Canopy Executive Director–Pending Announcement


Executive Director

Position Description

Painter Executive Search is supporting Canopy in its search for an Executive Director to lead the organization’s efforts to grow the urban tree canopy in Midpeninsula communities for the benefit of all, prioritizing underserved populations and areas with less canopy coverage or fewer resources.

Canopy, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Palo Alto, California, envisions that one day every resident of the Midpeninsula can step outside and walk, play, and thrive under the shade of healthy trees. What started as a group of volunteers planting trees in Palo Alto has grown into a dynamic organization and community partner that brings knowledge, skill, creativity, and action to support the urban forest and communities throughout the Midpeninsula. Since its founding in 1996, Canopy has expanded to serve and partner with neighboring communities, including East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Belle Haven in Menlo Park, and North Fair Oaks, and is committed to increasing its focus in communities with fewer resources and less tree canopy. Canopy accomplishes its mission through three core program areas: tree planting and care, education, and advocacy.

For the last 18 years, long-serving Executive Director, Catherine Martineau, has led Canopy’s growth and evolution. When she retired this February, she passed along a highly functional organization with a clear and important mission, strong operations, extraordinary staff and volunteers, and a culture that reflects the organization’s key values of service and excellence.

Trees are recognized as essential for adapting urban environments to the realities of climate change and can also help address systemic urban inequities. As weather becomes more extreme, trees provide clear benefits to urban communities. In addition to mitigating the impact of high temperatures and stabilizing soil during increased rains, trees provide important health benefits, including improved air quality and easily accessible space for reducing stress and promoting mental health. Due to limited resources, competing priorities, and historical development patterns, which include redlining and racial segregation policies, not all communities benefit equally from the existing urban forest. This “green gap” is not just a matter of aesthetics; trees are a matter of public health, ecosystem health, and community well-being. Canopy has steadily increased its capacity to plant trees, educate and engage the public, and influence policies that support the growth and quality of urban forests. With longstanding partnerships in diverse Midpeninsula communities, Canopy actively collaborates with residents, local governments, and grassroot partners to build equity and close the green gap across the region.

Canopy currently has 18 employees and an annual budget of $1.7 million. Its revenue sources include fee-for-service contracts, contracts with local municipalities and counties, large state government grants, robust foundation support, and significant individual giving. The Board is a thoughtful, engaged, and well-connected group of community members, and the volunteer base is highly skilled and active in support of Canopy’s programs and mission.


The Executive Director (ED), reporting to the Chair of the Board and accountable to the Board of Directors, will be an important face for the organization in the communities Canopy serves. The ED will have overall responsibility for the relationships needed to support Canopy’s programs and operations and for expanding the high level of trust the organization currently enjoys. The ED will also be an important thought leader and strategist who will continue to evolve the direction of the organization and increase its impact, build the financial resources required for sustainable programming, and grow its organizational strength and effectiveness. Acting as a resource for the organization, the ED connects the vision and work of Canopy to the greater community and inspires others to act. Working across the organization with program leaders, staff, Board members and other volunteers, the ED centers and advances the mission in day-to-day work.

This role requires culturally competent communication skills, success in fundraising, and keen resource management. The ED must be able to cultivate and maintain strong and authentic relationships with a wide range of partners and community leaders. Successful cultivation of individual and institutional donors and other funding partners will be required to build sustainable financial and community support. The ED also works to align funding with the scope of Canopy’s programs and build funding flexibility to address various community and urban forest needs.

Advancing Canopy’s important advocacy work will require strong, adaptive public speaking skills, astute communications, and comfort with traditional and social media. Authentic interest in the local communities and a good understanding of the realities of local governance will be required to find pathways that build the health and resilience of the urban forest in an environment where the need for economic health and increased housing are also high priorities.

The ED will be responsible for leading the Canopy staff team, overseeing its programs, and delivering on its overall mission. The role requires a leader who can continue to promote a healthy, effective work environment characterized by excellence, open communication, respect and attention to self-care, and personal and professional growth. The ED will steward and advance an internal culture that reflects and honors the diversity of the communities of the Midpeninsula and operates with compassion as Canopy strives to achieve its high expectations for impact in the communities it serves.

Working together with the Board and staff, the ED will support and build upon the work outlined in the Strategic Plan and continue to guide the organization toward its vision. The ED will ensure that the organization uses resources effectively and follows grant and contract requirements. The ED is responsible for the overall health of the organization, including maintaining adequate systems and infrastructure, defining and enacting clear policies and practices, and ensuring the financial resources for Canopy’s near-term goals and long-term sustainability.


Canopy accomplishes its mission through three core program areas: tree planting and care, education, and advocacy.

