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.

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.

Stories of Region-Wide Environmental Success

Great ideas often start with conversations. So many environmental stewards (including Stewardship Partners), community groups, conservation districts and environmental government programs are working hard to protect and restore the ecosystems that make this place special, yet we rarely hear about all the positive impacts of that work.

However, the time has come to start celebrating the work being done and raising awareness of projects big and small. To recruit and empower all our friends and neighbors to become stewards, we need to show them that positive change through stewardship is possible, these projects are working, and they will be duly rewarded for joining the stewardship ranks.

Stewardship is dispersed across the region and is carried out by a lot of hands, working on many different projects all towards a clear and collective goal of a healthier Puget Sound. In an effort to see where we are at in reaching this collective goal, Stewardship Partners created Sound Impacts (SoundImpacts.org). After surveying dozens of partners in stewardship about what would make an impact metrics portal enticing enough to actually use, the Stewardship Partners team hired CAI (a Seattle-based impact evaluation and technology firm) to help us create and launch Sound Impacts as an easy-to-use, visually impactful, transparent, and robust tool. Version 1.0 has been online for over a year now and the result is truly transformational.

Today on SoundImpacts.org you can create a user profile, measure your positive environmental impact, and start inspiring others to join in the movement to not just protect, but actually improve the environmental health and resiliency of our region. We know this is a large feat, but we also know it can be done. With over 4,000 rain garden projects and 89 permeable pavement projects currently registered, we know that our region’s stewards are already keeping over 70 Million gallons of harmful polluted runoff out of Puget Sound. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. With project types including tree plantings, invasive plant removal, depaving, and green roofs recently added, this tool is ready and waiting for many of our fellow stewards across the region to contribute their projects and watch the impacts skyrocket.

As we begin to make plans for upgrading Sound Impacts to a 2.0 version, we will add impacts beyond stormwater managed to include the many co-benefits of nature-based efforts like carbon sequestration, air quality impacts, urban heat island impacts, and community health impacts.

Are you ready to start telling your stewardship story? Look to see if the projects you have worked on have been registered on Sound Impacts and add them if they aren’t there yet! We know our region has a lot of stewardship heroes out there and we want to help tell the story of their work, so we can continue to inspire more individuals and communities to engage in acts of stewardship, building a movement to help leave this place better than we found it.