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5 Nonprofits Making the World a Better Place

Winners of the Defender Service Awards save bears, train service dogs, feed people in need, and more. Meet last year’s honorees—and learn how to enter the 2023 contest now!

Photo: Land Rover

Nonprofit work can be thankless. There’s always too much to do and not enough funding. Too much ground to cover and no way to get there fast enough. And for small nonprofits, the critical task of fundraising always seems to pull volunteers and staffers away from the work they really want to be doing: striving to make our world a better place. 

That’s the paradox Land Rover sought to solve when it established its annual Defender Service Awards in 2021. Consider it a big thank-you to the heroic organizations at the front line of essential humanitarian and conservation work. Now, every year, the hardest-working U.S. and Canadian nonprofits get a chance to apply for $25,000 in funding—and a brand-new customized Defender 130 to help them cover more ground faster.

This past year, five winners each went home with a Defender and $25,000, and 25 finalists took home $5,000 each courtesy of presenting sponsor CHASE. It gets even better in 2023: CHASE will continue to award $5,000 to each of the 30 finalists, and Warner Bros. Discovery joins as a premier sponsor, awarding an additional $2,500 to all the finalists. See how last year’s winners are putting their prizes to work below—and don’t miss out on this year’s contest. In 2023, there’s a new award category recognizing Outdoor Accessibility and Education, as well as a special category for past Defender Service Awards Honorees, giving these worthy organizations a second chance to win a custom Defender 130.

(Photo: Land Rover)

If you’re part of a nonprofit or know of a deserving one, head to LandRoverUSA.com. Applications for the 2023 Defender Service Awards presented by CHASE can be submitted from June 15 through July 21 (5 p.m. EST)—just don’t wait until the last minute, video entries are a must. After judges select the finalists, public voting (September 15 to October 4) determines the overall winners. The awards will be announced in early November, at Destination Defender.    

The 2023 Defender Service Awards Categories

  • > Veteran & Civil Servant Outreach Award, presented by Hearts & Science
  • > Community Services Award, presented by ei3
  • > Search, Rescue & Emergency Support Services Award, presented by PELICAN
  • > Outdoor Accessibility & Education Award, presented by Outside Interactive 
  • > Animal, Wildlife & Marine Mammal Welfare Award, presented by Animal Planet
  • > Defender Service Honorees, 2021 & 2022 Finalists 

2022 Winners

Appalachian Bear Rescue (Townsend, TN)

Animal Welfare Award, Presented by KONG

It turns out everyone loves riding in a Defender—including bears. So far, 2023 has been a busy year for Appalachian Bear Rescue, the Tennessee-based rehabilitation and education nonprofit that won the 2022 Animal Welfare Award. The group currently has nine injured or orphaned bear cubs in its care—and has used its new Defender 130 to transport at least three of them. 

(Photo: Land Rover)

“Four-wheel drive is always handy when you’re going to pick up a bear,” says Dana Dodd, executive director of Appalachian Bear Rescue. “And during one of our recent releases, we had to ford two creeks to get to the site.” The Defender handled the rough terrain with ease—all while giving its human and ursine occupants a smooth ride. But the thing Dodd appreciates most is the vehicle’s professional look. 

“We’re a small nonprofit in a small town,” she says. “But this car makes you look so official. We’ve been doing this for 27 years, and we’ve never had a vehicle. Now people in town see us and notice us. It really does make a difference.” 

Green Lake Association (Green Lake, WI)

Environmental and Conservation Award, Presented by Outside Interactive

Green Lake is one of central Wisconsin’s most treasured recreational resources, and the Green Lake Association (GLA) is its foremost champion. Just one problem: In past years, the small- but mighty nonprofit hasn’t been able to drive down to the water’s edge. That made it hard to do the water-quality testing its community has come to rely on. But now, thanks to the new Defender, GLA can transport research equipment—and even kayaks—right to the water’s edge. 

“In the past, we’ve had to rely on volunteers to park their vehicles on the road and hike several miles to these sites. It was tedious and inefficient,” says Taylor Haag, watershed engagement manager at GLA. “Actually having a vehicle with off-road capabilities is really incredible for us.” 

Outside Interactive (the parent company of Outside Magazine) sponsored the Environmental and Conservation Award in 2022, and after learning about Green Lake Association’s inspiring work, it was an honor to write the check—and see GLA take home a brand-new vehicle to aid its mission. 

Mercy Chefs (Portsmouth, VA)

Community Services Award, Presented by ei3

When a tornado strikes, emergency personnel flood into an area to clear debris and rescue the wounded. But these teams need to be fed—as do the victims who are left stranded. That’s where Mercy Chefs comes in. This year, the Virginia-based group has already responded to three tornados, including one in nearby Virginia Beach, and delivered thousands of meals. 

(Photo: Land Rover)

“It’s been great to be able to fold down the back seats, load up hundreds of meals into that beautiful Defender, and get out there,” says Nick Beckman, director of logistics and facilities at Mercy Chefs. The team has also hauled a heavy meat smoker and a utility trailer and used the four-wheel drive to reach off-site victims—even when that required traveling through disaster debris.

Ottawa Volunteer Search and Rescue (Ottawa, ON)

Search and Rescue Award, Presented by PELICAN

If you get lost in the Ontario backcountry, Ottawa Volunteer Search and Rescue (OVSR) is the team you want coming to your aid. With more than 250 members trained in cutting-edge techniques, OVSR is one of the province’s top rescue groups—and it’s composed almost entirely of volunteers. 

So far, the team has used its new Defender 130 to search for mock victims in critical training exercises and shared its mission at community events. “We’re really looking forward to being able to insert our teams deeper into the field,” says Lynn Dupuis, president of OVSR. “This will give us the opportunity to save our strength for the actual rescues and assist us in removing lost and injured folks.” 

Patriot Service Dogs (Ocala, FL)

Veterans Outreach Award (Presented by dentsu x)

With just two paid staff members and 20 dogs in training, the Patriot Service Dogs (PSD) team has its hand full. Still, PSD  manages to train dozens of service dogs each year for U.S. veterans who’ve suffered from physical, mental, or emotional trauma. The group also has a prison-outreach program—which turned out to be key during the community voting stage. “The inmates joke that we won because we had the felon vote,” says Executive Director Julie Sanderson. “They had all their families voting for us.” 

(Photo: Patriot Service Dogs)

So far, Sanderson has used her new Defender 130 to bring dogs to the prison, ferry pups to meet their new owners, and run vet trips. The vehicle came customized with a spill-proof dog bowl and wash station as well as a cargo divider. But, given the precious cargo, Sanderson’s favorite feature is the reliable handling. “We have a lot of storms here in Florida with wind and heavy rain,” she says. “It’s so nice to know that we’re in a solid car and that we’re safe.”

Video submissions, along with new categories for the 2023 Defender Service Award, are open June 15 through July 21. Finalists will be announced in early November with public voting from September 15 through October 4. Learn more about the Defender Service Awards and previous winners here.