Environmental Defense Center Executive Director-Completed

Environmental Defense Center

Santa Barbara, California

Executive Director

Position Description

Painter Executive Search is supporting Environmental Defense Center (EDC) in its search for an inspirational and collaborative Executive Director to strengthen the organization and its capacity to ensure the health of the region’s environment and of the local communities that depend upon it.

In 1969, a major blowout at Union Oil’s Platform A caused an estimated four million gallons of crude oil to pour into the sensitive Santa Barbara Channel and onto the county’s prized beaches. The event prompted numerous pieces of environmental legislation and was a catalyst for the creation of one of California’s staunchest nonprofit environmental advocacy groups, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC). Since its founding in 1977, EDC has represented more than 130 nonprofit and community groups with its free and low-cost legal services.

EDC’s focus areas include protecting the Santa Barbara Channel, ensuring clean water, preserving open space and wildlife, and addressing climate and energy. EDC provides public education, advocacy, and legal services to nonprofit organizations dedicated to environmental quality, environmental justice, and human health. EDC works primarily within Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties with community partners to ensure that existing environmental laws are enforced, and that the extraordinary local environment is protected and restored. 

EDC has an exceptional track record of winning cases and influencing decisions and processes to positively impact the ongoing quality of the local environment and that set legal standards for others to follow. While providing highly capable legal capacity, EDC also works to inspire and educate so that all people have the opportunity to participate in the care of the region and community health. The Executive Director is often the face of the organization and translator of EDC’s legal and policy work to the public and to donors. The Executive Director is critical to the connectivity of the organization to the community and to its supporters.  This role requires passion for the environment and for environmental justice, an ability to understand EDC’s environmental protection and advocacy objectives, and extraordinary goodwill and openness to effectively work with community concerns and build support from the public, donors, and all those in a position to join in this mission.


The Executive Director (ED) will bring authentic leadership to EDC’s environmental advocacy and justice work across the entire three-county service area. As a key spokesperson, the ED is responsible for growing and developing important community and donor relationships. The ED is responsible for EDC’s administration and for ensuring a foundation for long-term organizational health including the retention of staff and institutional knowledge. The ED will embrace collaboration and lead with a team-oriented mindset through co-leadership of the organization with the Chief Counsel and through day-to-day work with Board members, staff, and other partners.

The ED is responsible for a team of five (including three full-time staff and two part-time consultants) and the overall planning and implementation of budgeting, financial management, fundraising, administration and operations, public relations, communications, and human resource functions. The ED reports directly to the Board of Directors on those areas. The ED works in a cooperative partnership with the Chief Counsel who is responsible for EDC’s programs and Program staff. The ED consults with the Chief Counsel where administrative and program elements overlap.

The successful ED will be a service-oriented leader who can inspire and lead organizational development with a focus on external relations and administrative management while collaboratively managing resources so that programmatic work continues to deliver high-quality successes. The ED will set measurable performance goals and benchmarks for the organization and will share with the Board the progress and challenges to achieving them. The ED will engage the Board in directing their contributions toward the needs of the organization and in building its long-term sustainability and impact. The ED will be responsible for cultivating relationships with high-level donors, foundations, and corporate funders, important community partners and with local elected officials. The ED will also enhance relationships with marginalized and disadvantaged communities to ensure that they have access to tools to protect their air, water, public health, and natural resources.

The ED is responsible for stewarding a $1.6 million-dollar annual operating budget which includes earned revenue from case work and broad-based contributed support. EDC is financially healthy with an endowment, cash reserves, net assets of approximately $6.5 million and owns its office buildings and courtyard in downtown Santa Barbara.


EDC empowers community groups by providing them with the tools to advance their environmental goals and objectives. EDC is the only public interest environmental law firm between San Francisco and Los Angeles and is often the last hope for local groups seeking to protect their community from development and industrial threats. EDC offers a broad range of services, including educational forums and workshops, advocacy before public agencies, creation of coalitions and other collaborations; and, when necessary, legal representation in the courtroom.


EDC’s work focused on protecting the coast and Santa Barbara Channel resulted in the termination of 40 offshore federal oil leases, defeat of three offshore oil and liquefied natural gas proposals, protection of miles of pristine coastline, and preservation of historic public beach access. EDC has also worked to protect endangered species like blue, fin, and humpback whales from fatal ship strikes and to reduce air pollution. EDC has also enhanced protections for the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary.

