First Meeting of the Sierra Club Board of Directors

at the New Oakland Headquarters

May 14, 2016

New Sierra Club Board of Directors missing Michael Dorsey May 2016

Every May the Sierra Club Board of Directors says good bye to Directors who’s terms have expired and welcome new Directors who have been elected or reelected.  We also choose our Officers (Executive Committee) and other leadership positions.  In addition, we hold a two day retreat in order to have additional time together as a group to plan and discuss a wide variety of items.  The following is a brief overview of what I have discerned will be of the most interest to a broad array of members and supporters as to the major issues which are being addressed at the Board level.

In summary, I am very encouraged by what has occurred in the last three years since I was first seated on the Board and where we are going.  Much for which I have been advocating has been adopted or is in the works and at this meeting we spent considerable time discussing and debating how best to plan and prioritize both the work of the Board and the work of the Club in order for both to be more effective in determining our goals and objectives, prioritizing them and developing the most effective plans to achieve them.  I am pleased to report that the Board is now publishing an official summary of the face to face Board meetings and you’ll find it bellow at the end of my comments. 

Before we even gathered formally, we had a New Board Member Orientation session.  While  only one new person who has never served on our Board was elected this year, part of our efforts to function better was the development of this Orientation.  While I am sure that we will learn from this first presentation and improve it over time, this first endeavor  was very well executed.  I, and a majority of the other Board members, attended it and I know that I learned a great deal.  This event resulted from a task force that I co-chaired to review and improve our Board performance and upgrade our Governance practices.  The Board Orientation was an initial action considered “low hanging fruit” with more to come.

This process continued Wednesday night when the Board met in private session to review the initial review and summary of results from our survey of Board members on a self evaluation we all completed.  We came to a general agreement on which issues we want to tackle first.  One of those is how we develop the meeting agenda itself.  This was a wide open discussion that provided good feedback and input that will guide our ongoing work.

On Thursday and Friday we reviewed many of our major initiatives in order to monitor our progress and direction, solicit input and insure that there was consensus that we were on the right track.  These included the Strategic Plan, Clean Energy Plan, Budgeting, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiative (DEI), Digital Strategies especially in regards to Campfire, Volunteer Leadership Development and Training, Advancement and Celebrity Engagement.  We additionally discussed the Presidential Endorsement process.

On Friday morning we were transported from our retreat location to the new office HQ in Oakland and received a tour.  I believe that there was universal agreement that the new location is not only beautiful and bright but will be an effective tool for promoting greater interaction and cohesion in the Club and lead to greater effectiveness and collusion.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to the team that engineered the pretty seamless move from San Francisco to Oakland.  Ultimately, I believe, as do most others, that this move will have an enormously positive impact on the Club in a myriad of ways that goes well beyond financial.

On Saturday we had our formal Board session.  Mike Brune gave an inspiring Executive Director’s Report concluding that we are “on the side of the angels”.   Inspiring commemorations were presented to retiring Directors Donna Buell and Jim Dougherty.  I have included copies of them at the very bottom of this if you are interested in reading them in full.    Jim gave an impassioned silique on the damage of natural gas/methane and our need to aggressively eliminate its use as part of our energy formula.

Donna Buell receives Retirement from BOD Gift from Aaron Mair May 14, 2016 Jim Dougherty receiveing Retirement from Board of Directors Gift from Aaron Mair and Liz Welch 5-14-16

We then seated the recently elected Directors which included reelected members being myself (thanks once again for you support and confidence), Susana Reyes and Robin Mann.  We welcomed back former Director, former President and former VP Conservation Dave Scott.  We also welcomed new member Mike O’Brian.  

Next, we elected our officers for the coming year:

President:  Aaron Mair

Vice President/Conservation Chair:  Robin Mann

Treasurer:  Liz Walsh

Secretary:  Susana Reyes

Fifth Officer:  Loren Blackford

After a productive discussion we authorized the absorption of Climate Parents into the Sierra Club pending acceptable final terms.  This is an exciting development that will expand our reach to a wider constituency and an opportunity to experience and learn from an endeavor we have never done previously.  You can read more about this program here.  

We had a discussion about Civil Disobedience both past and future and authorized the Executive Committee to form a Task Force to again review our policy and the current environment and make a recommendation to the Board as to how to address this issue in the future.

There was then a presentation on a new initiative that has grown organically within the Club.  As it turns out, there are several distinct parts of the Club that had been thinking about how to add substantial scale to our organization and movement in terms of:

  1. Growing membership/support in terms of the number of individuals and foundations.

  2. Growing all forms of revenue streams including creating new ones.

  3. Growing influence and power.

These three separate and disparate tracks have now all come together into what we are calling the Scale Up Project.  This is in its very initial stage where we are just beginning to ask the critical questions as to what are the benefits and challenges and goals.  I hope to report more on this endeavor as it progresses over the next year and beyond.

