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More Than Leadership

As I prepare and plan for “river season” in the West, I find myself also preparing for a journey of another kind. Some of you may have already heard my news: I’ll be departing River Network after River Rally 2022 to join The Nature Conservancy as Global Director for Freshwater Outcomes. It has been my honor and privilege to be part of River Network for the past 8 ½ years. I couldn’t be prouder of this team, what we’ve done, and who we’ve become.

On the precipice of this huge change, it’s been cause for reflection of my time at River Network and the growth and evolution the organization has experienced.

When I came to River Network back in 2014, the organization had a 25-year history of adding value to water protectors working at the local level by providing tools, training, mentoring, and financial resources. It was easy to see myself at this organization working alongside a team of dedicated staff and board members. The organization was ready to refresh its value proposition, upgrade its brand identity, and grow its impact. It was also challenged by internal silos and competition for resources, poor financial health, and declining morale and visibility.

My first nine months at River Network, I barely slept. I was inspired and energized by what was possible for River Network while simultaneously mired in the details of how to get our financial health back on track. We were stretched beyond our means, needing to dig deep and do the work of reinstituting philanthropic and other nonprofit best practices to ensure our future. I loved the challenge and possibility of what could be, tempered by what was possible given our constraints. I was also humble enough to know the future was only possible with everyone pulling together, all paddles in the water, like a raft guided through a technical rapid with precision and vigor. As the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

My role was both to be inspiring and tactical, to catalyze curiosity, and lift up others. Of course, I had lists and goals for myself, but together we had strategic plans, annual work plans, and projects that we owned together. The next few years were a churn of action as we boldly jumped into our journey on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), sharpened our priorities and internal processes, expanded our partnerships, grew our programming, and did indeed restore financial health and revenue growth with a talented philanthropy team. Along the way, the network we serve grew from 2,500 to over 8,500 entities from coast to coast, with more Black and brown colleagues participating in River Rally, training opportunities, and other programming.

As the world shifted around us, we were able to be vulnerable when we made mistakes, and fearless when we took action. The pandemic challenged us, yet we stand stronger today as a result. We explored how to bridge the divide between conservation and agriculture, between community groups and local utilities, and among those with power and those without in urban settings. We helped local leaders access public and private funding opportunities, including our own novel experiment in trust-based philanthropy. We delivered more value than any of us thought possible.

What stands today is an organization, still small and mighty, that has found its lane and its voice. This is not my work, but that of the whole team. It has been an honor and a privilege to be here during this remarkable period of transformation. I know River Network’s future is bright.

Showing 2 comments
  • Greer todwell

    Thanks. Your dedication and passion inspire me. I agree, Our eight years together at RN is high impact and set momentum for the community and the organization to thrive.
    Your new colleagues (including many long time cohorts) are fortunate to have you join them and we all look forward to your and your teams continued accomplishments.

    Keep Paddling
    Greer Tidwell, RN Board

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