Tuesday, 13 Aug 2002

SEATTLE, Wash.

I’ll spend today in Seattle, mainly working on fundraising and public outreach. As the director of a national organization, I have to maintain relationships with supporters and colleagues around the country. But with a delightful two-and-a-half-year-old son at home, I also try to avoid being on the road all the time. So I pack these travel days as tightly as possible; today I’ll woo potential funders at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., and try to squeeze in lunch with an old friend in between.

Later in the day, I’ll search Seattle craft stores for ceremonial objects that we can present to the graduating class of fellows on Saturday. What might symbolize our journey over the past three years, and also capture our hopes for the future? I am thinking about those brightly colored, miniature Guatemalan ceramic buses, with the people inside and bananas and bags on the roof. Alternately, perhaps some small metal animal figures. Gift shopping is not my forte, but I’ll have to come up with something.

At 4:30, I’ll meet with ELP Advisory Committee member Wes Jackson, president of the Land Institute. I’ll bring Wes up to date on ELP, and then introduce him to a dozen ELP fellows who want to discuss sustainable agriculture. I expect that Wes will make the case to them that sustainability must start with agriculture. We should learn to mimic nature with skill, rather than dominate the natural world through monoculture industrial crop production. This meeting with Wes is the kind of informal intergenerational dialogue that ELP encourages, and I know that both Wes and the fellows are looking forward to it.

An ELP reception in San Francisco this spring.

Our big event today is a public reception from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Chinese Room at Smith Tower. (Come join us if you’re in Seattle — we’ll be on the 35th floor!) We expect more than 100 people to come meet many of the ELP fellows and learn about the organization. Most of our guests will be others working in the environmental field, though we also hope to impress a few individuals who might give money to support our work. Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation and longtime environmental activist, will be our special guest speaker, offering his thoughts on environmental leadership. We also will show several video profiles that ELP fellow Robert Rosenheck has made of his colleagues, part of an ELP documentary film project and publicity effort. Most important, we expect 30 ELP fellows to come. Since this week’s retreat agenda is jammed with activities, I’m glad that people will have this extra time just to chat with each other and with our guests.

Fundraising and networking is a big part of being an executive director. I enjoy it, in moderation. Getting to make the pitch for ELP keeps me connected to the passion and ideas that drew me to this work. I get to talk about the changing face of the environmental movement, the need to develop our future leaders, and the inspiring work of the ELP fellows. I particularly relish the debate when a foundation program officer asks hard questions that force me to question my usual assumptions.

Yet raising money for an environmental leadership organization is also difficult. Environmentalists talk a lot about the future, but we have not invested very much in it. Or, rather, we have invested huge sums of money to buy land and litigate development projects, but far less in developing a working society and economy that will support environmental protection. This is one key lesson from the study of conservative philanthropy: the importance of investing in people, ideas, and networks. By contrast, the environmental movement and environmental grantmakers tend to focus on more narrow, short-term issues. We also tend to churn through our young people, rather than investing in their development for the future. Our strategy often wins battles, but it does not build a long-term movement, and it has not shifted the terms of the political debate far enough. Environmentalists remain stuck reacting to the big ideas and political maneuvering of the opposition.

An educational display from an Activity Fund project.

The Environmental Leadership Program has its own short-term accomplishments, and we wouldn’t survive in this tough funding world without them. With support from the ELP Activity Fund, for instance, ELP fellows have already launched new organizations, organized conferences, written books, tested lead levels in children, and published op-ed articles in newspapers and magazines around the country.

Yet the long-term value of the ELP network is even more important than these impressive accomplishments. What we really hope to achieve is harder to measure: community dialogue that will mobilize individuals to act over the course of their careers, and that will spill over into the broader environmental field. Over the past year, we have been talking a lot, formally and informally, about diversity in the environmental community. On Thursday and Friday, we’ll hold diversity workshops to help prepare ELP fellows to take the lead on diversity issues within their communities and organizations.

Following the retreat, we hope to develop a book of essays by ELP fellows on the social dynamics of environmentalism, and to hold outreach events to work with emerging environmental leaders beyond the ELP fellowship. Our goal: to use our hive of activity to help spur environmentalists across the country to think more deeply about how race, class, gender, and other social differences shape our collective work. This is the right thing to do, and also a political necessity, since the future political success of the environmental movement depends on broader constituencies. But in order to make progress in this area, we need to take some time for reflection and dialogue, and embrace a longer-term view of environmental politics and leadership.