Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

Sierra Summit

On September 8 – 11, 2005, the Sierra Club held its first ever national convention and exposition in San Francisco, at the Moscone Center. Over 700 delegates participated in the national Sierra Club’s direction setting process and heard the results of the National Purpose, Local Action study that was conducted a couple of years ago. In addition, thousands of people attended workshops, listened to speeches by former Vice President Al Gore and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., among others, and in the Exhibit Hall viewed booths and displays by private companies and groups with excellent environmental products and ideas, and in the Sierra Showcase by Sierra Club activists and leaders.

More information, including the full texts of the speeches by Al Gore and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., can be found at the virtual Summit website http://www.sierraclub.org/sierrasummit. I encourage everyone to visit there.

The Direction – Setting Process

The 700 delegates to the Summit first participated in the pre-summit direction setting process which took place at Sierra Club meetings all over the United States over this past summer. At the Summit itself, those delegates then voted on priorities. They decided that the vision of Building a New Energy Future was our top priority.

Beyond that, the delegates decided that the Club should invest its energy and resources in first seeking new allies and building coalitions, second, creating media visibility and third, bringing people together. Finally, they agreed that we should target our influence at voter’s electoral decisions, state policy makers, and local decision-makers about specific places.

NPLA Study Results

In addition to the direction-setting process, the delegates to the Summit also heard a report on the National Purpose, Local Action (NPLA) study that was conducted a couple of years ago, often called the Harvard study, because it was conducted by Harvard professor Marshall Ganz.

The conclusions of the study indicated the Sierra Club should take the following actions:


Commit the staff, financial and moral resources to developing effective Chapters and Groups. Affirm that development of the Club's volunteer leadership and the Chapters and Groups they lead is a critical investment in the strength of the organization as a whole and the environmental movement more broadly.


Transform the governance practice of Group and Chapter ExComs by training them in the skills of deliberation and implementation, establishing clear measures of performance and providing ongoing coaching by trained staff and leadership. A focus on governance will enhance the quality of leader development, member engagement, and public influence.

Leadership Development Program

Establish leadership identification, recruitment, and development programs in each Group and Chapter to (1) provide urgently needed training in the organizational skills, especially in managing others; (2) conduct ongoing new member engagement based on personal contact and regular new member meetings; (3) enact explicit leader development practices including identifying potential leaders, bringing them into new positions, enhancing their skills, and (4) provide coaching and mentoring. A new focus on leader development will not only enhance the quality of leader development, but of member engagement, and public influence as well.

Group and Chapter Support Activity.

Review the ongoing support activity expected of each Group or Chapter. Information sharing, the most widely practiced support activity, has no relationship to variation in effectiveness, while activities with the most influence, such as new member engagement, are far less widely practiced.

Structural Reform

Determine the structural changes that can best support effectiveness by examining the question of size, the extensiveness of opportunities for participation in committees and activities, considering arrangements that could make Chapter and Group interactions more productive, evaluating the contribution of activity sections and considering funding mechanisms to create greater incentives for community engagement.

National Board of Directors Action

The Club’s Governance Committees are meeting from September to November to discuss the results of the grassroots direction-setting process and to translate the results of the Summit deliberative sessions into actionable resolutions for the Board of Directors. These resolutions will guide our nationwide vision, priorities, strategies and investments for the next five years.

They will answer the following questions: 

  1. What CONSERVATION INITIATIVES will the Club emphasize?
  2. What CAPACITIES (strengths and skills) will the Club need to carry out these INITIATIVES?
  3. What decision-making FORUMS will we need to engage?
Board action in November will enable the Club to move forward aggressively toward an agreed upon set of common goals, guiding the development of campaign plans and capacity building initiatives this winter that will build the Club’s power and advance our mission.These are exciting times for the Sierra Club. Here is more from Sierra Club President Lisa Renstrom:

“It is now the job of the board, the Council of Club Leaders, and the governance committees to identify and articulate the next steps. The board plans to pass the first resolutions in November. Stay tuned!"