Originally from Warroad, Minnesota (Lake of the Woods), Lisa Runkel (she/her) now lives and works in Superior, Colorado, on Ochethi Sakowin, Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho lands.
Lisa joined River Network in 2020. As Vice President of Philanthropy, Lisa oversees the fundraising and philanthropy function to raise the funds necessary for River Network to achieve our impacts to benefit our national network.
Lisa has a BA in Psychology with an emphasis in Business from Cornell College in Iowa and a Master’s in Higher Education Administration from Arizona State University. For a time, Lisa thought she wanted to be a college administrator until she “fell” into fundraising. She’s now worked in nonprofit philanthropy for almost 20 years. Outside of work, Lisa wrangles her three kiddos (her family affectionately calls themselves “The Runkel Circus”), their dog, Daisy and any foster dog they have at the time. Lisa is married to a former white water rafting guide, so they spend their summers in Salida, Colorado, on the Arkansas River. In the winter, they’re hitting up every ski slope they can. When Lisa have downtime (rarely), she loves to meditate, practice yoga, and hike.
What called you to work in water?
I grew up on the waters of Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota/Canada where water is a way of life. From boating to fishing to snowmobiling to ice fishing, the lake was the backdrop and intertwined with all of my childhood memories. I didn’t realize until I was much older how fortunate I was to grow up that way. When the first opportunity presented itself to fundraise for a conservation organization, I took it and my career trajectory changed dramatically. Now I have the opportunity to blend my personal and professional passions at River Network where it hardly feels like work – fighting to make sure everyone has access to a childhood filled with core memories around water like I did.
Why is equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) important in your work?
I was attracted to join River Network because of the core values around equity, diversity and inclusion. I had realized through my conservation fundraising career that so many had been excluded from the benefits of water conservation and wanted to work more actively to change that. Since joining River Network, I’ve had the privilege to work both internally and externally to learn about and begin a journey about democratizing and trust-based philanthropy. This doesn’t just feel important – it is critical to create a future where everyone gets to thrive and not be disproportionately harmed by the effects of our rapidly changing climate.
How do you think the conservation community can make the biggest impact?
I think the conservation community is at an important inflection point. We can either continue to push forward in the status quo, thereby excluding people of color from being part of or leading the conversation, or we can take a hard and honest look at our practices and traditions and examine what needs to change to create a more equitable and inclusion future for all. Our time is short in this regard – we need to change quickly to be able to keep pace with the rapid changes we’re seeing in our environment and our society. I have faith and I’m optimistic we’re up for the challenge and it’s what keeps me excited, hopeful and inspired by our work at River Network every.single.day.