Reflections on a Collaborative Funder Relationship with The Russell Family Foundation 

In 2002 Stewardship Partners was barely 3 years old, but that year marked the beginning of a critical partnership that has brought us to where we are today. Our collaboration with The Russell Family Foundation (TRFF) began with a grant. In financial terms alone, this partnership has been foundational, totaling over $1 Million granted since 2002. But this partnership does not begin and end with the money. The collaborative problem solving and network building that we have done together has been equally important in creating a movement of community-focused stewardship across the Puget Sound region. The close of 2020 seemed like a good time to indulge in hindsight, so I sat down virtually with Holly Powers, Senior Program Officer at TRFF to pause and reflect on our collective history.

Rather than transcribe our entire, far-reaching conversation, I’ve decided to pull together observations from both the grant-maker and grantee perspectives that made this a successful relationship.

As a grant-maker, TRFF is very clear in their understanding that they only succeed when their partners succeed. I think the approach is exemplified by what Holly described as trying to be the funder who gets a call when things don’t go as planned, rather than the funder you try to avoid. As a grantee, that approach means that we are trusted to lead the work, understand the challenges, and respond effectively without being penalized for innovating or changing course when needed. Even the most well-planned projects encounter unexpected challenges. Knowing that a funder wants to know about those challenges and might help us collaboratively, means that challenges are opportunities to do better rather than failures of foresight. Taking this approach to the next level, when COVID -19 changed everything for everyone, TRFF didn’t wait for their grantees to tell them what they needed. Instead, they asked us what had changed and what did we need to weather the storm. Providing additional financial support and peer-to-peer connections with other grantees has helped many organizations continue our collective work in the face of a challenging time.

Another significant aspect of TRFF’s approach is the value they place on connecting grantees to each other. Many of our most essential partnerships came about because of TRFF’s active efforts to connect their grantees. Examples include the Habitat for Humanity homes near Tacoma that we certified Salmon-Safe and the thought-leader convening TRFF started with Sightline Institute that gave rise to our Green Infrastructure Summit of the Salish Sea. Connections like these make everything we do more impactful and effective.

As a grantee, it’s always humbling and lovely to hear from a funder why they support your work, and as partners in and supporters of our work, I want to share some of Holly’s thoughts on Stewardship Partners. I think my favorite thing was hearing that walking into the Stewardship Partners office has always felt like being invited into a living room for a cup of coffee and a conversation. That we have created a culture and a welcoming sense of community with partners feels like a significant accomplishment and one that doesn’t fit in any grant reporting metrics. TRFF also sees us as we see ourselves as a ‘small but mighty’ organization able to catalyze, respond quickly, and nimbly to emerging issues and opportunities, but not clinging to ownership at the expense of the idea. Yet, for anything involving stormwater and green infrastructure, we act as a hub, keeping the wheel rolling forward. The 12,000 Rain Garden Campaign for Puget Sound is one example. SP coordinated rain garden resource hubs and trainings across 12 counties, leading to the regional multi-sector City Habitats network and the annual Green Infrastructure Summit of the Salish Sea. Holly also described Stewardship Partners as a ‘first to listen’ partner. From our first projects, we have acknowledged our partners on the land and communities as the work leaders. We have always understood that we need to listen to them to make anything happen and move anything forward. Having that part of our values identified so clearly is so validating. But then again, it makes sense. It takes one to know one, and TRFF and Stewardship Partners both know that we only succeed when our partners succeed

I want to close by thanking Holly Powers, Fabiola Greenwalt, Linsey Sauer, Britta Franscesconi, Kathleen Simpson, and past team members Richard Woo and Scott Miller, as well as the Russell Family and the TRFF board of directors. It is an honor to partner with you all.

