Santa Barbara Channelkeeper Executive Director–completed

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper

Executive Director

Position Description

Painter Executive Search is supporting the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper (Channelkeeper) in its search for an Executive Director to lead the organization’s efforts to protect and restore the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds. 


For more than 20 years Santa Barbara Channelkeeper has been defending the Santa Barbara Channel by fighting for clean water through science-based advocacy, education, field work and, when other avenues fail, legal action. Through a multipronged approach Channelkeeper activates grassroots community engagement through education programs, citizen science and personal action. With boots on the ground and a boat in the water, Channelkeeper is the region’s eyes and ears for clean water. It monitors and develops a deep understanding of local waterways to identify and promote solutions to pollution and other threats. Channelkeeper ensures that water quality is prioritized and that environmental laws are enforced by bringing its expertise and data to discussions with city, county, state and regional governmental bodies.

As part of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, Channelkeeper acts as the public’s investigator, scientistadvocate, champion and lawyer for the Santa Barbara Channel and its 500 square miles of coastal watersheds stretching from the Gaviota Coast to the Ventura River. Working within a network of like-minded environmental advocacy organizations in the region, Channelkeeper is a trusted source and a courageous partner with the capacity to confront complex water quality and related environmental issues.

As new large-scale threats associated with climate change arise, including drought, sea level rise and ocean acidification, Channelkeeper will need to take bold local action to protect the health of the Channel. Working together with a highly capable staff, the Executive Director will inspire new ways to address critical threats to water quality and availability. The Executive Director will lead the next strategic planning process by working collaboratively with the staff and Board to set goals and objectives, build organizational capacity, and increase visibility for Channelkeeper and its mission. Channelkeeper aspires to lead our community by modeling how climate-smart, clean water polices can improve the health of its communities and critical aquatic systems.

The Executive Director (ED), reporting to the President of the Board and accountable to the Board of Directors, will be an active public advocate for the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds. The ED will engage donors, build support, and inspire collaboration to address regional water issues. The new ED will provide visionary and tactical leadership for the fundraising, communications and programs while stewarding the budget (FY21 $822k) and ensuring operational excellence. The ED inherits a financially stable and operationally strong organization, poised for strategic growth. The ED will maximize Channelkeeper’s impact by empowering the staff and securing the resources they need to accomplish goals and expand organizational priorities.    


Program Areas


Channelkeeper serves as a lead advocate on water pollution and habitat degradation problems in the Santa Barbara region. Current advocacy initiatives include addressing pollution from agricultural runoff, reducing stormwater pollution, advocating for sustainable water supplies, addressing the impacts of oil and gas production, protecting underground aquifers, restoring flows to the Ventura River and reducing single-use plastics. Additionally, Channelkeeper plays a key role in supporting and monitoring ocean health, local watersheds and Marine Protected Areas.

Much of Channelkeeper’s advocacy involves regularly engaging with governing and regulatory bodies in the region. This essential constant presence is the backbone for understanding and influencing policy implementation plans and political will around water quality challenges. In addition to being a visible, trusted representative for the health of the region’s water and an advocate for stronger policy and protections, Channelkeeper has a long and successful history of defending the existing law when required.

For twenty years Channelkeeper has taken legal action against egregious polluters when necessary to compel compliance with environmental regulations, including the Clean Water Act. If all other methods fail, Channelkeeper does pursue legal action. When it does, it acts judiciously and nearly always achieves its objectives. As just one example, Channelkeeper’s actions resulted in a 90% reduction in the number of raw sewage overflows by compelling the City of Santa Barbara to repair and replace outdated infrastructure through an enforceable Court Order. Channelkeeper’s legal action has resulted in the elimination of significant sources of industrial and organic pollution and has required oil and gas producers to comply with existing environmental regulations. Most recently, Channelkeeper negotiated a settlement requiring that the City of Ventura, through an enforceable Court Order, maintain adequate flows in the Ventura River to sustain the health of the river, including habitat for steelhead and other wildlife. Enforcement of environmental law is a critical tool used to help achieve Channelkeeper’s mission.


