2016 Candidate Forum Questionnaire
1. The mission of the Sierra Club is “to explore, enjoy and protect the planet. To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out those objectives.” What connects you personally to this mission, and why did you join the Sierra Club, as opposed to other organizations, to do work that inspires you? What can Sierra do to inspire that connection to nature in others?
A: When turmoil and depression shook my life, wilderness soothed my soul, uplifted my spirit and gave me a sense of purpose and a place in the universe. 45 years later it still does and is what keeps me sane. I joined the Club in 1975 to protect the places that were my temple.
Because the Club embraces volunteer involvement and leadership on a broad array of issues beyond wildlands protection, I’ve been able to engage in a myriad of issues from energy, clean air and water, transportation and lands protection to environmental justice. Therefore, the Club is the best entity for me to be involved.
Personal experience is critical in forming connections to nature. It is essential to reach those for whom a wilderness experience may not be practical. Therefore, I support expanding our outreach to new audiences through SCO, ICO, Nearby Nature and National and Local Outings.
2. The function of boards is to provide high-level oversight to organizations. What experience do you have in a senior oversight position in the profit or non-profit world? In that role what were some challenging or difficult decisions you had to make? What skills do you have that you think the board currently lacks?
A: I’ve been the owner, CEO and Director of many businesses and an officer on several Not-For-Profit(NFP) Boards.
Two of the hardest decisions were to let go an Executive Director and then hire a new one and to shut down long running programs and facilities and reallocate resources. In both cases some Board members and constituents disagreed and were disappointed. But ultimately, both organizations were stronger and better situated for growth and meeting objectives. Most of these decisions relate to changing priorities, allocating limited resources or addressing changing demographics and social trends.
My most valuable skills are to think strategically, long term, challenge the status quo, confidence to speak up, don’t be afraid to make tough decision and recognize that process matters. That includes good governance and holding both volunteers and staff accountable in a professional and respectful manner. I’m respectfully assertive and not easily intimidated.
3. Sierra Club has put significant resources into campaigns that limit the supply and reduce the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, while promoting fossil fuel alternatives such as wind and solar. Either based on work already being done or your own ideas, thoughts or experiences; what do you see as the most effective way for the club to limit fossil fuels moving forward?
A: To limit supply, we need to develop increased funding for Our Wild America’s “Keep it in the Ground” campaign to support volunteers to mobilize greater support for a federal ban on fossil fuel extraction from public lands and defeat any new pipelines or export terminals.
We must also continue work on reducing oil demand by defending and strengthening the vehicle fuel economy standards, increase gas taxes and promoting EV incentives. We must organize volunteers to support getting the Clean Power Plan implemented so we can continue shutting down coal plants and encourage the adaptation of green energy. We must get greater regulation of fracking and methane leaks. We must also continue to push for RPS, renewable power standards.
4. One of the significant ways the Sierra Club accomplishes its mission is through involvement in politics. The 2016 elections will be significant as will be future elections. In order to win the victories we need to, what resources should the Club dedicate to these elections? What involvement have you had with political action in the past, and what will your personal role be as a Director? What can the Club do differently to better engage the grassroots membership in the political process?
A: We have limited ability to allocate revenues to political campaigns that aren’t in our PACs and donated specifically for this purpose by donors. That said, we need to have our Advancement staff focus adequate time to raising these funds so that we can keep the White House in the hands of an environmental champion and elect an environmental majority in the Senate. A more hostile federal legislative environment could be extremely challenging to our agenda. I believe that we must raise the environment and climate change to a level in the political discourse that influences votes and hold candidates accountable. Our strategy should be long term and not simply focused on the next election but on the next 8 years.
I have been involved with many local and national campaigns and strongly support our new initiative to create independent redistricting by 2020 to eliminate gerrymandering.
5. What have you learned from the volunteer leadership roles you have held? How can Sierra Club help to make its chapters and groups more vibrant and successful? Should the board allocate more funds to chapters – at the expense of national program or support activities?
A: I’ll start this response by clearly stating that the foundation of our strength and effectiveness is the volunteers in our chapters, groups, teams and grassroots campaigns. Our ability to show up and speak up when and where necessary is fundamental to our DNA. Therefore, insuring the reach and capability of our grassroots volunteers is paramount.
What I’ve learned is that it’s challenging to balance the allocation of human, capital and financial resources between local and grassroots needs and national priorities and initiatives. This is an art, not a science.
That said, there has been a clear recognition of a need to allocate more resources to volunteer entities and this has been happening. The key to this is raising more unrestricted funds, especially C4, at both the national and local level. We recently voted to expand Advancement staff to help with this endeavor and put more resources into volunteer training and empowerment.
