Working for a Nonprofit Park Association

Most people who visit national parks never realize that the anyone other than National Park Service employees might be serving them. The truth is, while the NPS man the entrance booths, staff the ranger desks, and hold interpretive programs and talks, most other services inside the park are not provided directly by the government.

Just about every restaurant, gift shop, gas station, and hotel you find inside a national park is being run by a concessionaire company that has a contract with the government that allows them to operate inside the park. There are conditions placed on both sides by these contracts and they can switch hands from time to time. Xanterra and Delaware North are the two big ones here inside of Yellowstone.

If you’re a work-camper looking for a paying summer job inside a national park, it’s a lot easier to get one working for a concessionaire than working for the NPS itself. To find out more, you can follow those links to previous articles I’ve written about my past experiences with both.

But as it turns out, those aren’t the only two options. This summer I’m working for the Yellowstone Association, which is not the NPS, nor a concessionaire.

The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center - my workpace!

The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center – my workpace for the summer 2015 season!

What it is

The Yellowstone Association (YA), is a nonprofit organization that has a partnership with the park, instead of a contract like the for-profit concessionaires.

YA brings in money through various channels (like the bookstore I’m working at inside the Old Faithful visitor center), and then 89 cents of every dollar raised goes back to the park to fulfill the association’s mission of promoting education and research within Yellowstone.

Some of this money goes back to the park in the form of a lump sum (hard cash), and some goes back in the form of in kind aid. For example, YA: foots the printing cost of the Yellowstone newspaper, pays the wages for the two librarians who staff the historical documents center in Gardner, provides research funding for biologists studying wolves and bison in Yellowstone, and invested over 2 million dollars last year for the educational displays located inside the new Albright visitor center in Mammoth.

Many (but not all) of the bigger national parks have organizations like this, but they are all their own separate entities with slightly different mission statements and goals. Instead of being called an Association, they might be called a Conservancy, or possibly something else, but you can usually find them inside visitor centers.

What the job entails

My job title is Sales Associate, and the base job duties aren’t much different from a retail job with a concessionaire. I man a cash register, help keep the store stocked and clean, and answer visitor’s questions about the park. There are limits to how YA is allowed to raise money, so you won’t find any hospitality or food related jobs here, it’s just sales.

The big difference is that you’re expected to sell memberships.

Park visitors can sign up for a membership with the association starting at $35 a year, and besides just helping the park (89 cents of every dollar…), they receive benefits such as discounts on store purchases and on lodging inside the park during the slow seasons, and a subscription to a quarterly magazine to keep in touch with the park.

As an employee, I have a quota I’m expected to meet in membership sales. I have not so far found this quota hard to meet, and it doesn’t feel, how can I say this, skeevy, like how some sales jobs expect you to hard sell things. Here I know it’s for a good cause, and I never feel like I have to push anybody to buy – you just explain what the membership entails and enough people are happy to contribute.

Inside the visitor center is the park store. We're only allowed to sell educational things, there's a lot of books!

Inside the visitor center is the park store. YA is only allowed to sell things that are educational in nature, so there are a lot of books.

Wage and benefits

I had job offers from both Delaware North and YA this summer. DN was going to pay me $8.25 an hour, YA is $9.00 an hour. My RV site with YA is $122 a month, with DN it would have been $240 a month. It would have been a seven mile drive from my site to my job with DN, and it’s a one mile walk from my site to my job with YA. Plus, there was the possibility of split shifts with Delaware North (erk), and no such possibility with YA.

That’s not entirely the whole story though. Some Delaware North RV sites don’t cost as much and are within walking distance (those ones are nabbed very early, you’d want to apply in November to snag one), and YA is only 30 hours a week compared to DN’s 40 hours a week (which can be a plus or a minus depending on your view). I have a friend who works with Delaware North and enjoys it (she’s a floor supervisor at a store up in Canyon Village and gets more than $8.25 an hour), and so far I’ve found the YA people to be a fun group to work with.

Besides that there are other perks. YA, Xanterra, and Delaware North all have store discounts for their employees, this year it seems like employees at all three get 30% off of store (and grocery where applicable) purchases at their own and other companies stores (so I get 30% off at YA stores, Xanterra stores, and DN stores… and vice versa.)