We wrapped up the meeting by adopting the recommendations from the Advisory Committee on restructuring our Board Committees.  See the attached document for more info on that.

Finally we concluded with a broad discussion of how to improve our effectiveness as a Board with many good suggestions that we will be pursuing.

As I conclude my first term I would like to reflect on what has been accomplished in the last three years both internally and externally.  Internally, we are becoming much more intentional in our work.  For the first time ever, we are creating plans for what we want the Club and the World to look like in both short and long range terms with benchmarks for achievement and accountability standards for both volunteers and staff alike.  This includes the Long Range Strategic Plan and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Initiative.  We have a dashboard of prioritized goals for staff which we review regularly.  We have the Capacity Wheel for Chapters.  We have derived new procedures for budgeting and for aligning our funding with our priorities as we continue to refine this process.  We are taking a closer look at governance and growth issues in order to exponentially increase our ability to change the world.  And we are upgrading how we communicate better both internally and externally.  

Externally, it is amazing to see what has happened in three years.  It is almost unimaginable.  By focusing on stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline we changed to national conversation about pipelines all over the country generally and energy specifically.  And in rejecting this project, President Obama sent a strong message that we are moving the country in a different direction in regards to business as usual in energy production and climate change.  The coal campaign has continued to rack up closures and it is clear that the industry is now a “dead man walking.”  Oil and natural gas prices have collapsed and so has the number of fracking rigs that are operating and being drilled.  Export terminals continue to be opposed and stopped as has drilling in the Arctic.  World wide have we’ve passed the one million unit milestone for electric vehicles on the road and the new Tesla 3 model has over 350,000 $1,000 deposits for a vehicle that will not be produced until late 2017 at the earliest.  Meanwhile, the 200+ mile range all electric Chevy Bolt will be on the market this fall for about $30,000 after the federal tax incentive.  Renewable energy is growing exponentially all over the world and becoming less and less expensive and in may areas less expensive than fossil fuel power even without subsidies.  400,000 people turned out in the streets of New York City to demand Climate Solutions which I believe was a tipping point for our movement.  And while I could go on and on, the fact that we’ve been able to add millions more acres for permanent wildlands protection including the Boulder White Cloud Area is special accomplishment for me.

All this has culminated in the Paris Accord and the worldwide acknowledgement that we must all now act  together to save the planet from human initiated Climate Change and that 2 degrees celsius is not an adequate goal and we must do better.  

Wow!  Who could have imagined all this in three short years.  And we can all be proud of the role we’ve all played in making it happen.  Working together we now must continue to push even harder to take delivery on the momentum we’ve created and create the future of our dreams.  



Board in Spotlight
May 2016 Board Meeting Highlights

2016-2017 Board seated: Directors were pleased to welcome back Dave Scott, former director and President, re-elected to the Board from Ohio. And we were delighted to be joined by newly elected Mike O’Brien. Mike brings his experience and perspective as a member of Seattle, WA City Council as well as his demonstrated passion and leadership on environmental protection through roles with the WA Chapter and other advocacy groups. Chuck Frank, Robin Mann and Susana Reyes continue on the Board. Moving and heartfelt tributes were read for Donna Buell and Jim Dougherty, who were terming off. They will surely be missed.

2016-17 Officers elected: The Board elected Aaron Mair to a second term as Sierra Club President. Additional officers and members of the Board’s Executive Committee are Robin Mann, Vice President of Conservation; Susana Reyes, Secretary; Elizabeth Walsh, Treasurer; and Loren Blackford, Fifth Officer. Aaron is pleased to serve for another year. He noted that:

