After 7 years at the Alliance, 4 of those served as Executive Director, Skye Schell moves on from the Alliance. Read his departure letter to Alliance membership and community.
Dear Alliance family:
When the total eclipse hit in 2017, I was deep in the Wind River range with a few of my closest friends, trying to decide if I wanted to become the next executive director of the Alliance. I was between my first and second interviews for the job, and over the course of 17 days, two re-supplies, and a near-full traverse of the range, I soul-searched intently.
I had never wanted to run a nonprofit; I was happy as our civic engagement director, mentoring new leaders and building political power for our mission. I prioritized “work-life balance” and spending time in the mountains, not just working to protect them for others. I was scared of fundraising and small-talk, and intimidated by the uphill road to rebuild our finances and staff team. But I was also stoked for those challenges, and I loved the team and mission, so I went for it – and the board went for me too.
Over the past four and a half years, our team has met those challenges and then some. We brought our fundraising up to record levels, helped in large part by the programmatic rebuilding that Craig Benjamin led before me. We survived the economic tremors of a global pandemic – in the early days, I made sad budgets that forecast revenue dropping 30-40% for one or more years, with unpleasant consequences – but our supporters doubled down and gave early and extra (thank you!) and we made it through.
We rebuilt the staff team from 3 to 8 full-time staff. Along the way, in the short-staffed days, we worked long hours and covered multiple jobs, and some of us burned out, but by holding expenses down early we got back in the black and eventually rebuilt strong. Now we have the best team we’ve had in years.
And we won major campaigns for our valley’s wildlife, wild places, and community. We led a campaign with our partners to get $10 million for wildlife crossings on the ballot in 2019, and ran a grassroots voter contact effort that persuaded 79% of Teton County voters to vote YES. (When do 79% of people support anything these days?) We stopped or improved many ill-conceived development proposals, ranging from huge market-rate subdivisions to a massive hotel on the Genevieve Block to Snow King investors’ ski area expansion into important wildlife habitat. We supported many good proposals, like the Jackson Street Apartments – dozens of affordable and efficient homes for local working families in downtown Jackson – and the Teton Raptor Center’s new facility. We commissioned policy and financial analyses, developed alternative visions, and helped the community see that better outcomes were possible.
Along the way, I discovered that I loved the executive director job, that I could do it, and that even the “scary” parts – fundraising, budgets, admin – weren’t so scary after all. Turns out like anything else, they just took practice.
Then last year I realized that we had accomplished everything I set out to achieve four years ago. There’s more work to do, of course, but we were financially strong, fully-staffed, and programmatically on-the-roll. And I realized that I could follow old dreams of mine with a good conscience, knowing that the Alliance is stronger than ever.
The old dreams of mine? Ever since high school I have wanted to run my own business – originally a “dot-com” in the early ‘00s; later a political campaign consulting firm. During seven years with the Alliance I have learned an immeasurable amount ranging from finances, management, and strategic planning to grassroots organizing, lobbying, advocacy, and voter data. I want to take these skills to a larger audience, and help world-changing organizations across the conservation, housing, and social change sectors. I dream and hope that I’ll find more organizations who want me to help them develop policy, build data tools, and win campaigns. (If you know anyone looking for my kind of projects, let me know!)
And I know I’m leaving the Alliance in good hands. We have a passionate and smart board, full of talented individuals who are willing to show up, spend time, and bring their best. I trust they’ll find a great new executive director to take up the reins. We have a growing and engaged membership, both local and around the country, who form the backbone of the Alliance. And we have an amazing staff, who I want to thank and appreciate once more for their hard work. Dawn, Karyn, Chelsea, Stefano, Dan, Ashley, Kyle, and Caroline (and all our former coworkers over these years – Carter, Becca, Tiana, Marisa, Leah, Molly, Amelia, Tisa, Ryan, Brooke, and Clare!): thank you all for working so hard, on tough issues, through a pandemic, against all odds, and never giving up. You all have a bright future.
Finally, I want to thank you, the broader membership and readership of the Alliance. Thank you for believing in the Alliance, and for supporting me in my role. Our work is hard, sometimes controversial, and we take a lot of heat for standing up for Jackson Hole when protecting wildlife, wild lands, and our local community interferes with the profit motive of a powerful few. We couldn’t do this work without knowing that you all have our back.
This isn’t goodbye, since I’ll be around and hopefully will work with the Alliance and its friends as a partner down the road. But as I leave, I have one more request for you: please stay involved, and please stretch to get more involved. Show up at a Town Council meeting even if you’re tired and just want to make dinner and watch TV. Share information about Wild Neighborhoods or Don’t Poach the Powder with your neighbors, even if you don’t know them yet. Encourage your kids or your friends to practice activism through our Conservation Leadership Institute. Become or stay Alliance members, and give big if and when you have the ability.
The Alliance is the last best hope for Jackson Hole. Please do your best to support its mission, more important now than ever.
Thank you for an incredibly fulfilling, challenging, fun, and educational seven years. I’ll see you on down the trails!