Leaf Litter

Nonprofit Panel Discussion

For the past few years on Earth Day, we have highlighted the work of environmental nonprofits on our social media platforms. This year, we wanted to do more. We wanted to share and amplify the voices and wisdom of people who work for local and regional nonprofits by giving them the mic. That’s what this panel discussion is all about.

Facilitated by Amy Nelson & Claudia Browne

Article Index

We were honored to have five panelists representing environmental nonprofits from different parts of the country. If you prefer to view the panel discussion, you can do so by visiting Biohabitats’ blog and video page, Rhizome.

Amy N: To kick things off, please introduce yourselves by giving us your elevator pitch and answering one of the following questions: In one word, what is your “why?” If the magical grant fairy were to drop half a million dollars in your lap, what would be the first thing you do with it?

Amy Armstrong: I’m Amy Armstrong. I’m the Executive Director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP). SCELP provides legal muscle to communities and groups seeking to protect themselves and the quality of their environment from various threats to the natural resources in their communities. We do that by providing legal advice and formal legal representation, either challenging harmful projects or defending against those kinds of projects. That’s my elevator pitch.

Amy Armstrong, Executive Director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, outside of the South Carolina Supreme Court for oral arguments to protect a vulnerable spit on Kiawah Island.

If I had a half million dollar grant, the first thing I would do is to establish an endowment naming the donor, but I think what I would do next is retain or hire more lawyers and legal support so we could broaden the impact and reach of our work in South Carolina. We have three offices throughout the state, but I’d like to have more lawyers and more resources to deploy because it seems like the environmental threats are only growing.

Long Island Sound

Anthony Allen: I’m Anthony Allen. I’m the assistant director of ecological restoration at Save the Sound. Save the Sound is a regional environmental nonprofit. We work across the Long Island Sound region—that’s the whole State of Connecticut, Westchester County in New York, and the North Shore of Long Island. We lead on environmental action in the region, and that ranges from leading climate advocacy and fighting to preserve threatened and critical lands, to watchdogging and looking out for the quality of Long Island Sound and its rivers. We are also working with nature and natural systems to restore the conditions for thriving. That is the program that I am part of and representing here today, our ecological restoration team. We bring a vast array of tools to the work that we do, everything from big yellow machines in rivers to lawyers similar to Amy, working with municipalities to figure out how we can best preserve the quality of our waters. Soundkeeper Bill Lucey is part of our organization. In one word, what is my why? I’m going to say relationships, because the work that we do is incredibly collaborative and we’ve never done a project just by ourselves, and because the relationship between human, economic, and ecological systems is something that is really important to me.

Before (L) & after (R) the removal of Kelly Creek Dam ©Johnson Creek Watershed Council

Daniel Newberry: I’m Daniel Newberry with the Johnson Creek Watershed Council. We’re in Portland, Oregon and we restore Johnson Creek with the help of the community. The community part is a really big piece of what we do. Pre-pandemic, we had about 3000 volunteer sign-ups a year. And a lot of the volunteer restoration we coordinate is riparian in nature—helping to plant trees and native shrubs to increase shade in the riparian areas and reestablish native vegetation. We also have a pretty robust volunteer program doing community science, everything from documenting where beaver dams are on the stream to looking at prairie nesting birds or recording salmon reds. We also do a lot of in-stream restoration to help salmonids—everything from removing dams to replacing culverts that block fish passage. We’re now getting into stormwater and green infrastructure retrofits. What would I do with half a million dollars? Are you offering? We would love to be able to purchase some kind of property for an office space. It’s hard to find really good rental space and our current space is not deal.