“Our past year has coincided with the roll out of Sierra Club’s Strategic Plan embracing ambitious goals for protecting wild places for all to enjoy and achieving 100 percent clean energy. The organization had an impressive presence and was a leading voice at the UN’s COP 21 Paris Climate Conference. Sierra Club is scaling up its climate movement building work by strengthening our volunteer capacity and building solidarity with grassroots civil, social, labor, and human rights organizations over the power to vote and its (voter rights) intersectionality with electing and creating congressional legislative agenda that will not roll back historic environment and conservation gains.”
New Board Committees and leadership: The Board embraced the recommendations of the Advisory Committee Task Force to overhaul the Advisory Committee structure. The Mission Strategy Advisory Committee and Visibility and Outreach Committees are being sunsetted, and the following four major Board Committees are being renewed or established:
Finance, Fundraising, and Risk Management Advisory Committee (FinCom), Chaired by Director, Elizabeth Walsh;
Planning and Evaluation Committee, Chaired by Director, Margrete Strand Rangnes;
Volunteer Leadership and Grassroots Engagement Advisory Committee, Chaired by Director, Dean Wallraff; and
Conservation Policy Committee, Chaired by Director, David Scott
New offices: The Board was delighted to meet at and tour the new Sierra Club headquarters at 2101 Webster Street in Oakland. The offices are bright and welcoming, capitalizing on peak hour sunlight and offering a 360-degree view of Oakland and beyond. The open, airy and modular, shared workspace layout are a significant leap from the cavernous old digs with their closed off workspaces at 85 Second Street in San Francisco. The plentiful common areas and inviting and well equipped Break Room are strengthening connections between staff members some of whom had not seen each other in months, or even years! The Board applauded the team led by Bruce Hamilton that has worked diligently for months to design a high quality work environment and orchestrate as smooth a move as possible.

Discussion topics: Key topics of discussion were Strategic Plan implementation and how that is going, strengthening Sierra Club’s priority setting, the Volunteer Leader Development and Training initiative, and efforts to scale up and diversify Sierra Club membership.

Campfire: The Board gave the green light to start work on Campfire, the replacement for Clubhouse and Staffnet. Campfire will feature new functionality, including a Content Management System that will allow even non-technical content owners to post their materials. In preparing for the transition, we will review existing Clubhouse and Staffnet content in order to transfer up-to-date and relevant materials and archive the rest. We will be seeking representatives from various parts of the Sierra Club to serve on the User Reference Group and Steering Committee to define needs, oversee the project and champion it within the organization. For more information or to express your interest in one of the Campfire committees, Loren Blackford,

We’re marching again! The Board enthusiastically embraced Sierra Club’s stepping up to help plan the People’s Climate March of April, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mobilizing the biggest crowd ever for a massive show of power in early 2017 will help ensure the next Administration prioritizes strong action on climate and will set the stage for the climate movement to impact both the transition process to the next Administration, as well as to advocate for strong climate priorities throughout the first year of the next Administration. It will also strengthen and provide momentum for local and national campaigns to win bolder policies and raise the demand for an equitable transition to a new energy economy. At this point, the details about the event are still being determined. The People’s Climate Movement is a large and diverse coalition, and the priority right now is ensuring strong leadership from across the climate and climate justice movements. As details emerge, they will be shared broadly.


Board of Directors May 14, 2016 

Appreciation for Outgoing Directors
Sierra Club Board Recognition for Director Donna Buell

“If we apply our minds directly and competently to the needs of the earth, then we will have begun to make fundamental and necessary changes in our minds. We will begin to understand and to mistrust and to change our wasteful economy, which markets not just the produce of the earth, but also the earth’s ability to produce. We will see that beauty and utility are alike dependent upon the health of the world. But we will also see through the fads and the fashions of protest. We will see that war and oppression and pollution are not separate issues, but are aspects of the same issue. Amid the outcries for the liberation of this group or that, we will know that no person is free except in the freedom of other persons, and that man’s only real freedom is to know and faithfully occupy his place – a much humbler place than we have been taught to think – in the order of creation.

These words are those expressed by poet and farmer Wendell Berry, and a philosophy intensely shared by Director Donna Buell. A proud farmer from Iowa, she faithfully occupied her place in service to the Sierra Club in many ways. And as an outspoken advocate, she challenged us to look beyond the fads and fashions of protest. First as chair of the Prairie Lakes Group and Iowa Chapter Legal Chair, she took on multiple roles in her own state before moving into her national roles including Council Delegate, Council of Club Leaders Budget Officer, and finally her role on the Board, where she took on the duties of Treasurer, Finance Committee, Secretary, Investment Committee, Audit Committee and Volunteer Leadership Committee.

A proud graduate of Holstein High School, Donna brought not only the perspective of someone from the remote tip of northwest Iowa — an area with cornfields as far as the horizon — but of a woman with her own small business. Over the years, she built a law practice focused on doing income tax and estate work, and she would warn her colleagues when April 15 drew near. But even with the pressures of her own business, she never failed to do her Sierra Club volunteer work as well — Donna’s conscientiousness and work ethic were beyond reproach.