Channelkeeper has a long history of utilizing monitoring and data collection to support its advocacy and enforcement efforts. While COVID-19 has hindered the gathering of larger volunteer groups, Channelkeeper safely continues its essential monitoring work. Staff maintains an active presence in the Channel utilizing Channelkeeper’s boat to monitor activity and collect samples. Channelkeeper also collects water quality data in three watersheds between Gaviota and Ventura. Before COVID-19, Channelkeeper’s Stream Team citizen science initiative regularly monitored and collected data from 45 sites along 18 creeks and one river. Stream Team builds engagement and produces long term data; it is anticipated to continue as soon as allowed. The Channelkeeper boat will also continue to greet Cruise ships to welcome them and remind them of their responsibility to comply with dumping prohibitions in the Channel.

From beach and watershed water quality to tarball monitoring, Channelkeeper is out on the land and water assessing the health of the ecosystem and looking for signs of pollution and degradation. It acts to produce credible, scientifically collected data used for advocacy, enforcement, education, and research.


COVID-19 has curtailed many of Channelkeeper’s formal education programs, which have a reputation for being both enjoyable and effective. Staff continues to build and leverage partnerships with educational institutions to reach greater numbers of young people – underserved youth in particular – with marine and watershed science education programs that foster awareness and stewardship of local creeks and ocean. Channelkeeper seeks opportunities to be visible and active in educating adults and youth about the threats to water quality and the health of aquatic habitats, as well as to inspire and empower people to change behaviors that contribute to these threats.

During COVID-19 the increased popularity of local beaches and trails, combined with the corresponding and alarming increase in trash, inspired Channelkeeper to launch the Watershed Brigade, a social media-based community dedicated to independent citizen trash collection. Participants are encouraged to share the results of their clean-up work on social media and to spread word of the need for stewardship of beaches and waterways. Among its other programs, Channelkeeper advocates for reducing single-use plastic and for increased plastic recycling. Collaborating with others, Channelkeeper has been stewarding a plastic film recycling effort that has grown even during the pandemic.


Channelkeeper is a highly resourceful organization that nimbly and appropriately responds to immediate water quality threats like oil spills and point source pollution. By focusing more attention on future threats, Channelkeeper can create grassroots support for early engagement with the issues and can continue to lead and model how to provide clean water to everyone.

As part of its expanding vision, Channelkeeper is committed to addressing environmental justice issues and incorporating more diverse voices on its Board and within its staff. Channelkeeper will engage in outreach that is more inclusive and will prioritize environmental justice around water quality and access.

Channelkeeper operates in a region that values the environment and has a history of action and stewardship. Being an effective leader in this community requires engaging with its active, outdoor-loving residents. Enjoying and celebrating the exquisite and unique nature of the Channel and its watersheds creates a spirit of shared values in Channelkeeper’s work and increases the ability of the organization to communicate its priorities and deepen its leadership.

Executive Director


Leadership and Strategy

  • Articulate and execute a vision that unites around science-based solutions and invites support for Channelkeeper’s work; speak with commitment and passion to increase impact and organizational capacity to meet current and future priorities
  • Be a visible leader; advocate actively, broadly, and with integrity, building upon Channelkeeper’s reputation as a trusted partner
  • Create, cultivate, and maintain relationships with non-governmental organizations, government and media agencies, public servants, scientific researchers, volunteers and other constituents to deepen Channelkeeper’s effectiveness as a leader, partner and collaborator
  • Work closely with the Board to ensure strong Board governance and capacity, establish clear lines of communication and responsibility; assist the Board in recruitment and actively communicate with the Board on issues affecting the health and strategy of the organization
  • Inspire; support staff development and capacity; appreciate and challenge the whole organization toward excellence in pursuit of the mission

Fundraising and Communications

  • Marshall the resources of the entire organization to raise the funds needed to achieve its aspirations and vision
  • Oversee fundraising and personally participate in growing individual support and deepening relationships with foundations, business and civic leaders
  • Coordinate with and engage the Board and staff in donor cultivation activities, including public and community outreach, solicitations, events and stewardship
  • Oversee and review grant applications and reports for public and private funds
  • Oversee communications; personally and collectively engage the media (both traditional and social media) around watershed and marine issues; highlight Channelkeeper’s work and effectively communicate its positions to inspire public support


