Barbara Erickson, Leader of America's Oldest Conservation Nonprofit, Remembered

  • January 21, 2021 14:24

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Barbara Erickson
The Trustees

Barbara Erickson, The Trustees President and CEO, died on the afternoon of January 15, 2021. After a valiant struggle with cancer, Barbara passed peacefully surrounded by family at her home.

The Trustees of Reservations is America's oldest conservation nonprofit and the organization cares for more than 100 places—historic and natural landmarks, across nearly 27,000 acres—all around Massachusetts.

Under Erickson's leadership, visitor attendance at Trustees properties doubled to 2 million annually, as noted in a 2019 Forbes article. “The historic house tour of 20 years ago is not popular any more,” Erickson told Forbes. “We invested in our houses and created art programs and signature events that trick people into history. As a result, we saw visitation explode: people fall in love with these places and return again and again.”

Peter Coffin, Chair of The Trustees Board of Directors, writes: 

Barbara served as President and CEO since 2012 and under her leadership, the organization achieved many important milestones. Her tenure will be defined by growth, mission-focus, new leadership, expanded audiences, and renewed philanthropy. In her first five years, she led the organization through a strategic plan, The Path Forward, achieving all parts of the five-year strategy and exceeding most of the key goals. Barbara led the organization through the $26.2 million Cultural Resources Campaign which helped to revitalize many of the organization’s cultural sites. The operating budget for the organization has nearly doubled. The membership base has grown from 42,000 households to 75,000 and 100% in revenue. Barbara led several key integrations and partnerships including the Boston Public Market Kitchen, The FARM Institute, Fruitlands Museum, and deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. Additionally, several new acquisitions were opened under her tenure including Allen Haskell Public Gardens, Governor Oliver Ames Estate, and more recently Gerry Island, Jewell Hill, and Mary Cummings Park. Initiatives such as Art and the Landscape were conceived, funded, and launched under her leadership. She hired and recruited key staff in development, finance, marketing, and recently technology, community, and volunteerism building out the leadership of the organization.

In 2016, Barbara led the development of the current Strategic Plan, Momentum, which outlines ambitions for five areas of work and 43 metric goals. These include the development of a waterfront park in Boston, coastal work which addressed climate impacts, expanded public gardens, a flagship farm property, and attraction of audiences through an initiative to get the next generation outdoors. In the first three years, the plan is on track to achieve new heights for the organization.

Ambition, tenacity, and audacious thinking defined Barbara’s presidency. She will be remembered for her strong vision and aspirations for the organization. Personally, she championed leadership by women in the workplace and especially mothers. She also avidly loved the outdoors and travel. She contemplated the "forever" part of our work deeply and never stopped thinking about how to make the organization better, more sustainable, and secure for a far-off future that she would not see. Indeed, that future has arrived too quickly and now we live with her legacy, and long for her vision. We will not forget our audacious leader Barbara Erickson. Thank you, Barbara for all that you gave to The Trustees and to each of us.

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