In her range of roles, her concern has always been for the grassroots, looking for ways to be their voice and to make their jobs less difficult, particularly for chapter treasurers, to whom she felt a particular kinship in the challenge of their task. She brought tremendous passion, experience and expertise, drawing on her professional background to champion best­practices that fit the Sierra Club. She was sensitive to the needs and challenges of local volunteers, but also committed to holding everyone to high standards. She has been

a strong advocate for balancing the drive for programmatic victories with the need for fiscal caution… and a good rainy day fund. Even in the midst of celebrating major donations, she would be the first to remind us of the need to diversify our funding and not become overly reliant on individual donors.
Donna also has held a special perspective in the political world of the Sierra Club, as a director from a historically conservative rural state that has played a significant role as a political hub of activity. Donna has challenged any entrenchment of a too­liberal orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for philosophical diversity. Donna has been willing to challenge our thinking to one of a broader perspective.
Donna has always been an independent and un­intimidated voice on the Board. She always speaks her mind and stands up boldly for her beliefs. It is that candor that has been particularly valued in her time of service.
The perspective of the farmer as daily care­tender to the soil is one that can be overlooked in its humble utilitarian role. Yet it is one of our most impactful and consequential roles in caring for the earth. Donna was able to elevate this fact when she raised the need for revising the Sierra Club’s Agriculture and Food policy, helped to assemble the working team, and added her valuable input to its shaping, as a working farmer who has witnessed the evolution of agriculture and food production that had transpired in recent years: from the farm­to­table movement, to the rise of organics, and to the threat imposed by genetically modified organisms and factory­scale farming.
Donna has concluded her term with a series of important new initiatives aimed at improving the performance of the Board of Directors, reviewing the allocation of funds to Chapters, giving local volunteer leaders a stronger voice, while also holding all of us more accountable.
Donna understands that a committee is a group of people. She will be sorely missed for her commitment, skills and strong work ethic… but also for making the Sierra Club Board fun. She often volunteered her house on the shore Iowa’s Lake Okoboji for Board Executive Committee Retreats, treating her colleagues to Johnny Cash tunes, rides across the lake in her motorboat and introducing friends to her pet iguana. She always made sure that Finance Committee meetings started with breakfast at the Farmer’s Market, that all meetings involved a social gathering, exploring the latest restaurants, and that retreats were well provisioned with appropriate libations. The Sierra Club Board will definitely be a little less lively in Donna’s absence.
To this, we wish her well in her adventures in Iowa, where she will tend to the earth, gather her crops, and live in her philosophy, where we leave with these words:
To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.”—Wendell Berry

Board of Directors May 12, 2016 

Appreciation for Jim Dougherty

Today we bid a fond and grateful farewell to Jim Dougherty, who completes his 6th consecutive year of service on the Sierra Club’s Board of Directors at this meeting. Today also marks the end of his fourth term as a Director. Jim has served for nearly 40 years in leadership roles in the Sierra Club and other organizations. Time flies when you are having fun. To this day, Jim infuses a sense of community and an atmosphere of fun and enthusiasm to the Board experience in addition to his passion and dedication to the environment.

Jim joined the Sierra Club at the age of 19, in 1971. After receiving the Sierra Club Bulletin for a number of years at his college dorm room, he charted what became a lifelong career as an environmental lawyer. As an attorney, he has served as a prosecutor with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and as Vice President of Defenders of Wildlife. Since establishing his private law practice over 20 years ago, he has represented the Sierra Club in a half­dozen cases, including a Supreme Court case challenging oil­drilling off the coast of Alaska and one that halted the construction of a $6 billion railroad line for transporting coal from Wyoming to the Midwest. He has represented other environmental organizations, citizens groups, and Indian tribes in another 60 cases.

Jim has served on the Sierra Club Board of Directors on and off since 1989.. In his first term, with Ed Wayburn and Phil Berry, Jim negotiated the Club’s legal separation from the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund 25 years ago. During his second board term, Jim served on the Executive Committee as Sierra Club Secretary. In the 2014 election, he was the top voter getter, attesting to the level of respect and confidence he garners from our members. He has served at every level of the Club. For example, internationally, he has represented the Sierra Club at UN Climate Conferences and has worked with activists in India and Australia. At the national level, he took on advisory roles on committees such as the Legal Committee and Conservation Governance Committee. At the Chapter level, he has served as Council Delegate, Chapter Chair, Conservation Chair, Legal Chair, Outings Chair, and on the Environmental Justice Committee, among others. In recognition of his decades of tireless work on the grassroots level he was nominated and received several of the Club’s national awards, including the Wilcher Award, the Starr Award, and the Special Act Award. When there is a need for leadership, Jim steps in.

He lives by his words that “The Club’s leadership must be bold, proactive, and visionary. A business­as­usual mindset will not suffice. Like never before we’ll need passion, creativity and heart—a willingness to risk it all and an unwillingness to fail. The stakes of our endeavor demand nothing less.”

