By Sam Diaz and Sandy Wright
After seeing up close how the environmental consultancies she worked for mainly helped their customers “skirt the laws and do as little as possible,” Sandy Wright knew something had to change. So twenty years ago, she left her industry to use her knowledge of regulations and her skills in communication to make a real difference conserving and protecting the Oregon she loved, capping her career as our Chief Philanthropy Officer for the last five years. “With 1000 Friends of Oregon, I found a bigger tool to help save our land.”
1000 Friends Executive Director Sam Diaz sat down with Sandy to ask what drives her and what her next chapter might hold.
Sam: When’s the big day? What are you excited about when you think about retirement?
Sandy: I’ll be retiring on November 2nd! I’m excited to be able to spend more time exploring the natural wonders of Oregon, Washington, and beyond. I hope to also spend more time with far-flung family and friends.
Sam: Can you share more about what sparked your interest?
Sandy: I’ve been a part of environmental conservation in Oregon for 20 years. I can trace my connection to nature and its preservation to my earliest days. Playing in nature was what made me feel good (and still does). I remember looking at pictures in Life Magazine of the Cuyahoga River on fire when I was about 10 years old. There were also photos of people chipping in and cleaning up the trash and muck in the river. It was a story that stuck with me, but I didn't know I could do something with that feeling of passion until much later in my life.
Sam: Wow. Your spark was clear from an early age! How did you find a way to turn that passion into a career?
Sandy: I spent five years working in industry with my chemistry degree where I learned how nasty chemicals are used to make products that improve our lives. Throughout the 80's and 90’s as the environmental industry began to grow, I worked for consultants, contractors, and testing labs that helped clean up those chemicals and improved the environment. After about ten years I could see that the environmental businesses I worked for were mainly helping customers skirt the laws and do as little as possible. My hard work was not really benefiting the environment like I wanted it to. That’s when I started looking around and found there were nonprofit organizations that could use my knowledge of regulations, my skills in communication, and my ability to build authentic relationships to make a real difference.
Sam: How’d you make the switch to non-profits? How are you feeling about the career change 20 years later?
Sandy: I studied non-profit management and embraced “donor-centered fundraising” which values the role that donors play and acknowledges their vital role in an organization’s success. Before coming to 1000 Friends, I spent 15 years working with land trust organizations in Oregon and Washington. Through fundraising campaigns, we saved properties from development that had significant natural value – nearly 1000 acres in total! With 1000 Friends of Oregon, I found a bigger tool to help save our land. It’s been fabulous to work with people who want to improve the world we live in and who are especially passionate about conserving our farms, forests, and nature. I could not imagine a better career.
Sam: Are there any reflections you’d like to share with others who may be interested in fundraising who are driven with the same spark and similar interests as you?
Sandy: While I am stepping away from a paying job with a regular schedule, I am still passionate about preserving our land and the environment. I hope to engage more deeply with some of my favorite nonprofits working on the problems of today. As the world turns, we are waking up. There are so many issues that we need to be sensitive to as donors and fundraisers: diversity, equity, and inclusion, climate and environmental injustice, and how our systems reinforce inequities. I’ll be looking for ways that I can make a difference and I’ll be looking for nonprofits that can help me do it. Good land use laws and their enforcement are one of the tools we have to solve the issues of today. 1000 Friends is essential to that equation.
Sam: You’ve helped make 1000 Friends and Oregon better. I know that hearing your story and some of your tips and tricks to turning one’s passion into a career will inspire more fundraisers to join our causes. Thank you so much for sharing your talent and gift with us.