Paddock River Preserve, before (L) & after (R) ©Chagrin River Watershed Partners

Heather Elmer: I’m Heather Elmer, Executive Director of Chagrin River Watershed Partners. We’re located in Northeast Ohio in the Lake Erie watershed. Chagrin River Watershed Partners works to achieve healthy watersheds that support vibrant communities. To do that, we really work on connecting people to protect and restore streams, wetlands, stream corridors, and natural areas. We also do a lot of work to enhance parks and enhance resilience to storms. We do that through local and regional planning. We also have a suite of model watershed protection ordinances that we’ve developed and worked with communities to adopt.  In addition to working on all of those efforts with our members, we also work with partner watershed organizations in the Central Lake Erie Basin Collaborative. That’s a network of organizations throughout Northern Ohio working together and trying to share resources to accelerate progress toward protecting and restoring watersheds throughout our region and improving water quality in Lake Erie. What is my why? My why is Lake Erie. Along with millions of other people in our region, I drink the water, swim in it, and eat fish from it. We really are our watersheds and in our part of the world, our Great Lakes.

Trails created by the Santa Fe Conservation Trust. ©Santa Fe Conservation Trust

Sarah Noss: My name is Sarah Noss. I’m the Executive Director of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust which serves Northern New Mexico. We have kind of a three-part mission to our work: we protect significant landscapes; we have a big trails legacy and have been involved in the creation of about 75 miles of trails in and around Santa Fe; and we also protect the night sky. As a 28-year old land trust we have primarily worked on land conservation, but we’re realizing more and more that we need to reach out to the community as much as we can and diversify our work, and bring more equity and inclusion into it to really ignite a passion for nature in people. We need to start developing the next generation of conservationists who are going to carry all this work forward. As for the $500,000 question, we’ve primarily worked with landowners who can afford to donate their development rights to us. If we are going to have a larger, landscape-scale impact on our region and protect more connected corridors for wildlife and biodiversity, we’re going to need to work with a wider diversity of landowners. We need that $500,000 to start an endowment that will allow us to do that.

Amy N.: Thank you all for your introductions. Anthony, a moment ago you mentioned your “why” being relationships. I’d like to talk about partnership, which is essential to the work that all of you do. What makes an effective partnership, and what do you look for in a partner?

Anthony: Partnership is such a huge part of the work that we all do. Save the Sound is certainly not unique in that respect, but I will say that the range and the diversity of the types of partners that we work with is pretty extraordinary, even just on our ecological restoration team. We consider the folks with whom we contract—on everything from living shorelines, to dam removals, to green infrastructure—our partners. They are important to our process, and having the trust built in those relationships is critical, because it allows us to really work effectively and change course when needed. We all know that when you get into a project, you never really know what you’re going to come up against until you’re digging in the dirt or taking the dam out, right?

There is a whole range of other partners, though, that is connected to the community. We always look to do and prioritize projects that are brought to us by a community group or an organization with strong ties and relationships to a community. That in and of itself is perhaps the hardest thing for a regional organization to do is to just come into a community and start working on a large-scale project without having the trust of folks in that community who are going to be impacted. There is a lot that goes into these partnerships and relationships, but ultimately there is a broad array of them that come together to make these complex projects possible and successful, not just in restoring the landscape but also in building greater connection between the folks who live there and different environmental groups.

…we look to listen first

Amy N.: What have you found to be effective ways of earning that trust?

Anthony: Part of it is to not come in with all the answers and just start telling folks how it’s going to go down. As I said, a lot of times the community is reaching out to us and asking us to get involved with the project. But even when they are not, we look to listen first. We look to have conversations and then to actually include different community groups as partners in the grants that we write, so that it’s not just, “Here, draw a box around the technical requirements of getting this project done and that’s the grant.” Instead, it is taking a larger view of what the impact of this project looks like and thinking about how we put together an array of partners that can actually take that into account and secure that broader impact not just on the landscape, but also how that landscape interacts with the community and vice versa.

Working with partners. ©Save the Sound

Heather: Partners are absolutely essential and intrinsic to our work. The word is even included in our name. We work with over 100 partners on a regular basis, everything from our member communities and park districts to watershed partners. Throughout the Collaborative, we also work with storm water utilities and other conservation groups and private entities. I have found that in situations where you may have long-term partnership initiatives and coalitions like the Central Lake Erie Basin Collaborative, it’s really helpful to have a set of guiding principles for how you work together. For the Collaborative, we have established principles such as “we really can achieve more working together than on our own.” We all participate by choice and retain our autonomy. We work to maintain transparency and communication which I really think gets to the trust issue that Anthony was bringing up.

