are no heirs or the heirs don’t have an interest in the property. Sometimes, it’s simply that life happens—one couple intended to retire to their Lowell parcel, but life kept rolling on and they realized they would never end up living there.

Q. Are there any benefits for those making the gift?

Christa: The tax benefits can be significant. The property is independently appraised, and the donor is entitled to a charitable deduction of the full, fair market value of the property. That deduction can total up to 30% of the donor’s adjusted gross income per year and any balance can be carried over for five years, until the full deduction is realized. We always encourage people to work with their legal and financial advisors as well as discuss the gift with their family.

Q. What is challenging about a land gift, and what is most rewarding?

Christa: These gifts offer exponential rewards. The donor, the land trust, and the communities we serve, all benefit. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch a farmer grow their first crop on fresh soil or kids run up a new forest trail, or know that bears can safely cross a newly conserved corridor. The challenges lie in the details. There may be issues with the title, hazardous waste deposits the owner didn’t know about, or boundary uncertainty. All sorts of issues can surface—but we have 46 years of experience in this work and a skilled team who have seen almost everything!

Q. What else do you do?

Christa: I have the best job. After working as an investment advisor in the for-profit sector, I get to focus on helping people invest their philanthropic dollars in the environment, our food system, and our communities. I’m using the financial advisory and retirement planning skills I learned in my previous roles to help people configure plans that support themselves, their heirs, and especially their vision and values. It’s deeply rewarding.

Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to VLT.

Christa: I am a native Vermonter who grew up in the north end of Burlington. As a child I had pine forests, open fields, and Lake Champlain just outside my front door. I feel most comfortable outdoors, in all seasons. After earning my Economics degree in Virginia I was determined to return to Vermont. I was working in financial advisory services when this position at VLT was advertised. I had worked as a volunteer on land conservation boards for 25 years and I realized this position was the perfect way to align my personal passion for preserving Vermont’s working landscape with my professional skills. I’ve been with VLT for 12 years and I still marvel at the innovative work we do uniting land and lives throughout Vermont.