Legal and Governance

Environmental Funds are established as legally independent entities governed by a Board of Directors through Articles of Incorporation or Charters approved by government authorities.

The legal framework varies by country, but to be effective Trust Funds must receive tax exemptions so that invested funds can grow and be expended on in-country conservation activities. In some cases, Environmental Funds such as the Sangha Tri-National Foundation and the MAR Fund, have chosen to be legally registered in other countries – usually the U.S. or England – to take advantage of greater flexibility in raising and managing endowments. The Presentation Comite de Pilotage walks a founding committee through the factors to take into consideration in choosing where to legally register an Environmental Fund. 

Legal Framework for Environmental Funds includes charters and articles of incorporation that are grouped by common law and civil law frameworks. The different terms used such as Conservation Trust Fund, Foundation, Environmental Fund etc. – emerge from these different legal frameworks. We use the term “Environmental Fund” in this Tool Kit in an effort to encompass the many different types of conservation-oriented funds.

Bylaws are drafted by the Environmental Fund’s founders (directors) under the legal framework. They set the structure and define the unique individual operating procedures of the Environmental Fund. The bylaws regulate the organization by providing details about how it will be structured, how Board members will be selected, how decisions will be made, and how officers will be named. The Rapid Review of Conservation Trust Funds provides insights into best practices on Board development, especially managing the difficult balance between alignment with government priorities and independent Boards.

Agreements: most Environmental Funds also establish separate Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or other types of agreements with their national government. Strong ties and clear roles between the government and an Environmental Fund – with the political will to find solutions to difficult problems or mistakes along the way – are essential for long-term success. Additionally some agreements with international nonprofits, that are especially helpful for launching incipient Environmental Funds, are included.

Board Documents: finally, once legally incorporated, all Environmental Funds must have effective governance structures with strong Boards of Directors, clear conflict of interest policies, and the ability to attract and effectively channel the energy and experience of strong Board members. Examples of Board documents that provide guidance and policy direction for effective governance are included.

Additional Resources: additional resources provide links to web sites and documents that address best practices in nonprofit governance and Environmental Fund incorporation. Check the web site at:

Board Source

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Free Management Library

The Muttart Foundation