With the support of more than 1,600 active and engaged volunteers and many partners, each year Canopy plants hundreds of trees along city streets, in parks, and in schoolyards and cares for thousands of them. These efforts help grow the Midpeninsula urban forest, creating greener, healthier communities. Through strong partnerships, Canopy has made a profound difference through its tree planting efforts. For example, it is estimated that Canopy helped plant 20%-25% of all street trees currently growing in East Palo Alto.

Education is part of everything that Canopy does, building a community of support and engagement from the schoolyard to the city council. Canopy shares knowledge and increases understanding of local ecosystems, trains people in tree care, and develops new environmental stewards. Canopy’s youth education programs include K-12 lessons, paid internships, and green job development for teens. Canopy’s Teen Urban Foresters (TUFs) program is a model for fostering community environmental leadership and creating a pathway for more Black, Indigenous, and People of Color youth to pursue conservation and environmental education careers. Canopy’s adult education programs engage residents, professionals, and policy makers in the important benefits of the urban forest, appropriate tree choices, and details of tree care and maintenance.

Canopy actively advocates at various levels of government to support the adoption of tree-friendly policies and practices and ensure adequate funding for tree programs. Canopy has been a champion and partner in the development of city laws and policies in support of trees, including tree protection ordinances, urban forest master plans, climate action plans, and active transportation plans. Canopy helped Palo Alto pass its initial tree protection ordinance in 1997 (and its update in 2022) and its first comprehensive urban forestry master plan as well as hire its first urban forester. In 2022 Canopy collaborated with the City of Mountain View to develop the city’s Tree Technical Manual. It also recently celebrated the adoption of the City of East Palo Alto’s urban forest master plan, a culmination of years of community work that was supported by Canopy and other partners.


Canopy is committed to integrating justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) into its programs, operations, practices, culture, and organizational structure. This includes diversifying the staff, Board, and volunteer groups to represent the communities they serve and to encourage new perspectives and innovative approaches.

Canopy uses its resources, including staff and volunteer time and funding, to provide meaningful access to urban nature to each community it serves. It prioritizes areas with fewer resources, less canopy coverage, and underserved populations. Canopy is committed to centering the voices of the communities in its programmatic choices and leveraging the communities’ own resources.

Canopy strives to continue being a trusted partner that values evidence-based practice and continual innovation. The organization invests in passionate, hard-working staff and Board members who embrace and promote a culture of excellence in all aspects of their work. Canopy actively shares knowledge, experience, and resources with public agencies, the private sector, and fellow nonprofit agencies, and invests in strong partnerships to achieve greater collective impact.

Canopy has built a strong team that values each individual’s contribution and flexibly adapts to respond to seasonal workloads. Canopy promotes open and effective communication across the organization. Small rituals such as monthly potluck lunches, thank-you notes to volunteers and donors, and peer shout-outs help sustain and celebrate a culture of appreciation and graciousness.


Canopy actively engages in strategic planning and reports its progress to the entire staff and Board quarterly. Canopy views strategic planning as a living process that allows for ongoing deep and collective work by staff, Board, and community members toward specific goals. The current Strategic Plan, adopted in June of 2022, includes a compass that defines Canopy’s mission, vision, and values, in addition to five primary focus areas: Staff Capacity & Organizational Infrastructure, Canopy Culture, Stakeholder Engagement, Amplifying Impact, and Board Governance. In partnership with a strategic planning consultant, Canopy tracks progress toward 3-5 goals for each focus area. Teams of Board and staff members are currently enacting the FY23 goals and will soon be launching updated goals for FY24. 

Executive Director


Leadership and Strategy

  • Be a visible leader who builds upon Canopy’s reputation as a trusted partner and advocates effectively and strategically to increase positive impact on the urban forest and local communities;
  • Create, cultivate, and maintain relationships with government and municipal agencies, school districts, public servants, elected officials, local business and nonprofit leaders, volunteers, and community members to deepen Canopy’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 and model the values of Canopy and further Canopy’s JEDI work;
  • Appreciate the effort and engagement of the whole organization and encourage everyone toward excellence in pursuit of Canopy’s mission.

Fundraising and Communications

  • Align the talents and capabilities of the entire organization to raise the funds needed to achieve its vision;
  • Personally participate in growing individual gifts and deepening relationships with foundations, business and civic leaders, existing and potential contract partners, existing donors, and prospective supporters;
  • Together with the Director of Philanthropy, lead the Board and staff in donor cultivation activities including public and community outreach, solicitations, fundraising events, and stewardship activities;
  • Seek out funding that aligns well with Canopy’s mission, and help shape funding conversations for increased flexibility in addressing community interests and needs;
  • Oversee and review grant applications and contracts and reporting for private and public funds;
  • Work together with staff and Board to effectively communicate Canopy’s work, promote the benefits of the urban forest, and inspire community support.


