Sierra Club

The Sierra Club, a national environmental organization, has 65 chapters covering all 50 states and Puerto Rico and more than 100 years of history. With a shift in policy focus from the a predominant federal agenda to one that focuses at the federal and state levels simultaneously, the national organization and chapters set out to redefine the appropriate division of labor, coordination of “turf”, and agenda setting.

The Club leadership knew it needed a chapter/national relationship that was both mutually respectful and mutually beneficial– that also supported governance, management, fundraising, and ability to deliver program, maintain quality, engage volunteers/donors, and create a culture of continuous learning and improvement. And the answers had to be developed through a transparent process that built trust and united focus. At the same time, any revised relationship would need to account for the differences in capacity among chapters, create opportunity and incentive to build at the national and local levels.


What we did

We combined our expertise with internal organizational dialogue, joint investigation, and broad participation to create tailored solutions for the Sierra Club, leading to greater buy-in and increased likelihood of implementation, even when that implementation hits the predictably unpredicted hiccups. We developed recommendations by modeling the emerging mutually beneficial relationship so that implementation is a continuation of the process rather than something completely new.

Working with the internal Task Force we created a discovery process, then continually adapted the emerging issues, vision, and action agenda until the final recommendations and implementation plans reflected a broad consensus informed by and tested through interviews, meetings, literature review, surveys, and online comments.


The Sierra Club has a framework and rationale for change. There is a vision for the overall chapter/national relationship and for the five action areas needed to realize the vision. Implementation Teams have responsibility for developing project plans for each of the five areas and a coordinating team to ensure that the overall vision is being achieved.

Task Force Members said

“We raised consciousness about the problem and solutions across the Club.”

“We’ve created a pathway to real change in the Club. We’ve not just articulated recommendations but we’ve got implementation teams and board commitment. We’ve started changing the Club.”

“Many people contacted were appreciative of having their input solicited. A lot of people were polled in an expanding circle. Their input was used. Well planned and done.”

“Heather brought a deep knowledge of the Sierra Club and other organizations, [and] the framework for change. She asked good questions and made proposals while letting the team make the decisions. She helped bring coherence to the whole process.”

“Heather and her team were professional, well organized, well informed, and sensitive to our organizational culture. They delivered an outstanding final product on time and on budget and were a trusted partner in this difficult journey. Heather’s ability to actively listen and respect the opinions of all parties, but also efficiently get down to business to address the heart of the matter was essential to our success. She has made us stronger and more cohesive with a specific plan and roadmap for change. What more could I ask for?”

Bruce Hamilton
Deputy Executive Director
Co-chair of Chapter-National Relations Task Force