6. Raising revenue, specifically unrestricted revenue, has been an ongoing challenge for the Sierra Club. Many programs have been eliminated or cut back because of this limitation. This is a challenge in each annual budget. How would you address the Sierra Club’s need for additional unrestricted revenue and what specific program or administrative changes would you recommend until that need is met?
A: Let’s recognize that much of our enormous recent success has come from major gifts that have been restricted C3 funds. And that also provides 10% for general funding that supports the rest of the Club. So we want to continue those revenue streams.
Raising unrestricted funds is a challenge for all NFPs these days. The Club has tried several different initiatives over the past decade and I have been involved in most of them. The best solution I have experienced is a collaboration of volunteers with personal connections to potential donors working with Advancement Officers specifically hired to solicit midrange donors who are long time members and understand and value the Club’s fundamental structure.
The other area of major opportunity is on line contributions and growth of membership. Both are areas where the Club has been seeing modest growth and success and where we are focused on acceleration.
7. While Sierra Club has committed to becoming diverse, equitable, and inclusive, the traditional methods that chapters and groups use to engage activists such as meetings and outings are not always accessible and/or appealing to poor communities, communities of color, the LGBT community, younger persons, and the physically disabled community. What changes would you support making to Sierra Club’s grassroots structure (chapters, groups, committees, teams) to engage more people from these communities in activism?
A: While our EJ endeavors date back to the early ’90’s we have never been able to gain much traction despite several iterations and sincere desire. With the recent recognition that “To Change Everything we need Everyone” the Club has taken a new approach to DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). I supported the new plan recently adopted and allocating the scarce resources to fund its execution. If reelected I am fully committed to continue pushing for its fulfillment. I support the notion that we don’t have to lead every EJ endeavor but rather can and should act in a collaborative or supporting role when appropriate.
As a practical matter I also support a term limit on Chapter ExComm and committee positions. While not popular with many volunteers, I’m committed to opening up positions of leadership for all but especially those not traditionally inclined to run to fill these roles.
8. The Sierra Club, besides its environmental justice work, has gained a reputation for being progressive on social issues. To win, we must make inroads with people from all states and all stripes of the political and social spectrum, some who might take issue with some of our positions. How would you approach this as a board member and do you have any experience in this work?
A: Decades ago, our membership was mostly white and middle to upper income that was concerned about pollution and wildlands protections. Today, everyone on the planet has a personal and financial stake in climate change. Therefore, we must find commonalities with other organizations and groups and form alliances and partnerships. It is impractical to believe that we will agree on all aspects of public policy with others groups. So, we must accept that we can work together on common interests while disagreeing on others. That said, there are some alliances that we will not find tolerable and will, and should, avoid when the differences are unacceptable.
I have found that those that may not agree with some or many of our positions will still support us if their support is restricted to those endeavors on which there is a commonality of purpose. There is room for respectful disagreement AND collaboration.
9. Over the years the Sierra Club has decreased the overall number of volunteers involved in national governance by centralizing its activity into the board of directors and staff. This has given volunteers less of a say into how the Club operates day to day. What would you do to enhance volunteer participation in governance?
A: I believe we have gone too far in “streamlining” the governance of the Club leading to a feeling by many volunteers of disenfranchisement and being disconnected from the organization as a whole. This is detrimental on a myriad of levels. I’m very concerned that the staff and volunteers are often working in separate spheres and am working to create a more equitable balance and strong collaboration. This is not simple in an organization that prides itself on democratic and decentralized operations. But I believe we can and must achieve substantial improvement. Holding staff more accountable to local volunteers will help.
I have been advocating in some specific ways to quit working in silos and move more towards an organization with a common vision and mission. Communication is part of the solution.
But we need to look more holistically as well and that is beginning as a Board endeavor.
10. Assume you are entering your first term as an elected Sierra Club Director. What skill or knowledge base do you personally need to work on to better serve the Sierra Club? How will you gain that skill or knowledge?
A: No newly elected Director comes with full knowledge of how the Club operates and all of the conservation initiatives in which we are involved. The low hanging fruit is to have a New Board Orientation Program that is required to be completed before being seated. This would at minimum give new Directors a common and minimum base of knowledge of the Club.
After 2 1/2 years I am beginning to get my arms around the budget despite an MBA in Accounting and Finance and a business background. I can only imagine how challenging this is for people without a financial background.
Some training options (especially on line) could be a great value. Experience and asking dumb questions usually helps.