The Central Lake Erie Basin Collaborative

In the Collaborative, we have seen partnerships really manifest in many different ways. We have some groups that are providing technical and administrative support for others. Some are serving as fiscal agents and others have developed new programs that benefit our entire region, like a new AmeriCorps program called the Northern Ohio Watershed Corps. That program was developed by Tinkers Creek Watershed Partners, but a lot of Collaborative members participate. Partnerships can really be important if you have a large-scale project, like delisting the Cuyahoga River as a Great Lakes Area of Concern. We’ve seen many members of our network come and work together, each bringing their own strengths, whether it be an education or community engagement or restoration, to most efficiently restore the Cuyahoga River. Partnerships are absolutely key to everything we do.

Northern Ohio Watershed Corps ©Tinkers Creek Watershed Partners

Amy N.: Was establishing guiding principles something you knew to do right off the bat or were there some bumps in the road that helped you realize, “Wait a minute, we need some guiding principles”?

Heather: Back in 2014, there was a local foundation, the George Gund Foundation, that was very interested in seeing watershed organizations coordinate their efforts and work together. They made a grant for groups to explore how we might be able to do that. We enlisted the support of the Institute for Conservation Leadership (ICL) to help us navigate that process. The ICL facilitator, who really helped us and is still with us today, suggested that we could really benefit from having that framework in place.

Anthony: I like this thread of conversation and I recognize that we have Heather and Daniel and others like me, who work at a watershed scale. When you work at a watershed scale, you’re working along the boundaries of natural systems and not human communities. In Connecticut there are 169 towns and any given watershed crosses a lot of those boundaries. We’re working with different communities who may have different relationships with one another, very different levels of income, land cover, etc. Daniel or Heather, I’d love to hear a little bit about your experience working at the scale of a watershed, how you think about community on a given project and how you define that community that you’re working with.

A Save the Sound staff member at work, listening. ©Save the Sound

Daniel: Our population is mixed. In the upper part of our watershed, it’s very agricultural, and in the lower part of the watershed, it’s extremely urban. One of the challenges we’ve worked with, and we still don’t have the answer to, is how to involve these different populations in the work of the other part of the watershed. There’s a certain travel time that gets in the way sometimes, too. If you have a meeting [in one location], everyone who lives [far from that location] may not want to do the driving. I’m seeing some heads nodding and I know I’m not the only one who has run into this. But if there’s anything good that’s come out of the pandemic, it’s that it’s a lot easier for people geographically dispersed to participate in meetings. We’re looking forward to seeing how we can use this technology to solve what has been a real challenge for us

Participants in a Johnson Creek Watershed Council community project. ©Johnson Creek Watershed Council

Heather: I would second Daniel’s comment on the virtual meeting capacity, making it easier to bridge what could be fairly large geographic barriers in some of the watersheds that we work in. We were actually founded by some of the communities within our watershed, and they comprise our Board of Directors. That has since grown to include over 90% of the municipalities, townships, counties, and park districts in our watersheds. The fact that they come together regularly for meetings and hear about watershed issues in a context that goes beyond their borders does help to create that more ecological-scale mindset. We have seen upstream communities being willing to do things like adopt riparian setback ordinances, not just because that may benefit landowners within their boundaries, but they also know that it might help communities downstream.

Central Lake Erie Basin Collaborative partners working together in the field. ©Chagrin River Watershed Partners

Amy N.: Continuing along the theme of partnership, how can folks in the private sector- private firms that do ecological restoration and conservation but also businesses- be better partners to your organizations?