In addition to his service at the Sierra Club, he has held leadership positions with Defenders of Wildlife where he served as Vice President, the Environmental Law Institute, as General Counsel for Green Seal, as an advisor to the League of Conservation Voters and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He co­founded the D.C. Environmental Network and he was Director of the Friends of the National Zoo. He currently serves as President of International Dark­Sky Association, an organization that shares many of our values: reducing energy use by promoting adoption of city ordinances for energy efficient and properly directed light, protecting night skies for wildlife and human health, and helping communities organize to protect dark skies.

Jim is an activists’ activist. My first introduction to Jim was an online picture of him dressed in a tree costume in front of Washington D.C.’s City Hall working the crowd to join him in defending public parkland in D.C. From street theater to lobbying to inspiring photography, Jim does it all. Jim, along with Director Helm, was an early champion for us taking a stronger stand against hydrofracking. He was the first Sierra Club leader to go to jail in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Subsequently, he campaigned to liberalize the Sierra Club’s long­standing ban on civil disobedience. The following year Jim again experienced jail from the inside, when he was arrested along with Executive Director Michael Brune and then­President Allison Chin outside the White House.
Jim doesn’t limit his activism to the U.S. Jim flew a black coffin and a collection of other props to Durban, where he and a dozen other Sierrans marched in the streets in a symbolic funeral for coal. Director Dougherty marched as the widow of the deceased in a black frock, a black wig and a black veil. Their street theater made it to the pages of the Wall Street Journal and media outlets around the globe.
Shortly after staging another bit of street theater at a UN climate conference – the famous “heads in the sand” photo op on the beach in South Africa – Jim and fellow Sierra Club leader Glen Besa decided to take a brief swim in the ocean. Glen’s wife and others watched in horror from the beach as Glen and Jim got caught in a rip tide and were quickly drawn hundreds of yards out to sea, all the while calling for help and waving madly. Only a sharp­eyed lifeguard on a surfboard was able to prevent a tragedy by paddling almost out of sight to make the rescue.
Jim’s overseas work isn’t limited to splashy events. From 2011­2013 he helped devise an ongoing program in which Sierra Club trainers share the Club’s training methodology with climate activists around the globe. He has personally raised more that $100,000 for this work, and has led teams of Club trainers on expeditions to train anti­coal activists in India and Australia.
Jim’s contributions and generosity are greatly appreciated by follow Board members. Former Club President Larry Fahn calls Jim “one the most engaged, committed, principled and hardest working Board members I’ve had the pleasure of serving with.”
Jim is also committed to mentoring new leaders. Jim takes his roles as a leader and a mentor seriously and is always kind with thoughtful, constructive criticism. When I started my first term on the Board, Jim offered his advice, help, and knowledge freely. He embodies what one of my academic mentors told me when I asked how to handle difficult situations ­ “be gracious.” I want to personally thank him for being a valued friend, mentor, and colleague.
Director Jessica Helm states “Jim makes a point of encouraging and supporting me as a new Board member, and is always willing to sit down and talk strategy. In addition, Jim generously offered to act as my own personal job coach when I was looking to find a job, and met with me regularly by phone­ it really made a difference.”
Jim is an accomplished outdoorsman, despite never having even visited a national park until he was in his 30s. A 1985 backpack along the Grand Canyon’s North Rim was a watershed. A single photograph of Canyonlands National Park drew him there in 1990 and ultimately inspired him to begin leading wilderness backpack trips to the western mountains and the canyon country of the desert Southwest. As a professional backcountry guide, he led dozens of trips to southern Utah, the Sonoran Desert, the Rockies and the Sierra. Doing so, he unwittingly overshot his lifetime carbon budget, so he now travels only in association with Board meetings or business trips.
Jim is also an award­winning landscape photographer. You may have noticed several of his dramatic works hanging on the walls of our new offices here in Oakland. He is the official decorator of our Washington D.C. offices, with more than 40 pieces hanging. His photos adorn the current issue of the Sierra Club Foundation’s annual report, and are being used in our ongoing campaigns to designate national monuments near Canyonlands National Park and the Grand Canyon.
His photographic style aims to create images that create a sense of place. According to his website, the response he seeks from viewers of his art is: “Wow, would I like to be there someday” or “We need to protect places like that.” Most would agree that he has succeeded. The photos also remind of us of Jim, his open friendship, and they inspire us by his example as an activist and as a champion for the environment here and abroad. Thank you Jim!
RESOLUTION: I, Liz Walsh, move that the Sierra Club Board of Directors adopt this Resolution of Appreciation for Jim Dougherty, and that the Board minutes will so reflect.


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