Plus other businesses in the area offer special deals and discounts. Most notably, there’s a white water rafting place somewhere around here that will give me a free half-day raft before the height of the season starts in July, heck yeah.

Oh, and lets not forget the benefit of getting to live in the park for a summer. Because really, that’s pretty awesome.

The application process

Finding seasonal jobs at these places isn’t so different than for a concessionaire. I use coolworks.com (free) or Workamper News (subscription) to find my national park jobs, and YA was advertising in both (the Grand Canyon Association also frequently advertises on both).

Because YA and it’s counterparts in other parks are smaller operations than most concessionaires, there aren’t as many openings and openings fill more quickly. I applied at the beginning of February and almost missed the window, I was among the last couple people interviewed and chosen.

The application was all online, and slightly more in depth than other applications I’ve done for concessionaires – there were a few boxes with questions where you had to write in answers (why do you want to work for us, how will your love for Yellowstone help you to sell memberships to our visitors, etc.).

The interview call came within a day of submitting the application, and the interview process was like the application: a bit more substantial than for other seasonal jobs I’ve held. Because the pay is higher and the hours are fewer, I think YA gets a higher applications-submitted to jobs-available ratio than the Yellowstone concessionaires do, and therefor the folks who hire can be more selective. Do yourself a favor and do some research on the association and park ahead of time to be better prepared for the interview.

My office view of Old Faithful, it's pretty grand!

My office view of Old Faithful, it’s pretty grand!

In conclusion

Over all, I’m very happy with my experience working for the YA so far. The training here has been far more comprehensive than what I’ve received at any other seasonal retail job, my coworkers (and boss) all really seem to enjoy being here, and it feels good to be working for a place that is more focused on helping the park than in lining it’s bank account. I stand by the initial assessment I made over a week ago when I arrived in Yellowstone: It’s going to be a good summer.

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40 Responses to Working for a Nonprofit Park Association

  1. PJ May 18, 2015 at 10:13 pm #

    Wow – I really learned a lot about how the National Parks operate reading this post – and I’ve spent a lot of time in them! I appreciate you posting this kind of information – as well as hearing about your adventures during your time off work and of course, about your lifestyle RVing.

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:20 am #

      Glad this post helped shed some light PJ!

      • Aeta June 9, 2015 at 4:00 am #

        That’s what I’m talking about on my last comment: a blog that will walk you by hand and answer all your questions. I just got a good idea from you on how to work-camp while rving. Thanks, Becky.

        • Becky June 9, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

          You’re welcome Aeta. πŸ™‚

  2. lea May 18, 2015 at 10:34 pm #

    http://www.today.com/news/meet-betty-soskin-oldest-park-ranger-america-t21501

    Although it’s off-topic because the information isn’t of use to RVers, there’s another type of entity that partners with National Parks–Trusts. They usually provide volunteers, and in the case of the National Historical Park where I volunteer (under the auspices of the National Park Service) they also have a bookshop in the Visitor Center.

    Here is a link to a very recent interview with one of the rangers at “my” park…at 93, she is the oldest ranger in the NPS and she got the job when she was 85!

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:29 am #

      Hehe, yeah Lea it can get quite complicated. I was trying to keep it easy to understand for the majority of park goers.

      For instance, there are actually three nonprofits linked with Yellowstone. The Yellowstone Foundation is often confused with the Yellowstone Association, but YF is a fundraising group only, where YA is not allowed to put on fundraisers. The two group’s boards just this past week voted and came to the conclusion to merge the two. Nothing changes for this summer season, but YA might look different next year – the focus is still going to be on helping the park though!

  3. Ron May 18, 2015 at 11:39 pm #

    Great explanation of YA and the application process. I learned something new tonight. As always enjoyed your post.

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:30 am #

      Glad you enjoyed this Ron!

  4. Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets May 19, 2015 at 1:07 am #

    You write as though you’re sitting in front of me and we’re having a casual but informative conversation. That is an art that I suspect is borne from genuine interest in the subject, as well as a passion for sharing.