Amy: One of the first things that any business can do that’s interested in the work that the nonprofits are doing in their communities is engage with them and just learn about what they’re doing. I say that because I have had experience with business partners that receive our emails, find out about an issue and then ask how they can help. That’s the very simple thing that potential business  partners can do. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the value to nonprofits of having financial support from the business community. This year is the first year that SCELP has initiated a more formalized business partnership where there’s a year-long relationship with financial support, but there are also co-branding and marketing opportunities. When you have such a relationship with a firm or potential partner, you can retain them to do work when you’ve got a larger project, but if you just need quick turnaround or advice or consulting on a project that you’re working on, it can be really valuable just to have a go-to, where there are also opportunities for pro bono work.

Developing relationships with the business community is really valuable to helping us do our work and hopefully providing opportunities for businesses to engage with the nonprofit communities. This is becoming increasingly important as we see environmental issues and threats becoming more complex. There are resources the business community can provide and that we hope we’re able to access and also provide our expertise where we’re needed. I just love the words “relationships” and “partnerships” because they really capture some of the dynamic that I hope is coming out of this conversation.

Chagrin River Watershed Partners teamed up with the City of Mentor and the Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District to create wetland habitat at Springbrook Gardens. ©Chagrin River Watershed Partners

Amy N: Folks in the private sector are often contacted once a year, when the annual fundraiser is coming around and organizations are seeking event sponsors. But it sounds like you’re finding that these longer-term partnerships are more meaningful and productive for both parties.

Amy: Yes, absolutely. Thinking of it as a once a year thing undervalues the relationship. It is important for us to give recognition, especially to businesses that are mission-aligned and that have the same goals, throughout the year. Rather than “Hey, sponsor this one event,” its, “Let’s be partners. Come to the event but let’s think about other ways we can work together throughout the year.” It is a shift for us this year, but we’re trying it out. We have great appreciation for the business community and the valuable role they play in supporting the non-profit community.

Thinking of it as a once a year thing undervalues the relationship.

Amy N.: Sarah, in your introduction, you talked about “igniting a passion for nature” in the work that you do. What does effective engagement look like to you? And what strategies and techniques have you guys found that are effective in igniting that passion and getting folks involved in your work?

Sarah: I’ll preface my answer by saying that as the whole part of the charitable pie, environmental groups get about 3% and they have to share it with animal rights groups. We’re already pretty challenged in terms of the amount of charitable funding that comes our way. Knowing that, we’ve kind of moved forward with this realization that if we are not relevant to our community, we’re going to be stuck splitting that 3% of the charitable pie. New Mexico is a very poor state, and the corporations down in Albuquerque don’t focus on Northern New Mexico so much. Igniting a passion for nature and making ourselves more relevant to the community is just key to our financial survival.

We have a Dark Skies program which is protecting the night sky. We require all of our landowners on over 40,000 acres in Northern New Mexico to have low impact lighting. But right now, the City of Santa Fe is thinking about changing out their entire streetlight system, and they are currently kind of going down the wrong path because they want to put really high Kelvin blue spectrum lights in their streetlights. Nighttime lighting disrupts wildlife mating, the circadian rhythms of people, hormones, and gestational periods. It increases all sorts of health problems. So suddenly, we are in the middle of a relevant, citywide discussion about this lighting program. But we’re able to talk about the disappearance of the night sky meaning that you can’t see what the Anasazi saw.

Dark Skies in Santa Fe ©Tony Bonanno

It has been great to bring attention to, and hopefully more compassion for, what we’re trying to do. We are also realizing that older people really don’t have access to nature, especially if they’re in wheelchairs or walkers, so we started an in-town walking program. That [enables us to expand from our 3% to the healthcare part of the pie], because certainly walking improves health. We can expand it out to getting city funding to help lower the overall health care costs for our city. In two years, we’ve had about 800 people take walks in town with us. We are finding that community engagement not only brings in more funding to help us advance our mission, but it’s also the right thing to do. It helps people get out in nature. It connects them to nature, creates more interest in our work, and has just become a really important part of what we do.