  • In collaboration with staff, draft and deliver verbal and written testimony and ensure visibility at important agency meetings, public hearings, press conferences and workshops to advance Channelkeeper’s positions on issues 
  • Establish and maintain effective working relationships with like-minded organizations around common concerns; build positive relationships with cities, counties, and municipalities to develop equitable solutions that safeguard the health of the Channel and the community
  • Oversee and conduct investigations to identify polluters; use or develop scientific data to support cases; engage with integrity and take action as appropriate
  • Manage lawsuits; research and collect evidence and assist external attorneys; monitor settlements and formal agreements for compliance
  • Work with the Communications team and others to develop greater outreach and engagement with the public around key issues and strategies; build a robust grassroots capacity in support of Channelkeeper’s mission and actions

Internal Leadership and Operational Management

  • Oversee and adapt Channelkeeper’s operations to support the organizational and strategic goals; maintain nimbleness and ensure the safety of staff and volunteers
  • Recruit, nurture and challenge a motivated professional staff; delegate with appropriate authority and foster open, positive communication
  • Empower the staff and support their learning and growth; implement sound human resource and organizational development practices; mentor and grow the capacity of the organization
  • Develop the annual operating budget for presentation to the Board and ensure that the finances are managed appropriately and according to the approved budget
  • Coordinate and support an annual independent audit and ensure that regulatory, contractual, and business requirements for the current and future needs of Channelkeeper are met

Program Management

  • Provide a clear vision and strategy for evaluating existing programs and considering new work
  • Oversee monitoring activities that advance and support Channelkeeper’s advocacy efforts 
  • Oversee implementation of Channelkeeper’s ongoing programs, including Stream Team, MPA Watch, tarball monitoring, single-use plastics initiative and Watershed Brigade
  • Support and champion Channelkeeper’s education programs; adapt programs as needed to foster learning and build the next generation of environmental stewards
  • Coordinate and support the staff response to reports of pollution from community members
  • Ensure program grants are utilized effectively; monitor project budgets and submit reporting that deepens support for Channelkeeper’s work
  • Support and encourage Channelkeeper’s volunteers and interns; provide the resources needed to maximize their value, including any necessary training



A successful Executive Director candidate will likely have:

  • Passion for the Santa Barbara Channel and an understanding of its unique beauty, ecological significance and economic value coupled with an abiding commitment to protect it
  • Strong scientific foundations and experience with water and water-related policy, particularly the Clean Water Act and California’s Porter-Cologne Act
  • Experience as the “face” of an organization; well-developed interpersonal skills; outstanding oral and written communication skills, ability to present ideas, stories, and scientific information clearly and persuasively, and the ability to disagree without being disagreeable
  • Experience effectively leading an organization of similar size and complexity, ideally within a nonprofit organization and reporting to a Board of Directors
  • Demonstrated interest in preserving and improving water quality; practical knowledge of natural resource issues, especially those related to watershed and marine environments; familiarity with Waterkeeper culture
  • Experience developing a collective vision and implementing effective strategy
  • Demonstrated leadership and management skills, including human resource management and team development to achieve established goals
  • A history of strong collaboration building trust and strategic, effective relationships
  • Strong financial and organizational management skills; hands-on business operations experience
  • Experience with environmental review processes including engagement and cooperation with regulatory agencies, political officials, businesses, other NGO’s and the community
  • Experience advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion; community organizing experience; Spanish language skills a plus
  • Experience engaging in legal and enforcement actions; negotiation skills
  • Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies/Science or related field; Master’s degree or JD a plus


  • Politically astute; able to professionally and respectfully communicate and work with a diverse group of stakeholders toward shared goals; tenacious, with courage to act
  • Leads with vision and strong management skills; able to motivate and direct while establishing accountability and celebrating shared successes
  • Able to build effective and lasting relationships; acknowledges challenges and seeks solutions; listens well and creates effective strategies
  • Works hard; brings high energy and strong attention to detail
  • Employs discretion and commitment to preserve confidentiality
  • Resourceful—able to set priorities and act opportunistically; works well under deadlines
  • Exercises high ethical standards with honesty, directness, and a good-natured approachability
  • Knows the Santa Barbara/Ventura county area and its social and political environments
  • Values justice and has experience activating and building communities for action  

For additional details or to submit your experience for review, please contact;

Nancy Painter  

(415) 202- 6240