    You’re livin the life and, $9.00 an hour or not, you’ve got it made. I hope you know that.
    Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets recently posted..Catching UpMy Profile

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:31 am #

      I do know that Ed, trust me. πŸ™‚ Thanks and I’m glad you enjoyed this.

  5. BuckeyePatti May 19, 2015 at 4:50 am #

    Really enjoyed this post and learned some stuff. Thank you for sharing!

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:32 am #

      You’re welcome Patti!

  6. Mike May 19, 2015 at 5:50 am #

    Thanks for the information, Becky.

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:32 am #

      You’re welcome Mike.

  7. Tom Reed May 19, 2015 at 7:07 am #

    Thanks for the great info, hope your summer goes great. Still in a holding mode trying to sell my house and attain the freedom to roam the hyways of this great country. In the meantime I’ll live vicariously thru your blog… TR.

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:33 am #

      Crossing my fingers for you Tom, hope it sells soon!

  8. Janett May 19, 2015 at 9:10 am #

    Thanks for this write-up Becky…the process is much clearer now. I wasn’t even aware of YA and you hit the jackpot with a 30 hr work week. Of course, your office view is another winner an has to keep ya πŸ™‚ Can’t wait to see your white water rafting adventure pics…it’s on my bucket list!

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:38 am #

      I wasn’t aware of them either until I saw the job listing on Coolworks. πŸ™‚

      Yeah, the white water rafting is going to be a lot of fun. I should probably look into that sooner rather than later!

  9. Jim at Growing Faith May 19, 2015 at 9:26 am #

    This was very informative, thank you! I’m sure you will have a great summer. πŸ™‚
    Jim at Growing Faith recently posted..Give PraiseMy Profile

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:39 am #

      You’re welcome Jim.

  10. Jodee Gravel May 19, 2015 at 10:49 am #

    Not only interesting and informative but encouraging to know that such programs exist that have a positive impact in so many areas. How great to be a part of that. And look at that “office” view!!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Family in Tahoe and Driving the Eastern SierrasMy Profile

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:41 am #

      Yeah Jodee, and to think I didn’t even know they existed until this year. Learn something new every day…

  11. Vern M May 19, 2015 at 10:52 am #

    Excuse an old writer — and, likely, the people you work for there wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference either — but it is a Not-For-Profit organization that you are working for, not a Non-Profit one (by intent anyway). If it were just a Non-Profit, it would only mean they weren’t making any money. Got it? Glad. Makes a very big difference to those of us who love the language..

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 11:52 am #

      I understand where you’re come from Vern. Having learned medical terminology from college, it’s easy to see that the “non” in nonprofit means no, and that no-profit would mean in the strictest sense, no more than breaking even.

      I choose to see it as a language shift though, even dictonary.com defines ‘nonprofit’ as:

      “Adjective
      1. not established for the purpose of making a profit; not entered into for money: ex. a nonprofit institution.”

      and ‘not-for-profit’ as:

      “Adjective
      1. nonprofit” – where “nonprofit” links to the definition I wrote above.

  12. james May 19, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    hello. becky you should apply for the nps as a seasonal visitor use assistant. i did i got hired at the glen canyon nra in page az. this position offers 1039 hours for 6 months(mid may to end of november) of work at $15.31/hr with shared housing in page az or bullfrog ut at $200/month or $100/month respectively or rv sites with full hookups. these shared housing units do not provide internet access. also after you have completed your seasonal job with the nps you can apply for unemployment compensation with the az or ut unemployment office and receive unemployment compensation for six months. lastly, the supervisor that hired me over the phone told me after completing a full six months of seasonal work and receiving a satisfactory or above job performance the likely hood of being hired again at this same location is very high but i would still have to go thru the same hiring process and also this experience opens opportunities for me to work at other nps locations throughout america.

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 10:31 pm #

      Wow, congrats James!