Amy N.: For readers of Leaf Litter who aren’t familiar with the “pie,” which I assume relates to the way 501c3s are classified, can you just briefly explain that?

Sarah: Nonprofits depend on donations, and when you look at the who foundations support, a lot of the charitable funding goes to the arts, education, and healthcare. Then there is a little, tiny bit that supports environmental efforts nationwide. Hopefully that will be changing, because certainly the pandemic has helped people realize that we’ve got to take better care of the environment going forward.

Claudia: I wanted to follow up on something you said Sarah, and it kind of goes back to what Amy said about relationships. Continuity is important. Of the 800 people [in SFCT’s walking program] and the different people you’re reaching out to, how many are repeat [participants]?  Do you find that you have a core group of stakeholders or community members that you’re connecting with again and again?

Sarah Noss: Definitely. We formed a collaborative called the Santa Fe Walking Collaborative. It includes AARP, the City of Santa Fe, New Mexico Department of Health, LaFamilia Medical Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and a bunch of other groups interested in trying to get their constituents outside and moving. We all kind of leverage our marketing to our constituents. We do five walks a month, including a Saturday walk to make it easier for families to come and join us. A lot of people showed up for the walks and then word of mouth seemed to bring more people in.

Santa Fe Walking Collaborative ©Santa Fe Conservation Trust

Claudia: Are those people you could then go to and say, “Hey, can you sign this letter because we really want to increase awareness around dark-sky issues?” Is it a reciprocal relationship where you’re not just giving the walks, but there’s participating in conversations and advocacy work?

Sarah: We’ve found that people who go on the walk then show up at fundraisers, and people who get on our mailing list become more excited to advocate for whatever issue is up for us.

Claudia:  Businesses who are part of 1% for the Planet, as we are, often need to find organizations to give to and do pro bono work for. I can really see partnerships being more meaningful [to both parties] if in the beginning of each year there was a conversation involving questions like, “What are your priorities this year? What do you have time for? What do you think you can help?”

I’d like to talk about an issue that’s on all of our minds lately: equity and engagement. We’ve all struggled with building trust in some of the disadvantaged communities we work with. We come in as … well, we’re all white here, and most of us come from an advantaged place. We have passion and love, and we want to share it, but we aren’t necessarily always adept in how to do that. Daniel, can you talk about how you weave inclusion, equity, and environmental justice into your work?

Daniel: In terms of the State of Oregon, we have probably about the most diverse watershed population. A few years ago, we looked at who was coming to our volunteer events and that group was not representative of the demographics of the watershed. That got us thinking about who benefits from our services. Four years ago, we put together an equity action plan to try and address some of these questions. We look at this as a two-pronged thing. One is, who benefits from our service? The other is what’s our organization like? Is it a welcoming, inclusive organization that people are going to want to do things with? We feel it is important to work on those two things at the same time.

This has really led to a change in focus somewhat of what we do as an organization. When we look at who benefits, one of the things we’ve found from talking to some of our community partner organizations run by non-white boards and staff is that they don’t always feel safe in the green spaces. I think that is one thing that has been clear all across the country in the last year in light of what happened with George Floyd. Those kinds of conversations started opening up more. We are looking at creating more programs for a diverse community in some of the green spaces. Especially programs where people come back over and over again, so that people who traditionally have not had an opportunity to develop a relationship with one particular park or open space can come back time and time again. They can then talk about their experience and help bring more people into those spaces. That’s definitely one of the approaches we’ve used.

Youth from the Blueprint Foundation help the Johnson Creek Watershed Council survey beaver dams. The Foundation aims to eliminate the opportunity gap for Black youth within the Portland Metropolitan Area through project-based mentorship and environmental stewardship. ©Johnson Creek Watershed Council

We’ve also found that building relationships with community organizations is really the key to reaching a more diverse audience, because they have the trust of different segments of the community that we have not worked with. That’s how you build trust, really that organization-to-organization partnership. Probably the best success we’ve had is a multi-year project, where at the beginning we recognized a need. And before we had started planning the project, we went out, figured out who the partners were, and invited them. So everybody got involved at the ground level. It wasn’t like we said, oh, here’s a cool project we’ve developed. Hey, you want to do a letter of support for a grant? Instead, it’s like you get included from ground zero and we all work together. That project is almost in its third year now, and it’s going really well.