Written by Aaron Clark

Photo courtesy of TRFF

Tire Chemical Kills Coho Salmon

Recent research by our partners at the University of Washington and Washington State University has identified a specific chemical in tire rubber that is killing countless Coho salmon right before they spawn in streams across the region. Other species of salmon are likely affected to varying degrees. The chemical 6PPD appears to be universally used in all tires currently made. Unfortunately, we don’t have any Salmon-Safe certified tires to offer yet (though we are actively supporting that pursuit). In the meantime, the best thing we can do is to keep building rain gardens and trying to get more of them installed wherever roadway runoff gets into salmon streams (which in our region is almost anywhere there are roads and parking lots). 

To help car tires — and maybe salmon runs — last longer:

  • Drive less. Fewer miles driven equals less tire dust. Consider if you can walk, bike or bus to your destination instead of driving.
  • Keep tires properly inflated and maintained.
  • Drive less aggressively: Don’t “lay rubber” when accelerating or braking.
  • Drive small. Small cars shed about half as much tire dust per mile as large cars, according to European studies. Trucks shed several times more.

To find out more about this vital cutting edge research here is the original research article. Media coverage of this research has been done by The Seattle TimesThe New York TimesMotor TrendNW Public Broadcasting and more.

Green Infrastructure Summit of the Salish Sea

Building off of the 2020 Green Infrastructure Summit and events since, it is more apparent than ever that we can’t merely fix and put back the stuff that breaks (due to a pandemic, racial inequity, economic downturn, etc.). Instead, we need better stuff. So this year, the theme of the summit is “Evolving Green Infrastructure: adapting systems for better outcomes.” 

Up-to-date info can be found on the summit webpage. There are many details still in the offing, but below is what we know:

  •  This summit will be held virtually over the mornings of March 25th and 26th, 2021 (mark your calendars).
  • After five years of calling this event the “Puget Sound Green Infrastructure Summit” we are pleased to announce that we are renaming it the “Green Infrastructure Summit of the Salish Sea.”  This re-naming is in recognition and honor of the original Indigenous inhabitants and stewards of this land and water, the Coast Salish Peoples, who have lived in the Salish Sea basin, throughout the San Juan Islands and the North Cascades watershed, since time immemorial. This re-naming also underscores our continued commitment to identify and implement solutions that protect and enhance the Salish Sea basin, through collaboration, best practices, racial equity, and community engagement. 
  • If you have a topic or story that you would like to share, please fill out this simple online abstract submission form. Your submission does not need to include details. Many of the best summit presentations started as a simple sentence. But the deadline for submissions is January 26th (extended), so don’t delay!
  • This event will give us all a chance to connect across geographies and sectors, discuss and learn about topics as far reaching as: leadership in Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties; green infrastructure across the urban-rural continuum; whole watershed systems; storytelling; maintenance; stimulus spending; climate resilience; tires; silos; racial equity; the WA environmental justice task force; youth leadership; career pathways; the state of the science and what works and what doesn’t. 
  • Financial sponsors make this event possible. If your organization would like to learn more, please email Aaron Clark.

Tickets are On Sale for the 5th Annual Puget Sound Green Infrastructure Summit!

It’s hard to believe that we created the first ever Puget Sound Green Infrastructure Summit 5 whole years ago this month! It seems like yesterday and yet an awful lot has happened in those 5 years. This year we’re proud to again bring together a community of green infrastructure thought leaders from the .com, .org, .gov, and .edu sectors and from every corner of Puget Sound, this time in Tacoma on March 20th, 2020! It’s inspiring and humbling to hear from partners and attendees who credit the summit with catalyzing new projects, partnerships, and strategies to address some of the region’s most pressing and complex problems. Never ones to get stuck in a rut, the green infrastructure summit always touches on a lot more than the stormwater that green infrastructure is typically built to address. Like a rain garden, the reason to attend the summit goes way past one single problem or solution.

Scenes from the inspirational 2019 Summit

At this year’s summit, attendees will hear from professors, youth leaders, agency officials, nonprofits and businesses about the vast array of benefits that green infrastructure can provide. This year’s theme is “Growing green infrastructure: Impacts and Intersectionalities When Scaling Up.” We hope you can join us! Purchase your ticket here.

