The end of Nevada EcoNet

The struggling nonprofit calls it quits

Nevada EcoNet has hosted Reno’s Earth Day event for the past two decades.

Nevada EcoNet has hosted Reno’s Earth Day event for the past two decades.

Photo By kat kerlin

A version of this story was posted last week on RN&R’s Green with NV blog at

After 21 years, Nevada Econet is coming to an end.

President Jo Simpson emailed an announcement of the board’s decision on Memorial Day weekend. Her wording was vague. The opening paragraph: “Nevada EcoNet is entering a transition period. We are closing our West Street Market office. Our board and advisors are exploring options that would allow Earth Day and the Golden Pinecone Awards to continue in the community.”

After a call for clarification, Simpson confirmed that the “transition period” is a transition to an end.

“This is tough for us,” she said. “Many of us, and others who’ve gone before us, have put a lot of heart and soul and time into this organization, and we really believe in it. Writing that piece [the announcement] was not an easy thing to do. I sent it out for review to the board, and a couple came back saying, ‘I’m not sure you’re real clear.’ It’s tough.”

Nevada EcoNet began in 1990 as Environmental Leadership, undergoing the name change in 2006. The nonprofit has hosted Reno’s Earth Day events for the past two decades, watching it grow from a one-tent event to a sprawling affair that takes over Idlewild Park, reflecting the growth within Reno’s environmental community over the years. EcoNet also oversees the Golden Pinecone Awards, which recognizes local environmental leaders.

Simpson said Nevada Econet is exploring options to hand over organizing Earth Day to one or more groups. This autumn’s Golden Pinecone awards are quickly approaching, as submissions for candidates go out in July. EcoNet may partner with another group to host that event, with the hopes that group will take it over.

Explaining the board’s decision, Simpson said, “It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation. To do the fundraising and grant writing you need to do, you need a full-time executive director, and you can’t have a full-time executive director without the money. We’ve held it together for the last two years with a part-time executive director and part-time volunteer coordinator. We’re just to the point where we can’t do that anymore.”

While Nevada EcoNet has never been rolling in dough, the group was relatively stable when full-time executive director Lauren Siegel left in 2009. Replacing her was full-time ED Kris Hansen. By the time he was terminated, about six months later, EcoNet’s funds were largely depleted.

“He was not the right person for the job, but he wasn’t the reason,” said Simpson. “It was just a very hard time to be raising money.”

At the time of his departure, EcoNet had just moved into West Street Market, the economy was beginning to tank, and the nonprofit was no longer receiving a significant state grant. Several board members left as the group tried to decide how to reorganize—only four board members remain of its once lengthy list. Nevada EcoNet had no executive director for nearly a year, operating through volunteers, including Americorps volunteer Kaitlin Weeks, who became the ED in 2010.

“The model they’ve used for the last two years is not sustainable in any way,” said board member Matt Johnson. “The transition is to figure out if there’s another viable model or how to distribute their remaining resources to continue these events they’ve been putting on for 20 years.”