Claudia: I’ve worked in a lot of watersheds with similar diversity, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that sometimes the rural inclusion is kind of left out. There is often not just diversity in terms of ethnicity. There are also economic, cultural, and political divides. We found that one place we can bridge the divide is on shared values and benefits. There are a lot of hunters and fishermen who love the waterways and want to protect them and have their kids or grandkids access and enjoy them just like everybody else. One of the most important ways to bridge this gap is through communication.  Amy, what important communication advocacy work have you been able to that has been effective in bringing people together?

Amy: None of us can do this work on our own. We just don’t have the capacity to do everything that needs to be done by ourselves. So we have been participating in a lot of different coalitions. One that comes to mind as a good collective voice is called the South Carolina Conservation Coalition. It is a group of about 40 different environmental nonprofits throughout the state. Some of them have a budget of zero and some of them are multimillion dollar nonprofits, and every one of those organizations has a voice and a vote that goes towards deciding what the legislative priorities are going to be for the coalition for that year. We do it through a very democratic process and then we pool our resources. Because there are so many different groups participating, you have different leverage points and different relationships with legislators. We can be much more effective in communications because we are using the collective knowledge, expertise, and relationships of the groups to develop messaging. There is a key set of talking points we share and disseminate among the groups so that we are all speaking from the same page and communicating using the same language. This helps us extend the reach of our impact and have much more collective impact in how we communicate. It certainly takes some coordination, but it has been very effective in advancing legislative priorities. It has also been valuable to learn from other partners and other groups that we are working with here.

South Carolina Conservation Coalition ©South Carolina Environmental Law Project

We’re also part of the Donnelley Foundation which has a partnership with environmental groups working specifically on land conservation. Again, we can leverage each other’s knowledge and expertise because there are land trusts, advocacy groups, and law groups and we all are able to bring something to the table and that helps us in our collective effort. We also realized that while we’re lawyers and we’re in the courtroom a lot, an important component is communicating what the threat is, and what is at stake so that the public can understand that and weigh into the decision-making process. I think your point about the divides was interesting. Certainly, South Carolina is a pretty red state, but we have found that in some of the reddest parts of our state there have been more people becoming environmentally aware because they’re seeing what’s happening with flooding when you fill in wetlands.

Amy N,: We could talk for hours and hours on each one of the topics that we addressed here, but we are running out of time. I wanted to ask about vision. Five to 10 years from now, what does the environmental movement look like, and what is the role for organizations like yours in that vision? Anthony, any thoughts on that?

Anthony: Yeah. Probably more than we have time for. There is a lot to be done here because as we know, the audience that engages with environmental issues is really varied and comes to the work from any number of different routes and lived experiences. I hope the movement is heading toward being more intersectional, recognizing that environmental action can only go so far absent social justice action and racial justice action. You can’t build the coalition, the group, the movement of movements so to speak that we need to tackle the level of change and the level of work ahead of us if we just look at the environmental issues and the environmental aspects. It goes well beyond the work that we know has to be done at the landscape level. It goes to an economic level.

…environmental action can only go so far absent social justice action and racial justice action

I am very interested in and would advocate for a complete reform of the way that our funding system works for nonprofits. I think there is a lot of expectation and limited resources. Ten years ago, Save the Sound’s ecological restoration team was one person, and now it is seven people doing a dozen projects at any given time. Which makes us sadly, I guess, one of the larger ecological restoration programs in the area. One of the things we’re moving toward is capacity building and working with smaller, grassroots organizations whose missions may be tangentially related to the environment and looking at ways we can work with them.

Amy N.: You talked about a dissolving those funding boundaries and “de-siloing” this work, and I think that is a beautiful vision. Does anyone have anything to add?