Stewardship Partners’ 2019 Highlights

Supporters are central to the success of Stewardship Partners and are one of the main reasons why our programs had such a profound positive impact throughout our region this year. By supporting Stewardship Partners, you continue to support a healthy Puget Sound environment.

Your support this year allowed us to:

  • Plant 15,000 native trees and shrubs
  • Restore 2.4 river miles
  • Restore 10.5 acres of vital riparian habitat
  • Engage volunteers in over 2,800 hours of work
  • Grow our Salmon-Safe program to over 100 farms and vineyards
  • Grow our coalition of over 100 green infrastructure partners
  • Host the 2019 Green Infrastructure Summit and begin planning for the 2020 Summit, to be located outside of King County for the first time
  • Provide resources and financial incentives for green infrastructure ($100,000 of incentives awarded to date)
  • Engage in the Seattle Waterfront Project alongside new partners
  • Host the 10th Annual Feast on the Farm, raising over $151,000 in direct support of conservation and restoration initiatives in Puget Sound

THANK YOU FOR BEING A STEWARDSHIP PARTNER!

Make Your End of Year Gift

This season, Patagonia Action Works is matching donations made to their environmental grantees! Now through December 31st, donations made through their site will receive a dollar-for-dollar match! Please help us take advantage of this amazing opportunity by making your year-end gift to Stewardship Partners through Patagonia Action Works! Thank you Patagonia!

You can also give directly through our website. Only together can we fight for clean water, healthy salmon and wildlife habitats, sustainable agriculture, healthy communities, and overall stewardship of our shared environment.

Green Solutions to Stormwater Runoff

By now, you have probably heard that stormwater runoff is a looming threat to our Puget Sound. But the good news is that there are ways we can slow down and filter stormwater runoff, preventing pollutants from making it into our precious bodies of water. This video created by Sightline Institute features our very own Aaron Clark speaking about green infrastructure solutions to polluted stormwater runoff.

Breaking Barriers for GSI Projects

Here at Stewardship Partners we do our best to help get as many green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) projects in the ground as possible. Unfortunately, while most landowners love the idea of a beautiful rain garden or cistern going in their yard, there are barriers to getting these projects installed. Many great incentive programs exist for installing GSI, like RainWise Rebates, but cost continues to be one of the biggest barriers landowners face.

Newly installed rain garden getting its finishing touches.

We are working hard to address this issue by creating new incentive programs and expanding the financial assistance offered through the RainWise Program. Our recently launched GSI Mini Grants offer up to an additional $1,500 for landowners within the King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) service area that are not eligible for other incentive programs. The goal of the GSI Mini Grant is to help provide both guidance and financial assistance for communities that are in areas of ineligibility for other incentive programs and may otherwise be unable to install GSI projects. Our RainWise Access Grants help income-limited and underserved communities by providing an additional $1,000 for RainWise eligible homeowners and nonprofit community organizations, bridging the gap between the RainWise rebate amount and actual project costs. Without this tool, even relatively small out of pocket costs for GSI projects could pose a barrier to landowners otherwise ready to install GSI on their property.

The creation of these tools comes from actively listening to and discussing with key partners like and community members. With a little out of the box thinking, the Stewardship Partners team was able to create a whole organizational infrastructure that didn’t exist before, all because we listened to communities sharing their experiences and barriers with us. After many tweaks and improvements to both of these tools, we now have Mini Grants and Access Grants flying off the shelves. We have a great sense of pride and gratification knowing we are able to give communities a hand in their work to protect Puget Sound.

You can find out more about these financial tools and other incentive programs at www.12000raingardens.org.

Leading the Stormwater Village at StormCon

StormCon, the nation’s largest stormwater conference, was recently held in Bellevue marking the first time this gathering of national leaders on stormwater has come to the Pacific Northwest. But there is little doubt that this region is a veritable Silicon Valley of green infrastructure solutions to stormwater runoff.

Polluted runoff spilling into a storm drain.