      My first year on the road I applied to a boatload of seasonal NPS jobs and never made it past the first phase for any of them because I was never in the highest group of qualified candidates that was contacted for interviews – I got the distinct impression that competition for these positions is fierce and even though I was overqualified, there must have been a lot of people with even better qualifications than I. I wrote about it here: http://www.interstellarorchard.com/2013/04/12/working-at-national-parks-for-rvers-part-2/

      When I got to Badlands National Park my first summer I spoke with NPS employees about how they got the job, and all agreed that volunteering for a season is a good way to get your foot in the door for a paying position, but at that point I was not in a position financially where I could afford to go a 6 months without pay, even now 3-4 months is really stretching it.

      I hope you enjoy your summer!

  13. Rob Getman May 19, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    Becky, we are full time RVers for 4 years now and every day is an adventure. Enjoying your articles and signed up for more. Keep working the plan and God Bless! Rob & Helen

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

      Heya Rob & Helen, welcome to IO and glad to have you here!

      This is a really amazing lifestyle and I feel so lucky to be able to travel and see the country like this. Safe travels and happy trails.

  14. Oystein May 19, 2015 at 9:46 pm #

    Good information and sounds like your at ease for the summer. Settled in, nice co-workers and working for a cause. I have been doing more research on travel trailers. Been looking at some good used ones. I am taking it slow for now and educating myself.

    • Becky May 19, 2015 at 10:35 pm #

      Education is a good thing Oystein, rushing into RV ownership can end poorly. I hope you find your perfect travel trailer and to hear from you on the road someday. πŸ™‚

  15. Joanne P May 20, 2015 at 12:05 am #

    Visited Yellowstone for the first time last October staying for four days in Madison Campground in our 25′ RV. After discovering the exceptional beauty, sounds, and smells in this incredible park along with the vast amount of wildlife, we also enjoyed our visit to wonderful bookstore where we received a lot of great information from the gentleman who worked there. Also the woman who gave the tour at the Old Faithful Inn was incredible and added to our understanding of the history of the place. We also enjoyed their showers which only cost about $4.00 apiece. Anticipate you’ll have an exceptional time at your job there this summer – look forward to reading more about your adventures in your excellent blog.

    • Becky May 23, 2015 at 11:31 am #

      Glad you had a good time Joanne. πŸ™‚ And yes, the Old Faithful Inn is really something, I’ll have to take that tour this summer.

  16. Dawn Moore May 20, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    What an informative post, Becky! Thank you. We’ve supported the Yellowstone Association in the past & will continue to do so–their mission aligns so much with what we love about Yellowstone. Jim’s been there 3 times & only once for me. We would love to take the grandkids there–it’s an extraordinary place! Enjoy that rafting trip & have a great summer. They’re very fortunate to have you!

    • Becky May 23, 2015 at 11:32 am #

      I’ll have a good summer Dawn, thank you for supporting the park!

  17. Rene Kipp May 20, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    I love your view! It’s gorgeous!!
    There are many ways for someone to spend $35. What a benefit for the park when they choose to spend it on a membership πŸ™‚
    Rene Kipp recently posted..A New GameMy Profile

    • Becky May 23, 2015 at 11:33 am #

      Yeah Rene, $35 really isn’t that much in my mind. And yeah those windows facing the geysers are really something.

  18. Terri May 23, 2015 at 6:30 am #

    Definitely going to be a good summer for you, Becky! I can’t believe all the training that they gave you up, especially the talk up in Mammoth. That’s wonderful. Seems like they really do believe in their mission, which is great. Love that you can walk to your job too, that’s awesome. I’ve seen some youtube videos where people talk about their work with YA, and they all have seemed positive. Glad to hear this sounds like a good opportunity for you too. Good luck on the first weekend!!
    Terri recently posted..If you think you can’t, you won’t. So, just do it.My Profile

    • Becky May 23, 2015 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks Terri! Really enjoying myself here so far.

  19. Tina May 30, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    After visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes over Memorial Day, I was wondering how one gets a job at a National Park. Thanks for the information. I will have the option to retire in just over 3 years, when I will be 50 years old. I have been to 127 National Parks, and I love them! This sounds like the perfect retirement job! I’ll still have a sixth grader at home at that time though. So, that may present an additional challenge.

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