Sarah Noss: For us as a land trust, we are taking the 30 by 30 nationwide initiative very seriously. We have got nine years to put 30% of the land and 30% of the oceans under protection, and nationwide I think we’re at maybe 15%. It’s going to take commitment from private landowners to make 30% happen. Again, going back to diversity, equity, and inclusion, there are a lot of landowners that can’t participate in land conservation, which is very expensive. Ten years down the road, I’d like to see the federal government helping cover transaction costs. I’d like to see people help land trust cover transaction costs for a diversity of landowners to participate in this effort. And it is going to take that kind of effort. I just think the whole climate crisis, the extinction crisis, the threat to biodiversity that we’re seeing is going to demand it.


"Take a Kid Hiking" Day ©Santa Fe Conservation Trust

Daniel: I think I’ll jump in then on this last question that Anthony and Sarah were talking about, and that is looking forward. I think responding to the climate crisis we have in this planet is going to be really key for a couple of reasons. One reason is it is something that affects us all, so it is something that can really unify people. But the other thing is that it affects poor and other underserved communities a lot more than it really affects mainstream communities, not only in this country, but around the world. So if we really want to also make progress on environmental justice, I think looking at the climate crisis is one way that’s going to help us unify these two things together.

Amy N.: Would anyone else like to add on to the conversation here or ask any questions of each other?

Heather: Just jumping off Anthony’s comments around intersectionality and needing to break down some of those barriers to really further the work that we are doing on the environmental front. We have been seeing some funders express a willingness to invest in community engagement work that we might be doing to enhance equity. So I think they recognize that this is really a process of listening and trust and relationship building, finding opportunities to work with communities and really hear from them on what they see as the problems and the solutions, and having them be part of that rather than coming in with a predefined agenda. That takes time and really requires resources. And so, I’m hopeful that with support from our partners and other key funders, we’ll be able to move in that direction in the future.

Daniel: I think I’ll jump in then on this last question that Anthony and Sarah were talking about, and that is looking forward. I think responding to the climate crisis we have in this planet is going to be really key for a couple of reasons. One reason is it is something that affects us all, so it is something that can really unify people. But the other thing is that it affects poor and other underserved communities a lot more than it really affects mainstream communities, not only in this country, but around the world. So if we really want to also make progress on environmental justice, I think looking at the climate crisis is one way that’s going to help us unify these two things together.

Amy N.: Would anyone else like to add on to the conversation here or ask any questions of each other?

Heather: Just jumping off Anthony’s comments around intersectionality and needing to break down some of those barriers to really further the work that we are doing on the environmental front. We have been seeing some funders express a willingness to invest in community engagement work that we might be doing to enhance equity. So I think they recognize that this is really a process of listening and trust and relationship building, finding opportunities to work with communities and really hear from them on what they see as the problems and the solutions, and having them be part of that rather than coming in with a predefined agenda. That takes time and really requires resources. And so, I’m hopeful that with support from our partners and other key funders, we’ll be able to move in that direction in the future.

©Chagrin River Watershed Partners & Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District

Amy N.: Would anyone else like to share anything before we close out?

Anthony: I’ll share a quote to close us. It’s from the blog Nonprofit AF by Vu Le, and it’s about equity.

“For equity to be realized, it must constantly and consistently be integrated into everything we do and think about. Equity can’t be like pine nuts, which we only add to certain dishes when we want to impress our friends and can spare $17 for eight pine nuts. It must be like our favorite knife, which we use every day to prepare ingredients for all sorts of dishes and thus, it must always be kept sharp.”

Amy N.: Thank you so much for sharing that. I wish that we could talk more deeply about a lot of these topics and I hope we can sometime in the future. Thank you all so much. Be well, and thank you for the important work that you all do.


[Note: We’d like to thank Denise Swol, Executive Director of the Arundel Rivers Federation, who was unable to participate in the panel discussion due to an unforeseen conflict. To learn more about Arundel Rivers Federation, visit arundelrivers.org

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