Through its work protecting open space and wildlife, EDC saved more than 100,000 acres of important wildlife habitat, farmland, public and recreational lands, and promoted the conservation of irreplaceable ecosystems. Frequently  it is what is not seen that is testament to the organization’s success. EDC was key to preserving Hearst Ranch, East-West Ranch, Burton Mesa Chaparral, Haskell’s Beach, Devereux, Ellwood Mesa, San Marcos Foothills, Douglas Family Preserve (Wilcox), Carpinteria Bluffs, Sedgwick Reserve, Hammonds Meadow, Cañada Larga, Ormond Beach, Oxnard Shores, and Ahmanson Ranch. EDC’s work has also resulted in increased protection for specific keystone species such as blue whales, sea otters, and southern steelhead, as well as ecosystems important to the region, including oak woodlands, chaparral, and coastal watersheds.

EDC helped establish new laws and policies that protect local communities from exposure to toxic pesticides. Through litigation, it has also enforced existing laws protecting air and water quality. More recently, EDC has been leading the fight against global climate change by fighting projects that would increase greenhouse gas emissions and supporting proactive plans to reduce carbon emissions and support the shift toward renewable energy in the region and around the nation.

EDC’s most pivotal work is its fight against the oil industry. A landmark achievement came in 2002, when it won a federal lawsuit before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to extinguish 40 offshore leases, a first in America. More recently, EDC secured a ban on fracking and acidizing in the Santa Barbara Channel. Today, EDC not only advocates to stop oil development, it also actively supports the transition to renewable energy production that is properly sited to minimize impacts to coastal, terrestrial, and marine environments.

EDC has a long history working on issues affecting the health of marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by onshore oil and gas projects. EDC successfully defeated several onshore enhanced oil recovery projects as well as a proposal for a new gas-powered peaker plant on the coast

In a region with so much to offer in terms of precious coastline, irreplaceable agricultural land, open space and other environmental treasures, the legal expertise required to act for the common good and community health will always be needed. EDC is unique. It has broad legal expertise, ability to combine legal, scientific, technical, and policy knowledge, and has a proactive approach to building relationships with clients, partners, community leaders, and elected officials.


EDC is currently in development of a new Strategic Plan which began with a listening and information gathering effort to survey the communities’ understanding and support of EDC’s work. Facilitated by external consultants and spearheaded by the Vision Team, the whole staff and Board have been engaged in the process. These efforts have pointed the organization to some specific areas of growth and development, with particular emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. Given the executive transition, the organization is looking at moving forward with a subset of these goals which are achievable in the short term. The wider vision and long-range operating goals will be revisited with the support of a new Executive Director.




  • Be an effective and community-engaged leader for EDC; represent the organization to partners, supporters, local leaders, elected and agency officials, and the general public;
  • Work closely with the Board to ensure strong Board governance; assist the Board in the recruitment of new board members, utilize Board members’ time and skills effectively and actively inform the Board of anything of importance to the successful operations and strategic direction of EDC;
  • In partnership with the Chief Counsel, inspire and support all of the staff; appreciate and challenge the whole organization to continue to provide excellent programs in pursuit of the mission;
  • Provide a clear vision and strategy for growing and building long term sustainability for the organization and for increasing its capacity to work broadly and effectively with more diverse partners;
  • Assume a leadership role in strategic planning. In collaboration with the Chief Counsel and Board, facilitate and implement the strategic planning process and ensure that decision-making, policy formation and program development reflect the new strategic plan;
  • Develop and maintain substantive knowledge of EDC’s program work and the context for that work;
  • Embrace a commitment to diversity and inclusion and support EDC as it grows its capacity to serve local communities and build environmental justice in the region.

Fundraising and Communication

  • Effectively and appropriately represent the organization and its mission to the public; act as a key spokesperson responsible for public relations, marketing, and communications;
  • Develop and present to the Board the Annual Development Plan and be accountable for meeting its fundraising goals;
  • Coordinate with and engage the Board and staff in donor cultivation activities, including community outreach, solicitations, and stewardship as well as the planning and staffing of fundraising events;
  • Individually reach out to a wide range of constituents including philanthropic decision-makers, advisors, foundations, corporations, and individuals to develop their support for EDC;
  • Supervise and support the development of new and existing grants; ensure that grant applications and reporting for public and private funds are effective and timely;
  • Supervise and lead marketing and communication strategies to maximize awareness and image of EDC among target audiences and the community at large; oversee and approve all communications and public relations materials;
  • Personally, and collectively represent EDC at community events, engage the media (both traditional and social media) around cases and issues in coordination with the appropriate staff member; manage the efforts to build and maintain positive relationships with the media;
  • Together with staff, facilitate and develop donor communications including annual appeals, and develop a robust plan to grow EDC’s support base;
  • With support from the Board, engage donors in developing planned gifts, grow the endowment, and plan for the capital needs of the organization.