Why does our community invest so much in solving stormwater? Perhaps, it is because our region is famous for rain and we have over 100 years of leadership, pioneering innovation from airplanes to coffee to software. We think it is because stormwater exemplifies the kind of local, global and complex problem that requires creativity and dedication. The simple individual solutions that Stewardship Partners promotes will cascade down into systems that can heal humanity’s broken relationship with nature.

In this spirit, a group of non-profit leaders have recently developed a Puget Sound-wide campaign called City Habitats. Started by Stewardship Partners, The Nature Conservancy of Washington, Washington Environmental Council and the City of Seattle, City Habitats has now engaged over 100 partners from across the region and across all sectors. With significant investments and support from The Boeing Company, this network is accelerating and amplifying the region’s cutting-edge leadership in stormwater and green infrastructure through collaborative partnership and coordination of efforts. We are “connecting the dots” by bringing .com’s, .org’s, .gov’s and .edu’s together to share ideas, identify emerging issues and opportunities and avoid reinventing the wheel.

City Habitats was represented at StormCon 2017 with 10 full exhibition booths, loosely organized as a “Village”. We presented solutions, ideas, projects and programs with 12 of our partners. StormCon had never had non-profits, universities or government-led programs participate in the exhibition hall before and the response was resounding: we need to do this every year!

Stewardship Partners’ leadership of this effort exemplifies our passion for collaboration and innovation, and showed the world a real hope of truly solving the stormwater problem.

 

StormCon Village Participants:
Washington Storwater Center (UW & WSU) | UW Green Futures Lab | RainWise
Evergreen College’s Center of Sustainable Infrastructure | TNC | ILFI | Stewardship Partners
WEC  |  Puget Sound Caucus of Conservation Districts | Salmon-Safe | ECOSS
Friends of the Seattle Waterfront | City Habitats | Earth Corps

StormCon Connections

Aaron Clark Makes a Connection

StormCon, the nation’s largest stormwater conference was recently held in Bellevue – first time that this gathering of municipal leaders on stormwater have come to the Pacific Northwest. There is little doubt that this region is a veritable Silicon Valley of green infrastructure solutions to stormwater.

Why do we invest so much in solving stormwater? Perhaps, it is because we are already famous for our rain, or perhaps it is our 100 year history of pioneering innovation from airplanes to coffee to software. We think it is because stormwater exemplifies the kind of complex, wicked problem that, once understood, begs creativity and dedication because individual solutions can cascade down into systems that can heal humanity’s broken relationship with nature. Pretty profound stuff.

In this spirit, a group of non-profit leaders have recently developed a Puget Sound-wide campaign called City Habitats. Started by Stewardship Partners, The Nature Conservancy of Washington, Washington Environmental Council and the City of Seattle, City Habitats has now engaged over 100 partners from across the region and across all sectors. With significant investments and support from The Boeing Company, this network is accelerating and amplifying the region’s cutting-edge leadership in stormwater and green infrastructure through collaborative partnership and coordination of efforts. We are “connecting the dots” by bringing .com’s, .org’s, .gov’s and .edu’s together to share ideas, identify emerging issues and opportunities and avoid reinventing the wheel.

City Habitats was represented at StormCon 2017 with 10 full exhibition booths, loosely organized as a “Village”. We presented solutions, ideas, projects and programs from 13 of our partners. StormCon had never had non-profits, universities or government-led programs participate in the exhibition hall before and the response was resounding: we need to do this every year!

Our participants included: from the .edu, Washington Stormwater Center (WSU and UW-led), UW Green Futures Lab and Evergreen College’s Center of Sustainable Infrastructure to the .gov, RainWise program (Seattle and King County-led) and the Puget Sound Caucus of Conservation Districts, to .org’s TNC, ILFI, Stewardship Partners, Salmon-Safe, ECOSS, Friends of Waterfront Seattle, City Habitats, and Earth Corps, City Habitats is demonstrating that collaboration and innovation are critical to the bold vision of actually solving stormwater.