John Sterling stepping away from Conservation Alliance

Goals achieved and time to make room for new leadership, he says
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Black and white headshot of John Sterling in Protect Owyhee T-shirt

John Sterling has been with the Conservation Alliance for 23 years and served as its executive director since 2004.

John Sterling, who has served as executive director of the Conservation Alliance since 2004, announced this morning that he’s stepping down.

Sterling has accomplished a lot during his 15 years at the helm of the organization and he walks away having achieved the specific goals he set for himself when he started. 

In a statement released this morning, Sterling says, “We’ve grown our grant fund, built an impactful advocacy program, and expanded our communications capacity. More important, we have created a culture within our community of members that deeply values the protection of our wild places. Recognizing this solid foundation of support, and after working through many cycles of change, evolution, and incremental growth, I feel it is time for me to make room for new leadership, and to explore new opportunities for myself.”

Amy Roberts, executive director of OIA, reacted on Facebook to the news: "John has been an amazing leader for the organization and really its founder in many ways. He’s been a great partner to OIA and me personally and I will miss him but know he won’t go far. The Conservation Alliance is on solid footing and John can feel proud of the wild places preserved and recreational access created."

In his announcement, Sterling says that he will stay on with through the end of 2019 or until the board finds a replacement. “I am committed to doing all I can to ensure this transition goes smoothly, and am prepared to remain in the Executive Director role through the end of 2019 as the board finds my successor, and we orient that person to the position.”

Sterling, 51, has not decided what his next career move will be, but he says that he hopes it will allow him to spend more time outside in the places he’s fought to protect.

The full statement from John Sterling announcing his resignation

Dear Conservation Alliance Members and Friends,

I am writing to let you know that I have made the decision to transition out of my role at The Conservation Alliance. I do not make this decision lightly. This organization has provided me with the most meaningful work I can imagine over the past 23 years. I represented Patagonia on The Conservation Alliance board from 1996-2002, and became the organization’s first staff person two years later. When I took the Executive Director position in 2004, I had some specific goals in mind that we have largely achieved. We have also capably responded to new opportunities and challenges as they have arisen. We’ve grown our grant fund, built an impactful advocacy program, and expanded our communications capacity. More important, we have created a culture within our community of members that deeply values the protection of our wild places. Recognizing this solid foundation of support, and after working through many cycles of change, evolution, and incremental growth, I feel it is time for me to make room for new leadership, and to explore new opportunities for myself. There is so much left for The Conservation Alliance to do!

Since its inception, The Conservation Alliance has been all about the power of collective action to make positive change. Our founding premise is that we can accomplish more together than through individual effort. For the first 15 years, the organization was entirely run by a volunteer board of directors. During that time, we worked hard with more passion than capacity, and proved that our industry needed a vehicle through which companies large and small could express their commitment to conservation. My fellow board members and I knew that The Conservation Alliance could be so much more with full-time staff. It has been my great honor to build The Conservation Alliance staff and programming over the past 15 years. Though our team remains lean, our always-strategic growth has allowed us to better serve our membership and the wild places that we all want to protect. Along the way, every past and present member of our staff –Serena Bishop Gordon, Josie Norris, Kirsten Blackburn, and Krissy Moehl – has become a remarkable leader in their areas of expertise. At the same time, I have had the pleasure to work alongside, and learn from, dozens of board members who contribute their time and significant talents to make this an exceptional organization. This extraordinary community of board, staff, and member companies has made leading The Conservation Alliance a joy.

I make this decision with confidence, knowing that The Conservation Alliance is in great shape. In addition to the excellent staff and solid board, our financial position is stronger than ever, we have a new long-term home, and by November, we will have an updated mission and vision, and a new three-year strategic plan. I also make this move with a little trepidation, as this organization has been my second family. I cherish the experience of having worked with people and brands I admire as we have engaged in important work that will outlast us all.

The Conservation Alliance board has launched a comprehensive search for our next leader. I am committed to doing all I can to ensure this transition goes smoothly, and am prepared to remain in the Executive Director role through the end of 2019 as the board finds my successor, and we orient that person to the position. I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I do know it will be informed by the experiences I have had and the relationships I have built during my tenure at The Conservation Alliance. And I hope that my next adventure includes spending more time in the wild places that we have helped protect together.

Keep it wild!

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