Administration, Fiscal and Organizational Management

  • Manage day-to-day operations to ensure the resources are available to deliver EDC’s programs and build long-term health and sustainability for the organization;
  • Inspire, motivate, and direct the administrative staff including those responsible for Development, Bookkeeping, and Outreach & Communications; identify and address staff training and support needs and encourage staff career growth and development;
  • Oversee Human Resources functions with support of an HR Consultant; ensure that labor laws and personnel policies are being followed; hire, evaluate, discipline, and dismiss staff as appropriate;
  • Oversee organization-wide internal staff communications and meetings in cooperation with the Chief Counsel who oversees all program staff;
  • Assist in the development of Board Meeting agendas as well as the Executive Committee, Finance and Development Committees of the Board; staff these committees and ensure that timely and accurate reports, information, and materials necessary for well-informed decisions are available;
  • With support from Board Leadership and Chief Counsel and staff, plan and execute the annual board/staff retreat;
  • Work with the Board, Finance Committee, and Chief Counsel in developing the annual budget, submit it for Board approval and keep the organization within budget guidelines;
  • Oversee all financial activity, supervise, review, and authorize the day-to-day bookkeeping activities and reporting including accounts payable (payroll) and accounts receivable, cash flow, and reporting of account balances;
  • In conjunction with Finance Committee, retain and work with external auditors to assure the annual audited financial statement is completed in a timely and accurate manner; oversee all significant tax filings, ensure compliance with corporate tax status, rights, and obligations as well as all nonprofit and professional insurance requirements;
  • Ensure compliance with all policies, legal and contractual obligations, including maintaining liability, D&O, EPLI, and workers compensation insurance policies;
  • With the support of the HR Consultant, oversee all employee benefit programs ensure compliance with legal, training, and other regional, state and federal employer requirements.


A successful ED candidate will likely have:

  • The passion of an advocate with knowledge and ability to translate regional environmental and climate issues in ways that inspire action;
  • Hands-on administrative and financial management skills; nonprofit experience highly desired;
  • Exceptional skill at developing relationships and resources; ability to bring vision and aspiration while maintaining a stable foundation and a healthy internal culture;
  • Well-developed fundraising skills and experience with shaping fundraising strategy; ability to effectively cultivate new donors, steward donor relationships, and advance key partnerships; capital or endowment campaign experience desired;
  • Experience as the face of an organization; well-developed interpersonal skills including excellent oral and written communication skills and active listening skills; Ideally, bilingual in Spanish;
  • Experience working with a Board; capable of partnering to strengthen the Board’s capacity, diversity, and governance;
  • Experience successfully hiring, mentoring, motivating, and retaining highly qualified staff, and creating an organizational culture that is rewarding for all staff and volunteers;
  • A history of strong collaboration; someone who actively builds a broad range of strategic relationships, seeks strength in diversity, builds trust and transparency;
  • Confidence in their personal contributions; a strong listener who is rooted in the welfare of the region—with care for all communities and ecosystems;
  • Humility and derives strength through community; invites participation and brings optimism and possibility to challenges and humor to daily tasks;
  • Experience in organizational change management; sensitive to concerns and capable of aligning individuals and structures to achieve important goals; egalitarian by nature;
  • Proficiency in using modern business and communication technology, as well as understanding of the role of online environments and social media;
  • Creativity and resourcefulness—able to set goals and respond to challenges with flexibility and innovation;
  • BA or BS in an environmental field and/or demonstrated long-term commitment to and involvement in environmental advocacy.

For additional details or to submit your resume and cover letter for review, please contact;

Nancy Painter


(415) 202- 6240

This position is a full-time role with an estimated salary range of $130K to $150K. Qualified candidates with higher salary expectations will be given consideration.

EDC is proud to be an equal opportunity employer and is committed to cultivating a diverse and inclusive work culture. We believe that a diverse workforce that includes historically marginalized and excluded groups of people improves our ability to assist our clients; enhances thoughtful engagement; inspires innovation and creativity; and promotes critical thinking and solution-finding. EDC is devoted to hiring a diverse team of qualified people with respect to gender identity (including gender expression), race, sexual orientation, family status, religion, ethnicity, age, physical abilities, and other factors. EDC will also make reasonable accommodations for qualified people with disabilities.