  • In collaboration with staff, Board, and Advocacy Committee members, ensure visibility at important city, county, regional, and state government meetings, public hearings, and other gatherings and workshops to deepen knowledge and increase influence around issues that impact the urban forest; 
  • Be a clear voice for Canopy’s mission, present soundly reasoned positions with appropriate scientific references tied to the needs expressed by the community;
  • Work with the staff to develop and adapt outreach and engagement in the Midpeninsula region and to learn from the community, share the value of urban forestry, and build grassroots relationships to inform and influence local decisions;
  • Be creative and adaptive in helping to forge policies that meet the needs of each unique community and build resilience in the urban forest.

Internal Leadership and Program/Operational Management

  • Oversee and adapt Canopy’s operations to support its strategic goals, including its commitment to inclusion and diversity throughout the organization;
  • Recruit, nurture, and encourage a motivated staff; delegate with appropriate authority; and foster open, positive communication and a safe and healthy working environment, including policies and practices that uphold Canopy’s values;
  • Empower the staff and support their learning and growth; implement sound human resource and organizational development practices; and mentor and grow people and their skills;
  • In collaboration with staff and the Finance Committee, develop the annual operating budget for presentation to the Board and ensure that the finances are managed appropriately and according to the approved budget;
  • In collaboration with staff and Canopy’s financial consultant, ensure the integrity of Canopy’s financial processes and that all regulatory, contractual, and business requirements are met;
  • Oversee the financial and operational needs of current programs and structure and plan for the future by building reserves and flexibility to address unknown funding environments;
  • Champion Canopy’s programs and ensure programs adapt to community needs and requests;
  • In collaboration with program staff, support and encourage Canopy’s volunteers and interns, and provide the resources needed to maximize their impact, including increasing and adapting training to ensure their effectiveness.



A successful Executive Director candidate will likely have:

  • A love of trees and deep appreciation for the value that the urban forest provides to communities;
  • Experience as the “face” of an organization including well-honed interpersonal skills, outstanding oral and written communication skills, and the ability to connect authentically to the communities where Canopy works;
  • Experience effectively leading and growing an organization of similar size and complexity, ideally within a nonprofit organization and reporting to a board of directors;
  • Experience fostering and developing a collective vision and implementing effective strategy;
  • Demonstrated leadership and management skills, including organizational development and strategic planning;
  • Experience implementing JEDI strategies and goals;
  • A history of strong collaboration and experience in building trust and effective relationships in diverse communities;
  • Strong financial management skills, hands-on business operations experience, and effective financial planning and execution;
  • Experience influencing policy and practice in cooperation with municipalities, elected officials, businesses, other NGOs, and community members;
  • Demonstrated ability to exercise high ethical standards with honesty, transparency, and approachability;
  • Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent working experience.


A successful Executive Director candidate will likely be:

  • Politically astute without being overtly political;
  • Able to communicate professionally and respectfully and work effectively with a diverse group of stakeholders toward shared goals by being thoughtful, strategic, tenacious, and gracious;
  • Able to lead with vision, and to model and motivate toward excellence while celebrating learning and shared successes;
  • An excellent listener, able to have hard conversations, learn from mistakes, seek feedback, and engage in personal growth and development;
  • Able to convey appreciation for the contributions and efforts of all people and to build trust and collaboration;
  • A constant learner who is able to adapt to new information and the changing environment, and seek out emerging science and information to advance the work;
  • A network connector who builds effective and lasting relationships and sees how to influence and move toward goals while valuing the individuals and the relationship;
  • Enthusiastic for the mission, bringing attention to detail as well as compassion and optimism to daily work; 
  • Knowledgeable of Midpeninsula communities, valuing and welcoming diversity and inclusion in all forms and inviting everyone to engage for the benefit of the whole regional community;
  • Resourceful and able to see the potential in people and communities and facilitate obtaining the support needed for that potential to flourish;
  • Experienced in activating and building communities for action;
  • A fan of humor, “tree-via” and silly tree puns. 🙂

As an equal opportunity employer, Canopy welcomes all candidates with a passion for its mission and particularly encourages those from the communities it serves and those who have experience working in diverse communities on issues related to urban forestry, environmental justice, and equity to consider the position.

The salary for this role is anticipated to be within a range of $150k-$175K but qualified candidates with higher salary expectations will be taken into consideration.

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

Nancy Painter  

(415) 202- 6240